What began as one of the most contentious issues facing this community ended with unanimous support from the council – and backing from groups as diverse as labor, the Davis Chamber, environmentalists and budget hawks.
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee called the compromise “remarkable and surprising,” stating that it “makes my job up here tonight much easier.”
Councilmember Will Arnold pointed out that when he urged the neighbors and applicant to meet one more time with facilitated discussions, he didn’t think we would get this close to an agreement. He called the final arrangement “even beyond my hopes,” and hoped that this could become a model for future neighbor-applicant interactions.
Neil Dhanowa, Alissa Burnett and Bridget Boyd spoke to council. Ms. Boyd stated, “While the neighbors still feel that this hotel is in the wrong location, and it may be too big for the lot planned, we want to support the community as a whole by working together helping the city obtain tax revenue needed.”
She said, “Therefore we have come to an agreement to support the compromise presented tonight.” She noted, “We’re asking the city to help fund our neighborhood improvement.
“The post community benefit agreement will help to bring value to our neighborhood and help to offset any negative effects that the hotel may have on our neighborhood,” she said, noting that neighbors are still a bit divided on the agreement and it has been their job to help bring people together in the middle. “So there may be people who speak differently tonight, but I feel as a whole we’ve come together as a neighborhood and are okay with the compromise as long as the funding goes through.”
Neil Dhanowa indicated that considering outside issues of noise and massing size was to figure out a way to “sustain value as a community for as long as the hotel was there in business.” He said that “we found that this was a good way to do it.” He noted that, while “the desire was to have the funds be larger, we were able to come to a compromise that the developer felt comfortable with.
“We have an area of town that is truly unique. It’s not just for us, but it’s for anyone else in the community that wants to partake in it. That’s truly what we’re trying to achieve,” Mr. Dhanowa added.
The original project was proposed at four stories and 120 guest rooms. The neighbors from the start were concerned with privacy, about the top stories looking into the neighbors’ homes which abut the greenbelt, the sufficiency of the greenbelt trees to buffer the neighborhood, and the noise factor from a 24/7 establishment.
At a second meeting between the neighbors and applicants, the development team presented a redesigned building that eliminated all fourth floor rooms that faced south toward the neighborhood by incorporating a single-loaded corridor at the rear of the fourth floor, with the remaining guest rooms facing north with views toward Cowell Boulevard.
The redesign reduced the height in the rear to 37 feet from 48 feet, and overall reduced the room count from 120 to 118 rooms. As noted in the letter the Vanguard published on Tuesday, of “general consensus is a frustration that even though the design was altered in size to be 3 stories in the rear and 4 stories in the front, the overall size of the hotel being only reduced 2 rooms down to 118 rooms was a sore subject, as well as the pool being a requirement of the property.”
According to them, “The feelings were that even with the proposed changes the project/development team was not truly making a sacrifice in the same manner that the neighborhood was by effectively ‘giving something up.’”
However, as the neighbors noted, the key to agreement was twofold. First was the $1 per night contribution that would go to the park and greenbelt maintenance, and second the one-time contribution to the Rose Creek fund that included a city contribution of $150,000 to $200,000 from the general fund.
The neighbors in their letter indicated that “if all of us can get the city to agree to an immediate contribution, or allocation, as outlined above to be used to completely renovate Brentwood Park, we will not oppose the project moving forward.”
The council took this up in a separate motion after they had unanimously passed the hotel with modifications.
Neil Dhanowa explained to council, “If you can make it really simple and say we will allocate $150,000 to renovating completely Brentwood Park at the end of Brentwood Place in conjunction with the funds that are part of this project – we would be happy, as simple as that.”
The motion ultimately read, “[W]ithin the context of the park five year improvement plan, we direct staff to return with improvements in the range of $150,000” with staff directed to work with the neighborhood to develop a list of improvements and amenities for major improvements. Council also approved this unanimously.
During public comment, Alan Pryor complained about the process where “at the last meeting, we heard several councilmembers essentially threaten the neighborhood that if they didn’t get behind this project something worse could come along. In fact, we were told that we have to sacrifice for the greater good.”
He said, “The residents got that loud and clear and in fact I think you emboldened the developer with that statement. They knew this was going to come back and eventually be approved. I think that was really over the top on the council’s part.”
He said that we know that times are tough and “my question is who else is going to be sacrificing in this city? There’s really no give by the developer here.”
However, for the most part, everyone seemed to feel that this process was beneficial and that it came far closer to yielding true agreement than anyone really anticipated when the discussion came up two months ago.
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee said that, six weeks ago, he had serious reservations about the project and that one of the dilemmas with sitting up at the dais is “we kind of have to balance a variety of interest groups.”
He said, “What I think is remarkable and surprising to me is that the neighbors and the developer we able to come together and work out a compromise that both feel is functional and reasonable. It makes my job up here tonight much much easier. If there was still a large divide, it would have been a much more contentious discussion up here.”
Will Arnold quipped, “I don’t typically pat myself on the back, mostly because I can’t reach.” He said, “When I made the suggestion that we have a facilitated meeting between the project applicant and the neighbors as the condition of my approval of this project, it was met with some skepticism by my colleagues and others.”
He added, “But these meetings were successful and we have an agreement that I don’t think that anyone – I will even admit that I didn’t think we were going to get to this close. I thought that hopefully we would get very close, but I think to have the neighbors come up and say we’re okay with this as it is, it was even beyond my hopes.”
Mr. Arnold stated, “We do have precedent now for how we’re going to deal with some of these other contentious projects that we now are going to see on the horizon.”
He said, “I am floored by the results. It was a successful facilitation. An agreement was reached.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs also praised the outcome of the mediated process, stating that “overall it’s going to be a really good project and a benefit to the community.”
Once again, both motions passed unanimously with 4-0 votes. Rochelle Swanson, who lives in the neighborhood, recused herself.
—David M. Greenwald reporting