Commentary: B St Project Paints Troubling Future for Infill Discussion

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In many ways the discussion that occurred on Tuesday was a familiar one for council – an infill project is proposed, the existing neighbors push back against it.  But there was one difference – most infill projects we have seen have asked for a General Plan amendment to go above and beyond the current planning and zoning guidelines.  This one didn’t.

As Rochelle Swanson put it, “This meets all the things we say we want.

“At some point we have to say yes,” she said.  “This is something that’s allowable in this district.  If we can’t say yes to what’s allowed, what can we possibly say yes to?”

As Mayor Davis put it, “Here they get a project that’s in the boundaries and we still get it.  That frustrates me a little bit.  I don’t know why we got it.”

But if that part was a twist, the night of the discussion really wasn’t.  It was a typical discussion with the developers proposing a project of a given size and scale and the neighbors pushing for smaller.

“The tradeoffs are always challenging,” Mayor Davis said.  “I really have learned to listen to the community about their concerns about keeping their place nice.”

He continued, “I’m struck by how we’ve constantly been asked to do less” in terms of housing proposals coming before council “in the face of one of the worst housing crises in the country.”

But in a way this is inevitable.  It really comes down to a community-imposed tradeoff.  The growth of the university and the growth of the region continues to put pressure on the city of Davis to grow.  The lack of available housing for families, faculty and staff at the university is troubling to many in the community.

At the same time, as the council noted, there are students looking for rental housing, students living in their cars and couch surfing.  The impacts of a 0.2 percent vacancy rate push the young, those without means, and the vulnerable to the brink of homelessness.

Ron Glick has been pushing this point on Measure R for a long time and I think he has a point – if the city cannot grow outward because of constraints of Measure R and the housing needs continue to expand, the city will have to find more creative ways to pack more housing into the existing city limits, and that means infill projects and the conflict between the existing residents and new development.

The voters of Davis who narrowly passed Measure J back in 2000, who widely supported the renewal in Measure R and who will face a renewal in 2020, have made it clear both in their support for Measure J/R as well as their opposition to Wildhorse Ranch, Covell Village and Nishi, that peripheral development, if it is approved, is going to be infrequent.

Mayor Robb Davis noted that the previous council had attempted to address housing by putting Nishi on the ballot.  That lost by 700 votes, he said.  “Personally I took it very hard because I put a lot of work into it, but also because it seemed to me that was an opportunity for us as a city to do the right thing in an environmental sense but also to provide what we haven’t been able to provide over the last decade – which is significant rental housing.”

Ron Glick was more pointed in his comments on Tuesday.

He noted that one of the reasons for unaffordability of housing is lack of supply.  While there are natural reasons for lack of supply that will constrain a market, there are also “artificial reasons why you get lack of supply,” and in Davis that is Measure R.

“What’s driving everything,” he said in the risk to people in the mobile home, Sterling, Trackside, the B Street project, “all of these things is Measure R because we can’t spread out.

“You talk about densification as though densification is some great thing, but every time you try to densify something, there are people down here saying don’t densify my neighborhood, please don’t densify my neighborhood,” he said.

He said it’s a de facto thing, “if we can’t spread out, what are we going to do?  We have to do infill.  As long as we have this limit line – conversation on ag land is $15,000, Sterling $1 million an acre.”  He said that “because of Measure R, land inside the line is now worth 100 times land outside of the line.”

He argued if we had built Nishi and Covell Village “maybe there wouldn’t be so much demand.”

Clearly Mr. Glick, as he has argued for years, wants to get rid of Measure R.  But he has a point here.  It is a point that we should all pay attention to.  We have choices in this discussion.

Look, I don’t agree with Ron Glick.  I think Measure R is a good thing – we need to remember why we have Measure R and it is because we had decades of unconstrained growth on the periphery.  I also don’t necessarily believe that Measure R will always block all new development.  Nishi might have passed were it not for some critical mistakes – and pre-Measure R, Wildhorse was able to pass a citizen’s vote.

The community has chosen to not support peripheral development.  That means they have constrained the housing market to give developers a huge incentive to develop in existing neighborhoods – where they only have to deal with the city council and not the voters.

That means that, in order to add housing, we must build higher and more dense projects than the existing land use.  Sometimes that means we will see projects like Trackside, which go well outside the bounds of existing land use policies.

When that happens, we are sympathetic to the neighbors – particularly in the case of Trackside, the neighbors who own the homes on the southwest corner of I Street, whose lives will be greatly impacted by a development that they reasonably could not foresee.

But B Street is different.  The R3 zoning meant that the possibility existed on B Street that multifamily homes would go in.  The project met the zoning requirements except for a 15-percent portion where the roofline exceeded height requirements by three feet.

In other words, in this project, the developers stayed basically within the guidelines and we still had sufficient pushback to take the issue to the city council.  That doesn’t bode well as we move forward with more infill projects over time.

We want developers to work with the neighbors in a good faith manner.  We want them to take into account the concerns and work to mitigate impact.  But it’s also a two-way street and we need the neighbors to act reasonably as well, and understand that as long as we have the need for housing and the limitations on expanding outward, that there will be a financial incentive for infill and densification.

This discussion on B Street – a small project of 11 units – ironically becomes far more important than we would ever anticipate because these comments set the stage for the next projects and the community debate.  The council has made it clear now that they will approve infill projects.

Unless we want to change our views on peripheral development, Davis is going to see more and not less of these discussions in the months and years to come.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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37 thoughts on “Commentary: B St Project Paints Troubling Future for Infill Discussion”

  1. Tia Will

    I am a proponent of Measure R. I strongly believe that the current residents of the city should have a voice in how the city expands. I am also an advocate of well planned infill respectful of the existing neighbors. I advocated for Nishi. I participated in the community outreach meetings with the developers of the Lincoln 40 and although it is very near my home, and in my direct line of vision from my front yard, I will support it despite my dislike of the aesthetics because I recognize the obvious community need to house UCD students.

    However, I would like to emphasize a couple of comments from the City Council members as they discussed the B St project which I believe are relevant to the soon to be considered Trackside project.

    First, from Rochelle Swanson : ” If we were talking about something that is grossly outside what is already allowed, it would be another thing.”

    I agree with the approval of the B St project due to its minimal variation from what was allowable by only a few feet. However, I believe that both iterations of the Trackside project are well outside “what is already allowed and are just such “another thing”. But this is only one of my objections, which brings us to my second quote.

    From Mayor Davis: ” I keep thinking about the people who really need housing now and can’t find it.”

    So do I. I also keep thinking about those in real “need” of housing. Students, the homeless, low income workers in our city, people transitioning from dangerous or temporary housing situations, low income elderly. These are our true “at need” populations. If these were the populations that Trackside were designed to help, I would not be in opposition to the current iteration. But they are not. Trackside was designed as luxury units. Would these be nice to have for the few who can afford them and the local developers and investors ?  Certainly. But does it meet the needs of those most at risk in our community of not being able to find acceptable housing ?  Certainly not.

    I would drop my opposition to this project if one of two things were to occur:

    1. The developers design a project within the current zoning & design guidelines thus meeting Rochelle Swanson’s stipulation. I speak only for myself, but believe this would be the preference of the neighborhood.

    2. The developers design a project that meets real community “needs”, not just “nice to haves” and requests some compromise from the existing neighbors in order to meet a compelling community need. I might be alone on this one, but feel strongly enough about it that I am willing to accept a much larger project closer to & visible from my own home.

     

     

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “However, I believe that both iterations of the Trackside project are well outside “what is already allowed and are just such “another thing”.”

      It’s kind of important to point out that Trackside has not gone through Planning Commission let alone be approved.

      1. Roberta Millstein

        “It’s kind of important to point out that Trackside has not gone through Planning Commission”

        Only because they weren’t happy with which commissioners would be showing up at the Wednesday meeting.

        How does that happen, by the way?  That the developers know not only how many commissioners will show, but which ones?  And yet citizens cannot be informed about changes to the schedule?

        1. Mark West

          “How does that happen, by the way?  That the developers know not only how many commissioners will show, but which ones?”

          From David’s reporting yesterday:

          “The Old East Davis Neighborhood Association in mid-afternoon requested a rescheduling of the Trackside Center Mixed Use Project hearing after learning that one Planning Commission member would be recusing themselves and another would miss the meeting.”

          It was the neighbors who requested the continuance, not the Developers.

           

        2. Howard P

          Actually, Mark, even goes beyond that… the project proponents ‘agreed’ to the postponement, which they were not obligated to do.  They could have insisted on moving forward, on schedule.

        3. Eileen Samitz

          Just to further clarify, apparently, the comment period is still open on the “Initial Study” on the new environmental document to try to railroad Trackside project through. So this project should have never even been scheduled to go the Planning Commission before the comment period ended in order for the Planning Commissions would have those comments to review.

  2. Mark West

    I think a large part of the frustration being expressed by the CC members during the discussion of the B Street project was directed at a Planning Commission majority and their failure to follow CC policy. The CC is the policy making body in town, whereas the PC’s job is to implement that policy. Had the PC majority remembered their role, the neighbor’s appeal would have been denied because the project met the zoning regulations and design guidelines. This wasn’t the first time that the PC majority failed to follow existing CC policy.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      It was interesting to watch the Planning Commission on MRIC – they got very clear and narrow guidance from staff and it helped them reach the decision on the certification. That may be the missing piece here.

      1. Mark West

        Staff gave them clear guidance on B Street as well when you consider that Staff approved the project. I think a message was sent Tuesday night, and not for the first time, but this time it looks like the message was finally received. It will be interesting to see how the PC functions going forward.

      2. Howard P

        The PC had the “A-team” staff present/involved in MRIC staff report/presentation.  Fact is, you can’t have your ‘senior varsity’ playing in each and every scrimmage.

        B Street had good starters @ PC, and they improved their play a bit when the scrimmage occurred @ CC.

    2. Howard P

      Mark… the PC’s purview is also to be ‘the loyal opposition’, as you will, to point out perceived flaws in CC policy, and recommend alternative policies for CC consideration.  But you are absolutely correct, that pending any changes actually being made, they (PC) are obligated to follow the rules and policy in place when an item is presented to them.

  3. Michael Bisch

    Some of my fellow community members simply refuse to acknowledge or understand that plans, guidelines and zoning ordinances are intended to achieve community goals, not the other way around. One doesn’t amend the goals to meet the plans; one amends the plans to meet the goals.  Plans, guidelines and zoning ordinances are not sacrosanct; they are intended to be flexible. That’s why we have procedures for amending them. There’s some serious cognitive dissonance going on here.

     

    PS: To preempt some needless arguing, the community sets the goals (generally through its electeds).

  4. Eileen Samitz

      Michael Bisch

    “Some of my fellow community members simply refuse to acknowledge or understand that plans, guidelines and zoning ordinances are intended to achieve community goals, not the other way around.”

     

     

    Seriously Michael? Well what you are preaching should apply to that Trackside project, which certainly is not the case.

      1. Eileen Samitz

        Michael,

        I am pointing out that Trackside is not following the plans, guidelines and zoning ordinances. So I am pointing out that your comment should apply to Trackside.

         

        1. Eileen Samitz

          Sorry folks but I am rushed for time, so again my apologies about correcting another typo. Needing to sign off for now anyway. So I will try to get this post done again typo-free:

          Mark West,

          Why does every discussion about development on here turn into an argument about Trackside?

          Mark,

          First, I see this a discussion, not an argument.

          Second, Trackside is coming up because it is directly relevant.

          However, why do you and Micheal Bisch get so defensive when Trackside comes up?

        2. Mark West

          I’m not the one who keeps bringing up the topic, Eileen. Today, all I have done is correct Roberta’s false claim, and the only mention Michael has made is in a response to you. Seems to me that the ones who are acting defensive are those who are obsessed with the project.

          I’m looking forward to the project finally being discussed by the PC and ultimately, the CC as I am tired of all the ‘developer bashing’ that has been going on since the project was first proposed. I have no doubt, however, that like the Target decision, this one will live on and be reargued constantly by the ‘no change’ crowd.

           

        3. Roberta Millstein

          I’d be interested to see the evidence that I’m “obsessed” with Trackside.  I think I commented on it once, at most.  Or maybe not at all.

        4. David Greenwald

          Trackside is an interesting project and I think worthy of robust discussion.  I think there are definitely legitimate concerns there – even as someone who believes we need greater density in and around the core area.

        5. Mark West

          “Trackside is an interesting project and I think worthy of robust discussion.”

          I agree Trackside is an interesting topic worthy of discussion. It was not the topic, however, Tuesday night, yet it came up during public comment in a predictable way. It was also not the topic that Michael Bisch brought up today, yet we can see where that went.

          Some have been fighting against Trackside for so long that they see a nexus with every other proposed project in town. As the saying goes, when you only have a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

           

  5. Eileen Samitz

    The problem with the “B Street Residences” project is that it was overkill in the number of units. 11 units with only 13 parking spaces when there is no parking on B St. in vicinity was a terrible plan.  It will just push the parking needs onto the surrounding neighborhoods. This is not good infill planning, it is “shoe-horn planning” to benefit the developers, not the community.

    The neighbors did not object to having up to 9 units which is what the 25% City density bonus allowed when you included the one affordable unit. The problem was that the City added on an additional 20% optional Stage density bonus which is intended for City’s that have no density bonus to encourage affordable housing.

    So it unfair characterize the neighborhood with the negative and untrue comments made by some. The neighbors were receptive to a higher density project, but 13 units was too many, which just shoe-horned the project in, causing the tearing out 4 beautiful mature oak trees and not leaving enough room for adequate parking.

    Furthermore, a traffic study should have been done since the B Street parking was removed from this vicinity to determine the safety issues of far more circulation which has resulted and more that will result from this project in an already busy traffic area. Why was this rushed through rather than addressing these very relevant issues? Apparently it is all about railroading through what can be railroaded through as quickly as possible, rather then doing good planning.

    Finally, the main problem the City is facing is not Measure J/R, it is UCD’s negligence so far to building far more on-campus housing. This is why UCD needs to add the 50/100 plan to its on-going LRDP Draft EIR recommended by three resolutions to UCD, a community petition, and multiple letters and Op-ed’s on this subject.

     

  6. Eileen Samitz

    My apologies. I wanted to correct 2 typos to clarify. The following section of my last post was supposed to say, State, not Stage:

    “The neighbors did not object to having up to 9 units which is what the 25% City density bonus allowed when you included the one affordable unit. The problem was that the City added on an additional 20% optional State density bonus which is intended for City’s that have no density bonus to encourage affordable housing.”

    Also I meant to re-state 11 units was too many (not 13) in the third paragraph:

    “So it unfair characterize the neighborhood with the negative and untrue comments made by some. The neighbors were receptive to a higher density project, but 11 units was too many, which just shoe-horned the project in, causing the tearing out 4 beautiful mature oak trees and not leaving enough room for adequate parking.”

    1. David Greenwald

      The parking allotment meets the city’s requirements for parking in a multi-family residence.  The reality is that if someone wants to have three cars, then this is not the place for them to live.  As I understand, they will be charged extra for each spot they take up.  So I don’t see how this is going to be a problem.  It is worth noting, that while I disagreed with the Planning Commission’s denial of this project, parking was not one of their stated reasons for this very reason.

  7. Tia Will

    I give up. I confess. I am the one that introduced the subject of Trackside. I felt that it was highly relevant given the timing of the B street approval by City Council and the initially planned date of the Planning Commission. I still feel that since both are infill projects which have different levels of adherence to zoning and design guidelines, the comment was pertinent. My apologies to any who feel it was irrelevant, untimely, or in any way derogatory towards anyone.

    1. Eileen Samitz

      Tia,

      Don’t apologize. This is a legitimate issue. The Trackside Project is trying to violate zoning, planning,  and General Plan policies. But now all of a sudden this very same Vanguard article raising these issues about applying all of these policies including zoning codes does not want to talk about it because it applies directly to Trackside?

      Over-densification and “shoe-horn planning” are not a solution, particularly when UCD’s gross negligence to provide the on-campus housing it needs to for its own growth is the main driver causing for these pressure and and impacts on Davis.

       

      1. David Greenwald

        Eileen: I wrote this article and have no problem with the discussion of Trackside as my commentary was meant to be more general than just B St.  Please do not attribute this to the Vanguard.

        1. Eileen Samitz

          David,

          I understand that you wrote the article but your article totally misrepresents what happened with the “B St. Residences” project and portrays the neighborhood as being the problem, when the problem was the over-densified “B St. Residences” project proposal. Why was this project rushed through the process before the getting the traffic data since the elimination of parking in this B St. vicinity which was needed before a decision was made by the Council?

          The neighbors were receptive to up to 9 units which is what the City policies allowed where there were 2 housing units. But then the developer and City piled on another 2 units from an optional new State density bonus policy intended for cities which do not have density bonus as an option to encourage affordable housing (Note: Davis does have a density bonus policy to encourage affordable housing which was applied).

          To make matters worse, the shoe-horning in of this 11 unit project onto 2 housing lots directly causes 4 beautiful, mature decades old Oak trees to be eliminated, PLUS insufficient parking due to B St. having no parking in that vicinity. So all of the parking needs excess will wind up in adjacent neighborhoods.

          This was not about well planned infill, it was about the developer cramming in as many units as he could get away. There is no excuse why this project was rushed through the process before having a traffic study not done first to determine the circulation impacts and evaluate the safety issues. So the bottom line is that the Planning Commission got it right on the B St. Residences decision.

      2. Eileen Samitz

        Mark West

        “Seems to me that the ones who are acting defensive are those who are obsessed with the project.”

        Mark,

        Seriously? The Trackside project violates the City’s zoning, design guidelines, and the General Plan policies. So, this not about obsession, it is about accountability. Let’s not forget that Michael Bisch brought up this issue of compliance with zoning and local policies which you agreed with and clearly, you two are clearly in defense mode of the Trackside Project which is violating all of the rules.

        1. Mark West

          You crack me up, Eileen.

          Maybe if you read Michael’s comment again you would understand what he was saying. He brought up a really interesting topic, but you missed it entirely, preferring to respond in your predictable manner. More’s the pity.

          Have a nice evening.

        2. Eileen Samitz

          Mark,

          I wish I could say that “you crack me up”.

          Regarding Michael Bisch’s comments that you state that he “brought up an interesting topic”. Well, I agree that, as you say, Michael Bisch “brought up an interesting topic”, but I did not miss anything by pointing out that local zoning, design review, and the General Plan rules need to be implemented for the Trackside project.

          Have a nice evening.

  8. larryguenther

     
    Dave,
     
    I think you miss one point and brush upon another – both important.
     
    First the ‘either or fallacy.’  This and many other situations have been talked about in a way that implies that there are two, polar-opposite sides: big growth and no growth.  ‘’If you are not in favor of this project, you are against any project.’’  I believe there is a distribution, not a dichotomy.  And, as with most distributions, most people are in the middle.  The neighbors surrounding the B St. project were not against any building, they were against a project that did not fit their neighborhood.  They gave examples of design that would have resulted in a functionally similar building, a building that fit with City goals, but aesthetically a very different building.  The push-back was related to the form of the building, not its purpose.  This ties right in with my second point.
     
    When you spoke of Nishi I believe you hit the nail on the head concerning ‘better projects.’  Again, I’m sure there are some ‘no-growthers’, but I believe most people belong to neither end of the spectrum.  Nishi had some significant issues and lost by 700 votes.  It seems safe to say that if it was a better project, it would have passed.  Perfection may be one enemy of the good, but so is ‘good enough.’  It may take more work to get there, but we’ll have a better product at the end.
     
    The B St. project seems like a case where we could have had a win-win with very little time and work, but we chose to polarize it.  This is really hurting our community.  I believe we can have projects that densify our core and embellish our City.  I believe we can change without losing our soul.
     

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