From the start, Trackside has been a lightning rod for criticism. The initial project was seen as far too large for the space it occupied. The approach of the developers seemed to alienate the neighbors.
Even the scaled-down version of the project is generating much in the way of community and neighborhood angst and pushback.
And yet, despite its relatively small size, Trackside is one of those issues that really transcends the instant importance of the actual development.
Last week there was some discussion that certain commenters on the Vanguard are obsessed with Trackside and want to turn every discussion into a discussion about Trackside.
In a way, that is a valid criticism. After all, for most people, even those who live in Old East Davis, Trackside is really not going to affect their lives one way or another. There are probably about five or six homes directly impacted by the development – for everyone else it is theoretical at most.
As I have said before, I think the developers’ approach to the neighbors has been a problem from the start. I think the six-story initial proposal is too high. And I have questions about whether the housing choice here – luxury condos – is really a huge need for the community.
But, aside from these on-the-ground factors, I think Trackside is actually one of the most important projects facing the community.
Well it all comes down to the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP). We are going to have some major land use fights in this town between now and 2021. We will have, I think, a real challenge to Measure R when it comes up for renewal in 2020 – and if Michael Harrington is serious about putting something on the ballot sooner, then it might be much sooner.
Nevertheless, the Core Area Specific Plan is probably more important than Measure R right now. I don’t see any way the voters vote down Measure R, and the CASP ends up being the biggest land use fight we’re going to have.
Currently the CASP puts a height limitation of two to three stories, which, if it reads like something out of the last century, it is. Pre-2000, Pre-Measure J.
I would argue that the CASP needs to set building height limitations at five to six stories in the core. That would allow for ground floor of retail and restaurants, a second floor of office space and three or four floors of residential. And, if done right, you can integrate parking internally into the structures.
If you have a downtown core of five or six stories, then a two-story Trackside makes zero sense and, frankly, even now it seems like a massive waste. Personally, I believe that four stories is about right, but compromise is okay and going down to three would be workable – although less than ideal.
The bottom line is that it seems to make more sense to do the CASP first before Trackside. The developers can’t wait that long, so anticipating what the CASP will look like seems a logical fallback position – but that means that the neighbors need to stop arguing based on the current CASP and anticipate that the next CASP will allow five or six rather than two or three stories.
I agree that Trackside is a transition zone, but that’s a transition between six-story core buildings and two-story neighborhood buildings, which again puts us at three or four, not two stories, at Trackside.
I don’t know if that means I support Trackside – I’m still not sure about the usage. But to me the big issue is getting the heights set in the core area.
I agree with those who argue that planning by exception is problematic. I agree with those who argue that Trackside in its current form violates the CASP and other design guidelines.
However, where I probably disagree is that I think the answer is to fix the plans, not necessarily the project. There is still room for compromise, but my basic belief is that building two-story buildings anywhere near the core of town is a waste of valuable space.
I get the argument that some have put forth – that we are not against infill, but we want something that fits in the existing neighborhood. At the same time, we are faced with a dilemma in this community and, frankly, in this state.
The dilemma, as manifested in our community, is a rental housing crisis that has meant a 0.2 percent vacancy rate. That crisis not only impacts students but also the ability of families to find rental housing and single-family homes.
That crisis has been made worse by the fact that Davis has not been able to find a way to expand its borders for nearly two decades since the passage of Measure J (now Measure R).
As we have argued, most recently last week, there is a tension between peripheral development and densification and when you cut off the first, you put more pressure on the second one to go higher and more dense.
Some have suggested that increased density and heights will cause Davis to lose our soul – I think the bigger danger is that we lose our soul when the folks who have lived here for the past 40 or 50 years can no longer afford to buy housing and move their families here. When UC Davis faculty have to live in Sacramento and commute, putting down their roots elsewhere. When promising faculty go elsewhere because of the non-affordability of housing.
Good infill can work with the character of this community, which is why I support densification over additional peripheral development, but frankly something has to give. The current status quo is not sustainable and we are going to end up with radical change if we do not create the kind of release valve necessary to alleviate the pressure.
With that being said, part of my skepticism with Trackside is that I wonder if it is reaching a vital need for housing and, given our limited opportunities to create new housing under existing circumstances, that seems a very paramount issue that we need to address.
—David M. Greenwald reporting