Trackside Goes Back to Planning Commission

New Trackside Schematic

Back in July, the Davis Planning Commission was set to hear  and make a recommendation on the Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment/Initial Study as well as the planning application for the Trackside project.

However at the request of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association, the city postponed the meeting after learning that one Planning Commission member would be recusing themselves and another would miss the meeting.

A letter from Rhonda Reed, President of the neighborhood association indicated, “The City is proposing a streamlined CEQA review process with a 30 day public comment period that closes August 11, 2017.  The Planning Commission is being asked to recommend to the City Council to approve the Initial Study, without having the benefit of the comments received in the public review period, as well as having only a limited period to review this document.”

She noted, “Given that this is a new process being employed by the City we would like the Planning Commissioners to provide their recommendation based on the fullest possible information.”

The Trackside project in its latest iteration proposes to redevelop two existing commercial buildings just to the east of the railroad tracks north of Third Street.

The current design has a new four-story, 47,983-square-foot building with 8,950 square feet of commercial retail space on the ground floor, and 27 apartment units on the three floors above.

The project also includes 30 covered and uncovered parking spaces, an outdoor plaza on the west side, landscaping, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, alley improvements, and other site improvements.

According to the report, the proposal would change the existing alleyway from a two-way to a one-way alley.

Apartment units include a mix of studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units ranging in size from 705 square feet to 1,537 square feet plus balconies. Thirty parking stalls are provided in a mix of covered and uncovered spaces. In addition to the apartment units and retail spaces, the building includes common areas for a manager’s office, lobby, mail room, bike storage, utility room, trash room, a lounge and roof terrace.

The city “has determined that the proposed project qualifies as a Transit Priority Project under the California Public Resources Code (PRC) Section 21155 for implementation of a Sustainable Communities Strategy. Consistent with the requirements for a Transit Priority Project, a Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment (SCEA) Initial Study has been prepared pursuant to PRC Section 21155.2.”

Staff writes, “All potentially significant or significant effects required to be identified in the initial study have been identified and analyzed and with respect to each significant effect on the environment either of the following apply: i) changes or alterations have been required in or incorporated into the Project that avoid or mitigate the significant effects to a level of insignificance; or ii) those changes or alterations are within the responsibility and jurisdiction of another public agency and have been, or can and should be, adopted by that other agency.”

The original project was envisioned at six stories, but neighbors complained that the project would block views and have adverse impacts on the adjacent neighborhood. Of particular concern was the six-story design and the perceived lack of communication between the applicants and the neighborhoods.

In the staff report for this week, staff notes a number of topics from the public comments they have received so far.  One concern is with the project consistency with a number of the design guidelines and the Core Area Specific Plans.

Staff writes, “Consistency with design guidelines are an aesthetic issue that is addressed in the Aesthetics Section of the SCEA/IS which determined that the project will alter the visual character of the area, but that it would be a less than significant impact.

“The City’s Planning documents work together to implement the City’s vision for the community. A General Plan and Specific Plans are general by nature and consist of a wide array of policies and goals. The policies describe desired outcomes, but do not require compliance with every single policy. Design guidelines are similar in that way, but provide more focused guidance.”

Staff argues, “The Design Guidelines must be considered as part of a project review, but do not establish mandatory requirements in contrast to Zoning standards which are mandatory. While the DDTRN Design Guidelines includes several quantitative guidelines with specific limitations that function as a standard, by and large the language of the guidelines indicates preferences and recommendations.”

There are also concerns about historical impacts and comments about whether the area is an historic district.

According to staff, “although the Old East Davis is within a Conservation Overlay Zoning District, it is not a designated Historic District and would not be a historical resource under CEQA. The potential for indirect impacts to nearby historical resources from changes to the setting are also addressed. Although the project will result in a change to the area as discussed in the SCEA, it does not result in a substantial adverse change or materially impair the nearby historic resources, directly or indirectly, or significantly impact their historical integrity through the setting or feeling.”

There are also comments about conflicts expert opinion from GEI Consultants and HRMC.  Staff notes that the HRMC “acts as an advisory body to the Planning Commission or City Council on historical-related project issues.”  Staff further notes, “The HRMC expressed concerns regarding the HRE and potential impacts to nearby historical resources.”

On the other hand, “The historical reports and GEI Consultants review were peer reviewed by Ben Ritchie of DeNovo Planning Group and Melinda Peak, President of Peak and Associates, who assisted in the preparation of the Cultural Resources Section and Aesthetics Section of the SCEA/IS.”

In another note, there are concerns that the” impact of zoning change regarding mass and scale for all parcels in the transition area is not analyzed. Concern about project setting precedent for area in terms of mass and scale.”

Staff responds, “The proposed rezone and CASP amendment have limited applicability and no projects are currently proposed on similar parcels in the transition area along the railroad. Any future project will be considered based on the merits of the project and would undergo full planning review.”

There are concerns expressed about the alley, where staff met with neighbors “with properties along the alley who expressed specific concerns about activities and use of the alley. They expressed concerns about the proposed alley circulation and traffic direction, alley parking, difficulty of turning movements for ingress and egress from the existing garages, location of the loading zone, and increased alley activity.”

As noted previously, the neighbors remained opposed to the revised proposal.

In an op-ed published last October from the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association, five members of the board stated they support “development on the Trackside site, as specified by the Design Guidelines. The Trackside Partners, however, appear to have bought the Trackside property speculating that the city would change the zoning for their project, superseding the Design Guidelines.”

They argued, “The city must stop changing zoning at will, throwing out hard-won agreements made with the time and effort of residential and business stakeholders. The purpose of zoning laws is to establish clear expectations for allowed uses of real property, certainty of investment and to minimize conflicts among neighboring properties.”

They argued, “Zoning by exception defeats this purpose.

“The newly proposed, four-story Trackside Center fails to make an appropriate transition in any direction,” they write. “To the west will be a new two-story commercial building: the new Ace Hardware addition that the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association supported. To the north is a ground-level rock yard. To the east is a row of traditional one-story homes and infill units. To the south is a row of one-story commercial buildings.

“The Design Guidelines clearly state that a two-story, mixed-use building — with a clearly set-back third story — is a desirable transition from downtown to the historic neighborhood.”

Next week on August 30, the Vanguard will host a discussion on the Core Area Specific Plan from 6 to 8 pm at Sophia’s Thai Restaurant.  The discussion will feature: Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee, Davis Downtown President Josh Chapman, Davis ACE co-owner Doby Fleeman, and Rhonda Reed from the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association.  The event is free and open to the public.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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3 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    alley improvements, and other site improvements.”

    Again, I would stress that whether or not these are “improvements” is a matter of perspective, not fact. Those whose homes directly back onto this alley are not of the opinion that these changes represent “improvement”.

  2. larryguenther

    David.  I would be interested as well.  Obviously I don’t know what happened outside of public meetings, but at the BTSSC meeting the scope was very narrow.  The BTSSC was asked only to choose one of 3 options for bicycle lane locations.  They were not asked to discuss different automobile traffic patterns.  They were not asked to comment on the safety issues regarding changing the alley to a one-way street with a 30″ buffer between the traffic and the zero-lot-line dwellings and garages in the alley.  They were not asked to address the safety issues of adding 27 residences and the associated automobiles.  They were not asked to look at different options of changes in the traffic in the alley (the current proposal includes adding parking, a loading zone, and garbage pickup in the alley).  Indeed, at the time of that meeting the ‘traffic study’ did not discuss issues specific to the alley at all.  There have since been amendments to the ‘traffic study,’ but these occurred after the BTSSC meeting and, in my opinion, they don’t address these issues in any real depth.

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