Last week the Planning Commission approved the application for Trackside but rejected the Initial Study and Design Review. The city just announced this week that the council will now take up the proposal on October 3.
One of the key points that has been made in the Trackside discussion has been the extent to which the city needs to adhere to its design guidelines – a point that I think it is quite valid, and I have suggested that the city ought to consider updating the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) first before consideration of Trackside. That is probably not going to happen at this point.
There is a letter this week in the Enterprise from Jim Leonard who argues the following: “The neighbors of the project oppose the current design. While the planning guidelines give discretion to the city for the final decision, the implicit obligation is for the city to side with the residents first; that is implied by the process being democratic. Common decency demands that the city put the neighbors first.”
He goes on to say, “If the developer achieves agreement with the neighbors and that agreement is outside the guidelines, only then should they be waived. Otherwise, the city and the developer would be railroading the neighbors and Davis citizens in general.”
He continues: “If the city wants to change the guidelines, I welcome that through a general and public process. Trackside needs to be considered within the current set of rules, however, and the bias should go to the neighbors, not the developer.”
He concludes: “If the city accepts the developers’ plan over the neighbors’ complaint, that will not only be bad for the neighbors but bad for all Davis citizens since it opens the door for any development to run roughshod over neighborhood interest.”
Mr. Leonard brings up several important points here.
First of all, I do not agree with the notion that the neighbors should have effective veto over a project. In fact, I have some concern about the amount of voting power the council gave to the neighborhood associations with respect to the Core Area Specific Plan Advisory Committee, because I believe the entire community has a stake in the policies and process in the CASP, not just the adjacent neighbors.
That said, as I have stated previously, the city probably is better off figuring out what the new guidelines are going to be for the Core Area in terms of heights before they set the height guidelines for the Trackside project.
The problem that we have, as Brett Lee pointed out in his comments at Wednesday’s Vanguard Conclave, is that three councilmembers have the ability to change zoning and change any of the design guidelines.
I do think that Rich Rifkin in his comment makes an interesting point: “If a proposal, like Trackside, requires Zoning amendments in order to be approved, the Planning Commission ought to vote it down.”
Clearly, the council has the discretion to approve zoning changes and General Plan Amendments, as does the Planning Commission, but it might be better if the Planning Commission leave such discretion to the policymaking body, the city council, rather than attempting to rewrite policy on its own.
Bottom line: While I agree there are some problems here with overlapping guidelines and policy documents, I’m not comfortable with the argument that the neighbors are the final arbiter in this.
A poster on the Vanguard noted the following points. First, “I’m failing to understand the reason that a proposal cannot adhere to neighborhood guidelines (which actually allow for a 3-story building).” Second, he argued, “It’s not up to the neighbors to ‘prove’ that a taller, denser proposal (than what is already allowed) has significant impacts.” Third, “As usual, the conversation seems to start by putting the neighbors on ‘defense,’ regarding a proposal that exceeds existing guidelines.”
As I stated in response to that comments, I think this raises several points worthy of discussion and I reprint them here in an effort to broaden that discussion.
First I would say, it is not that the proposal “cannot” adhere to neighborhood guidelines, it is simply that it does not. Part of the problem here – again – is that I think those guidelines are somewhat out of date. But that reverts back to my initial point that that I think the discussion should focus on the CASP update first rather than the project.
On the second point, the problem here is that the developer is making the proposal, so any time the developer gets to make the proposal (and we can’t stop them from doing so), that means if the neighbors want to stop or modify that proposal, they have come up with reasons for the policymaking bodies to oppose it. That is the way that the process works, though I suspect that most developers do not view themselves as being in the driver’s seat during this process.
This process does put the neighbors and potential opponents of the project on the defense.
But I think the comment ignores the inherent advantages that opponents of growth have in Davis. The de facto answer is a usual no in Davis and most proposals end up being reduced in size and scope as the process goes along.
So the original Trackside proposal was at six stories – that was largely a non-starter. The revised version is four stories. My guess is that when all is said and done, the council will end up further reducing the size of the project and the neighbors may well get a three-story building there.
The poster writes, “Honestly, I can’t believe that this proposal is even being entertained. 3-stories isn’t ‘sufficient,’ next to existing/small 1-story homes?”
The comment seems to ignore how the process works. The project proposal “has to be entertained.” There is no way that the city can legally prevent it from being entertained. The council has not even received the project to weigh in on it yet.
The other problem you end up with in this case is the lack of general agreement over what is reasonable and what is excessive. Ultimately the city council is the decider here – they will determine whether they are willing to modify existing rules to accommodate this proposal, or whether to send it back for more revisions.
—David M. Greenwald reporting