Commentary: Trackside 3.0 – Smaller in My Backyard?


From the start the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association has pushed back against charges of NIMBYism by arguing that they are not opposed to redeveloping the Trackside site, they simply believe that the current project is disproportionate in height and mass to the location.

As one commenter put it yesterday, what they are saying here is, “This is OK in our back yard.”

It is a smart move by the neighbors to put their own proposal out, but the trend we are seeing is that, as the council has made it clear they are going to try to pass something, the idea you can block projects is disappearing and instead the strategy has moved to reducing size and scope.  Instead of NIMBY, we have the emergence of the SIMBY movement – or “Smaller in My Backyard.”

While I jest on this point, I see this increasingly as part of the way that infill is going to be accomplished in Davis.

If we look at the Hyatt House debate from last year – the neighbors immediately in that project organized against the project.  They argued that the a hotel was inappropriate for that spot while also expressing concerns over privacy and other impacts.  Eventually it became clear that the council was going to support a project there – at that point they came to the table, and were able to get the height reduced from 4 stories to 3.5 stories with some other neighborhood benefits as well.

When neighbors at Rancho Yolo expressed concerns about the Sterling Apartments project, the resulting meeting reduced the project’s height and scope.

The neighbors were not going to win on the design guidelines issues – even though they continue to make their case on that.  They argue, “Approval of the Trackside Partners’ proposal by the
City Council would violate the agreements designed to protect traditional neighborhoods from direct, overwhelming encroachment and unmitigated impacts.”

They further cite Planning Commissioner David Robertson at the August 23 Trackside Center hearing, who said, “If we’re not going to enforce the Design Guidelines, then why do we have them?”

I have long argued that the Planning Commission and neighbors have a point here that the city, rather than arbitrarily changing the planning guidelines on a project by project basis, needs to update the Core Area Specific Plan itself.

Part of my reasoning is that right now the CASP calls for heights in the core at three stories, maybe four stories.  That seems badly outdated given the current needs of the community.  It seems much more reasonable to go up to six stories in the core.  And if we go up to six stories in the core, three or four stories along the transition area seems much more realistic.

But once again, as was pointed out yesterday, the city is not going to sit on Trackside for two years for this process to be done – which in my mind is not good planning.  Instead, they will likely ram through some sort of compromise that will not take into account the holistic approach of planning in the core.

As Brett Lee has pointed out a number of times, the guidelines and zoning are not nearly the protections that we think they are.  Instead, they are devices that can be changed at the whim of the latest group of three.

However, I still think there is value in what the neighbors have done here.  Putting their own proposal on the board insulates them from NIMBYism charges as well as puts an alternative in paper on the board.

That said, it is now pretty clear where this process is going and I’m not sure how the neighbors will like this.

The first Trackside proposal was for a six-story building.  The neighbors pushed back, with some arguing that two would be more appropriate.  The developers then came back with a four-story scaled down proposal.  The neighbors continue to push back and now have gone up to three stories.

That pushes the compromise point to 3.5 stories.  That is the same height as the Hyatt House and slightly lower than the compromise four-story Sterling Apartments.

Is that going to be enough for the neighbors to walk away with a win-win?

That is where the process appears to be heading, however.  We’ll see what happens when this comes before council on October 10.

In the meantime, be sure to join us tonight at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, 173 E Street, for discussion of Student Housing.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for


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.

Related posts

11 thoughts on “Commentary: Trackside 3.0 – Smaller in My Backyard?”

  1. Keith O

    So if I’m a developer I’m going in with a project proposal that’s much bigger than I really want or hope will ever get approved knowing that it will get scaled down to what I wanted in the first place.

  2. Ron

    From article:  “That pushes the compromise point to 3.5 stories.”

    I guess that the .5-story units are designed for vertically-challenged individuals.

    In any case, the “compromise” between a 4-story and 2-story building is 3 stories.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      The irony is that by pushing their counter-proposal to 3 stories, they pushed the compromise point to 3.5 stories. That means you don’t have a full footprint story, only a portion of it.

      1. Ron

        That’s one way to look at it.  Another possibility is that the neighbors were presenting a 3-story structure as a realistic, maximum-sized proposal. Not sure what the (valid) counter-argument is, for that additional .5 story.

        1. Ron

          Regardless of what happens with this proposal, I predict that this type of issue will be an ongoing concern in future council elections.  (In other words, the priorities of future candidates.)

        2. larryguenther

          Ron.  That is exactly what happened.  And David’s reasoning is why it didn’t happen before.  Members of the neighborhood proposed doing this quite a while ago.  Others warned that whatever proposal we put out becomes the starting point for negotiations.  We put this proposal forward in good faith showing that the City’s goals could be achieved and stay within zoning.

  3. Tia Will

     their own proposal on the board insulates them from NIMBYism charges as well as puts an alternative in paper on the board.”

    No. That is not what it does. OEDNA never needed nor attempted any “insulation” from NIMBYISM, for the simple reason that a this is not what it was about. During the very first session of City Council after the Enterprise article in which most of us learned about the “luxury apartment” mixed use project, my first words to the Council on this subject were that I “was delighted with the prospect of an update at this site”. I emphasized, as did many from OEDNA, the need for an upgraded Trackside and my approval of a mixed use project. My only request was that we work together to find a project that would meet both infill & increased density needs and still be within zoning and design guidelines.

    No one, even amongst the closest neighbors was against a project at this site. This was and is a myth that we should not have to “insulate” ourselves against since it is factually and verifiably untrue by City Council tapes and our requests to the developers at multiple meetings and commission presentations.

    What it does is to present one option for how a project that fits within existing zoning and design guidelines might meet the needs of those who would be the tenants of the building, the developers/investors in the building, the adjacent neighbors, and the city as a whole.

  4. larryguenther

    “As Brett Lee has pointed out a number of times, the guidelines and zoning are not nearly the protections that we think they are.  Instead, they are devices that can be changed at the whim of the latest group of three.”

    Maybe this is the root of the problem?  Isn’t that what zoning is for?  Isn’t this the purpose of the General Plan, Core Area Specific Plan, and Design Guidelines?  To establish expectations and avoid conflict?  In this case, the planning documents were developed specifically to prevent this type of development and specifically to avoid this type of conflict.  These documents were developed by the community and the City Council is elected to act on behalf of the community.  This is what many people are having the disconnect with – at least many of the people I have spoken with.

    And speaking of community, you mention ‘the neighbors’ several times as if it is only the neighbors who are actively opposed to this project (and other Planned Development applications).  In fact a large portion of the community was opposed to the 6-story proposal and is opposed to the current proposal.  In my opinion, this is why the 6-story proposal was withdrawn.  The community shouted it down.  Whether that was a ‘straw man’ or a ‘hail Mary’ is not greatly important.  The pattern from developers has been, ‘propose huge, achieve big.’  With enough data points, one almost reflexively starts drawing a line.

    With regard to “smaller in my backyard,” smaller than what?  Not smaller than the zoning – just smaller than what is originally proposed.  It seems that many people continue to be surprised that community members oppose projects that are larger (often much larger) than the existing zoning.  It also often seems that the ‘burden of proof’ that these projects should not be built is on the community members, as evidenced by people asking that the existing municipal code be enforced are called NIMBY or, now, SIMBY.

    The planning documents were developed by the community, so the community rebels when they are overturned without community consent.  The planning documents have goals.  In the case of the Trackside Center, the density goals are half-again as large as the current, regional, density goals.  This can be readily accomplished by conforming to existing zoning.  Perhaps many community members are having trouble understanding why this is not enough?

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for