Trackside 3.0 Balances the Need for Housing with Sensible Growth


by Rhonda Reed, Larry Guenther, Mark Grote, Robert Canning, and Cathy Forkas

The Old East Davis Neighborhood Association presents “Trackside 3.0,” a proposal that balances the need for housing with the basic Davis values of sensible growth and the preservation of neighborhood character.

The association’s proposal is a three-story, mixed-use building based on the current design by the Trackside Partners, but scaled to fit within neighborhood Design Guidelines and city zoning.

Trackside 3.0 achieves:

  • Mass and scale consistent with the Design Guidelines;
  • Floor area ratio of 1.5 consistent with mixed-use zoning;
  • The same amount of commercial/retail space as the Trackside Partners proposal;
  • Increased housing near downtown;
  • Surpasses the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s goals for density near the railroad station;
  • Significantly reduces impacts to adjacent single-story homes; and
  • Creates a careful transition from a traditional historic neighborhood to the downtown core.

The neighborhood association’s proposal is still a very large building: It has 45 percent more square footage than the four-story Chen building at Second and G streets, and it is larger than The Lofts on E Street, the largest mixed-use residential building in the downtown core.

The Chen Building and The Lofts are both economically viable, suggesting that the association’s proposed building also will “pencil out.”

Responsible land use involves balancing the city’s need to grow with implicit contracts between the city and its citizens, which are embodied in zoning ordinances and land-use policies. The city’s goals can be achieved with a zoning-compliant building.

As Planning Commissioner David Robertson asked at the Aug. 23 Trackside Center hearing, “If we’re not going to enforce the Design Guidelines, then why do we have them?”

The policies of the General Plan, Core Area Specific Plan and Design Guidelines are statements of shared values and norms, produced with the input of planners, decision-makers and community stakeholders.

Some relevant policies:

  • The General Plan states a requirement for “an architectural fit with Davis” existing scale for new development projects.”
  • The General Plan states “There should be a scale transition between intensified land uses and adjoining lower intensity land uses.”
  • The Core Area Specific Plan states: “Existing residential neighborhoods and their character shall be protected. They are an integral part of the uniqueness of the downtown.”
  • The Design Guidelines, regarding mixed use mass and scale, state: “A building shall appear to be in scale with traditional single-family houses along the street front.”
  • The city of Davis Municipal Code states: “Wherever the guidelines for the DTRN conflict with the existing zoning standards including planned development, the more restrictive standard shall prevail.”

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.

A community-based process for revision of the Core Area Specific Plan will begin in the coming months. A new approach to planning, known as a “form-based code,” is expected to be a key component of the revised specific plan.

Transitional areas between single-story homes and downtown should incorporate the “missing middle” concept, according to Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design, lead author of the book “Form-Based Codes.” The “missing middle” is a scaled transition from traditional neighborhood homes to a denser downtown.

A fundamental purpose of form-based planning is to avoid the “wall” effect where two land-use types interface without a sensible transition. The Old East Davis Neighborhood Association’s proposal makes this careful transition, while the Trackside Partners’ proposal does not. The middle would still be missing if the Trackside Partners’ proposal is approved.

James Corless, CEO of SACOG, was asked about his vision for future growth in Davis at the Aug. 23 Planning Commission hearing. He replied that the city needs to provide new housing “while maintaining your community character, your charm, your livability and a small-town feel.”

Later that evening, the Trackside Partners’ proposal failed design review by a 6-0 vote of the Planning Commission, due to questions about its compliance with the Design Guidelines.

A financially viable, compliant building has now been presented in the form of the neighborhood association’s proposal, “Trackside 3.0.” There is no need to depart from the zoning and Design Guidelines.

The neighborhood association shares the community vision of a thriving, walkable downtown. The neighborhood association offers Trackside 3.0 as a proposal that all can support: one that accommodates Davis’ need to grow, preserves neighborhood character and respects commitments between the city and community stakeholders.

The community must be the guardians of our traditional historic neighborhoods. If we fail to protect them, the charm and uniqueness of Davis may be swept away by constant development pressure. Once lost, these can never be restored.

If this can happen at the Trackside site, it can happen anywhere in Davis.

The authors are members of the Board of Directors of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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12 thoughts on “Trackside 3.0 Balances the Need for Housing with Sensible Growth”

  1. David Greenwald

    “The Chen Building and The Lofts are both economically viable, suggesting that the association¹s proposed building also will “pencil out.””

    I would suggest that may be flawed reasoning without some sort of actual analysis.

    1. Tia Will

      Which has been requested, but not provided, by the Trackside partners who are within their rights, but outside a collaborative process which has been repeatedly sought by the neighborhood.

    2. Alan Miller

      I would suggest that may be flawed reasoning without some sort of actual analysis.

      That would be a reasonable point had there been a definitive claim of profit on a particular project design.  No one is going to do an actual analysis because the project’s fiances are not a matter of public record, and that is the developers right.

      The point is that similar, smaller buildings nearby did ‘pencil out’ — at least to the point that they were financed.  And these buildings were in the heart of downtown, not on a border property along and across the tracks (Trackside Center).

      The developers of Paso Fino intially claimed that they needed to build their proposal with more houses in order for the project to ‘pencil out’.  Yet, once negotiations with the neighborhood took place, they were still willing, if begrudgingly, to build the project because there was still sufficient profit in doing so.

      The point of the sentence is that a public statement of ‘it doesn’t pencil out’ by a project developer may sound like “It won’t make a profit”, when it really means “we want to make as much money as we can get away with”.  See again:  Paso Fino.

      There is no responsibility by the public or the City to make whole a developer who bought a project site on the speculation that the City would make wholesale changes to existing zoning laws and City planning documents in order for the developer to have a viable project.

  2. David Greenwald

    “If we’re not going to enforce the Design Guidelines, then why do we have them?”

    This is a valid point and once again why I think we should wait for the CASP prior to considering this project.

  3. Alan Miller

    DG, what happened to your other comment that was posted here for the last several hours, the one where you reiterated your point that the we should wait on approving the Trackside project until after the CASP process is completed?   It seems to have disappeared.  Did you remove your own comment?

  4. Ron

    Nice to see that the metal shed (which will require removal from ACE’s property, to make way for the parking lot) is apparently being “repurposed” on top of this proposed structure.  🙂

    In all seriousness, showing what a conforming structure might look like is a great idea.

      1. Alan Miller

        No offense taken.  The design is based on the design/drawings by the Trackside Partners, reduced to fit the building design within existing zoning laws and planning documents.  It is literally cut and paste of the drawing.  The architectural features are those of the Trackside Partners design.  Including the repurposed ACE shed 🙂

  5. Roberta Millstein

    I appreciate the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association’s initiative in putting forward a positive proposal that they are willing to support.  It would be good if it could be used as a basis for further dialogue and possible adoption.  Such groups are often accused of being NIMBYs, but what they are saying here is “This is OK in our back yard.”

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