The Old East Davis Neighborhood Association has focused much of its attention on what it views as the discrepancy between the project proposal and design guidelines.
In a piece from last year, several neighbors wrote, “City of Davis planning can no longer operate on ‘zoning by exception.’ 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 write. “Zoning by exception defeats this purpose. This is a citywide issue, and the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association is taking a stand, saying that zoning by exception stops here, before Trackside itself is built as yet another exception.”
But in our estimation, this tactic is unlikely to prevail. The example that we offered from earlier this week was Mission Residence. In fact, in some ways it’s a more troubling example as the council, which approved it in 2013, did so despite the fact that it was out of compliance with an agreement struck in 2007 over the B Street Visioning Process.
The project exceeded the allowable density by nearly a two to one margin, with 42.4 units per acre compared to the allowable 24 units per acre. The building also exceeds the 38-foot height guidelines, with a 45-foot height. And there are only 21 parking spaces compared the required 28.
The problem that the Trackside neighbors and the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association have is that, while the B Street Visioning Process was completed in 2007, the guidelines they rely on are well out of date and in need of revising.
Moreover, if their push is against planning by exception, the council will probably come back with an argument that they are working on the Core Area Specific Plan which will eliminate such concerns and update the current zoning and design guidelines for the area.
The reliance of the neighbors on design guidelines seems to be, frankly, fatally flawed as city staff has already shown the inclination to ignore these guidelines – believing them to be guiding rather than mandatory. What Mission Residence shows is that a recent council was willing to ignore even recent design guidelines because they need housing.
Heck, even Joe Krovoza, who voted against Cannery, was willing to support this as long as it was planning by exception and did not becoming precedent-setting back in 2013.
When she voted to approve the project, Rochelle Swanson made the argument, “There are times when (there’s) a compelling reason that we have to, as policy makers, look at the overarching needs of the entire community.”
When it is Trackside, the council, specifically Rochelle Swanson, Robb Davis and Will Arnold, are going to look at the housing crisis and argue that we need to look at the needs of the entire community, not just the neighbors in Old East Davis and the neighborhood impact this will create.
The neighbors are correct to focus on more general interests than just their neighborhood, but zoning by exception is not likely to resonate with the council (their target audience) and, other than a few of the usual suspects, we have not seen a great deal of outpouring of interest on Trackside from the broader community.
What we have seen in the last year is that the council was willing to pass the Hyatt House hotel despite opposition from the neighborhood about the size and compatibility of the project. They were likewise willing to pass Sterling Apartments with the student housing crisis looming. They were willing to pass the B Street Residence as well, over neighborhood opposition.
So what should the neighbors do?
The Old East Davis Neighborhood Association has repeatedly stated that they are not opposed to a project there, they simply believe the size and scope is inappropriate for the location.
My first suggestion would be for them to request – if they haven’t already – that the city do a conflict resolution process. This is something that Mayor Robb Davis absolutely believes in. Brett Lee worked on one with the Rancho Yolo Mobile Home Park folks and Sterling, Will Arnold pushed for one with the Hyatt House folks.
In both cases, the process worked to some extent. In the case of Hyatt House they scaled down the size somewhat and addressed a number of the other concerns, including establishing some neighborhood benefits, and the neighbors dropped their opposition.
In the case of Sterling, the Rancho Yolo board reached an agreement. Again, the size and scope of the project was scaled back and they officially dropped their opposition to Sterling, although some of the neighbors remained opposed and spoke out against the project.
Conflict resolution might mean that there would be further compromise on size and there might be other issues that the neighborhood has which would be addressed.
A second area that the neighbors ought to consider hitting is the question that I have about this project – is the project providing for housing needs in Davis? This is somewhat subjective, but the council has been willing to override concerns expressed by neighbors on other projects because they can argue we have a housing crisis and therefore are in need of the housing that these projects will provide.
But what kind of housing do we need in Davis? Clearly, we have a desperate need for student housing as shown by the 0.2 percent vacancy rate. That is what helped push through Sterling and will likely do the same for Lincoln40. There is also a need for workforce housing for people who work in Davis but either can’t afford, or we do not have the capacity for them, to live in Davis.
There clearly is a need for housing for faculty and staff from UC Davis. And senior housing has gained traction through the notion that people who live here might wish to downsize to a smaller home as they age in place (though I’m at least a little skeptical of whether that works in practice). It is then hoped that this would free up single-family homes for families and other housing needs.
However, Trackside would be built not as student housing – in fact, it would be built to exclude students. They would be higher-end rentals. They don’t seem to have checked the standard boxes that would be identified as clear needs.
So the neighbors can push the argument that the project will have strong impacts without the upside of providing the high-demand housing that we need.
In the end, the strongest case they have is the conflict resolution route – again, if it is not already underway – and that is the most likely path they will have to a further reduction in size and scope of the project.
—David M. Greenwald reporting