City Responds to Comments on Trackside’s Environmental Review

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Instead of doing an EIR as the environmental review for the Trackside Center, which is scheduled to go to council next Tuesday, the developer called for an Initial Study, prepared by the Community Development & Sustainability Department, and the city has now posted the response to a variety of environmental concerns.  (The 423 page document is available here).

Not surprisingly, there were numerous comments that expressed concern about the project consistency with city plans and policies, including zoning and design guidelines.

The city’s Community Development & Sustainability Department writes in response: “Project consistency with land use plans, including the role of the Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhood (DDTRN) Design Guidelines, is addressed in SCEA/IS Section X (Land Use/Planning) which determined the potential conflicts to be less than significant.”

According to the city, the Trackside project “implements the intent of the City’s General Plan and Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) and the SCEA/IS identifies project consistency with land use policies, including policies to encourage housing, economic development, and a mix of uses in the Core Area to maintain it as the City primary center, to support infill development, to encourage high-intensity residential and commercial development near activity centers, promote urban/community design, provide an architectural ‘fit,’ and encourage a variety of housing.”

Here they argue that the policies here “describe desired outcomes” but they “do not require compliance with every single policy.”  They write, “Design guidelines are similar in that way, but provide more focused guidance. Inconsistency with a particular provision of a plan does not necessarily require a determination that the project will have a significant environmental impact.”

They also note the project entitlements “include a rezone of the project site to a new Planned Development (PD) zoning district and a CASP amendment related to the density.”  This rezone
they argue, “ensures that the project will be consistent with the zoning and comply with the applicable development standards.”

They note, for instance, that the CASP amendment addresses project density.

With respect to the DDTRN Design Guidelines, the city notes: “Comments received cite the ‘mandatory’ nature of the DDTRN Design Guidelines based on language in the City Zoning Ordinance (Municipal Code Section 40.13A.020(b)), which states that when ‘Wherever the guidelines for the DTRN conflict with the existing zoning standards including planned development, the more restrictive standard shall prevail.'”

Here the city notes, “Compliance with the design guidelines is primarily an aesthetic issue. The project requires Design Review approval by the City which utilizes the DDTRN Design Guidelines to ensure the design of new development is appropriate.”

Here they argue, “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. Design Review does not require one hundred percent compliance with the DDTRN Design Guidelines.”

They further add that “the project will alter the existing visual character of the area, but that it would not substantially degrade the visual quality of the site.”

Commenters cite specific design guidelines such as one for scale that “a building shall appear to be in scale with traditional single-family houses along the street front.”

The city responds: “It is a qualitative guideline which the comments argue is equivalent to a development standard. However, the comments do not identify the quantitative requirement in the Design Guidelines that applies or cite what specific zoning standard the guideline conflicts with and prevails over.”

Moreover, “Even if a conflict existed, project entitlements, as discussed above, include the new PD Zoning District and Design Review. Entitlement approval requires conformance with applicable plans, policies, and guidelines, and consistency with zoning. It ensure that conflicts with City land use plans and policies would be less than significant.”

There were also a number of comments about the alley traffic.  These concerns relate to “additional alley trips, service vehicle trips, impacts to garage ingress/egress, mitigation related to the alley design, issues regarding safety, and pedestrian movement through the alley.”

KD Anderson performed trip generation analysis for the proposed project.  The estimate would be there would be 551 daily vehicle trips related to the commercial portion of the project and 161 related to the residential portion of the project, for a total of 711.

The city notes that “the 711 daily trips would be spread throughout the surrounding roadway network.

“Considering the diversion of commercial trips away from the alley, and the addition of residential trips to the alley, KD Anderson & Associates, Inc. concluded that operation of the proposed project would add a total of 94 net new trips to the alleyway over the course of an entire day,” they conclude.  “This relatively minor increase in alley traffic over the course of the entire day, coupled with improvements to the alley, would ensure that adverse traffic and safety impacts would not occur.”

There were also comments expressing concerns about parking impacts.  The city responds:  “City parking policies seek to maximize the efficient use of parking and commercial land in the Core Area and discourages the provision of excessive on-site parking for commercial uses.”

The project provides 27 on-site parking spaces for residents, 3 on-site parking spaces for managers of the retail spaces, the remaining “17 required parking spaces based on the retail square footage will be provided as in lieu parking fees or at a nearby off-site parking site, such as the parking garage located at 4th and G Street, subject to City approval.”

They write: “The combination of on-site parking with in lieu fees or approved off-site spaces would comply with parking requirements as provided in the proposed PD Zoning for the site, Municipal Code Section 40.15 (M-U District), and Section 40.25 (Parking Requirements). As such, the project will provide adequate parking that meets City parking requirements and would not result in a significant parking impact.”

Finally (for our purposes), the city addresses cumulative impacts.  They write: “Numerous comments expressed general concerns about cumulative impacts. They included comments that the proposed project would set a precedent or include entitlements that will result in increased development in the size of buildings and in population and house in the area that is not analyzed in the Initial Study.”

They write: “Although other commercial properties near the project site are expected to accommodate denser development based on the zoning and land use, no other redevelopment projects are currently proposed in the surrounding area. Any new proposed projects will be evaluated based on the merits of the specific project and will include review for consistency with the land use, zoning, and design guidelines.”

The Vanguard will in future publications publish some of the letters received by the city.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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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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30 thoughts on “City Responds to Comments on Trackside’s Environmental Review”

  1. Ron

    From article:  ” . . . the developer did an Initial Study and the city has now posted the response to a variety of environmental concerns.”

    Then, two paragraphs later, we have this (with no explanation or introduction):

    From article:  “The consultants write:”

    Just wondering:  Since the article states that the “developer” did the study, is this to be viewed as an objective analysis?  (I’m assuming that the “consultants” were hired by the developer, but no explanation was provided.) Also, does city staff weigh in separately, or do they just refer to this analysis?

     

    1. Cathy

      Ron, thank you for calling this to our attention. After some research on David’s sources of the study and the quoted material, and after awaiting a directive from David, I have hopefully corrected all the references. The SCEA/IS and the response to community comments about it were prepared by the city department named above. “Consultants” was intended to refer to that department, and we regret the confusion.

      Cathy A.

  2. larryguenther

    The city’s Community Development & Sustainability Department writes in response: “Project consistency with land use plans, including the role of the Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhood (DDTRN) Design Guidelines, is addressed in SCEA/IS Section X (Land Use/Planning) which determined the potential conflicts to be less than significant.”

    The potential conflict of a 4-story apartment building with a ground floor of commercial/retail and a restaurant next door to single-family, residential homes is less than significant?  Would any owner of such a home consider this building “less than significant” if it was built 30 feet from their home?  This analysis seems flawed to me.

    1. Ron

      Larry:  I agree.

      This type of building would be fine in the actual downtown area, in locations where there aren’t almost-adjacent small, residential homes.

      Was never much of a fan of Nancy Reagan, but the phrase “just say no” comes to mind.  Not sure what all the hand-wringing is about, for such an obvious/easy decision. (Apparently, to meet some nebulous “goal” of increasing density without considering the consequences, and with no overall purpose or plan in place.)

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      I think it is important that you understand that this is an environmental analysis – hence: “Inconsistency with a particular provision of a plan does not necessarily require a determination that the project will have a significant environmental impact.” So from an environmental standpoint the conflict is less than significant, that doesn’t mean it is less than significant in all aspects as you point out.

      1. larryguenther

        David: the built environment is part of the environment.  One of the key characteristics that the City used in designating Old East Davis as a Conservation District, is the “setting and feel” of the neighborhood.  Do you propose that this building would have a ‘less than significant effect’ on the setting and feel of the neighborhood?

        1. Howard P

          Appreciate your sentiment, but CEQA does not (and in my opinion, should not) consider your expressed value, part of the “environment”, for legal purposes.  Your sentiments are appropriate for discussion, consideration, and perhaps decision making, but not under the aegis of CEQA.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          Larry: Basically you are responding to a legal document which is what the Initial Study is in layman terms when you make an argument, “the built environment is part of the environment.”

        3. larryguenther

          The definition of Environment from CEQA.

          § 21060.5. ENVIRONMENT “Environment” means the physical conditions that exist within the area which will be affected by a proposed project, including land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, noise, or objects of historic or aesthetic significance.

          This is the reason that CEQA documents (including the Trackside Initial Study) must address impacts related to Historical Resources and why Davis has a Historic Resource Management Commission that has authority in California law.

        4. Howard P

          Key words, Larry… “physical conditions”… not aesthetics or perceptions thereof related to neighboring properties that may be ‘historical’… CEQA cover the obliteration/physical changes to “objects of historic or aesthetic significance.” .

          Emphasis mine.

          Your points are important, but not under the aegis of CEQA…. they are still valid arguments, but one must consider, ‘time place, and manner’…

        5. David Greenwald

          HRMC “Voted unanimously to affirm the Commission’s previous determination that yhe existing structures do not meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, California Register of Historical Resources, or City landmark or merit resource requirements based on the Historical Resources Analysis and that they do not warrant full review under CEQA as historical resources”

  3. larryguenther

    They also note the project entitlements “include a rezone of the project site to a new Planned Development (PD) zoning district and a CASP amendment related to the density.”  This rezone they argue, “ensures that the project will be consistent with the zoning and comply with the applicable development standards.”

     

    Well, yes.  If you change the zoning to fit the building, then the building fits the zoning once it is changed.  What is the point of having zoning if every project just amends the zoning?  The entire purpose of the applicable Planning Documents and the designation of this site as a transitional zone, is to prevent exactly this type of situation.  The fact that existing planning documents are repeatedly ignored by the City seems to me like a clear message to developers that existing zoning is not important.

    1. Ron

      Larry:  “The fact that existing planning documents are repeatedly ignored by the City seems to me like a clear message to developers that existing zoning is not important.”

      Seems like that’s been demonstrated, repeatedly. I wonder if that’s what folks actually expected, from this council.

        1. Ron

          Yeah.  “Old” zoning must make way for “new and improved” zoning.

          I recall that even you’ve pointed out that the CASP should be updated, before considering “exceptions”. Note that even if/when the CASP is updated, it’s not likely that the downtown skyline will suddenly change, overnight. In the meantime, this is a very large-scale proposal, compared to the almost-adjacent residences – in an obvious transition zone.

          If the developers don’t want to wait, then they can pursue a building which adheres to existing guidelines.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I believe that the CASP should be updated before considering Trackside, but that doesn’t appear about to happen.

        2. larryguenther

          David: the concept of transitioning between the Traditional neighborhoods and a denser downtown core is a current concept – regardless of when the concept was initiated.  Every speaker invited to Davis in the last 2 years – including Opticos Design, the consultants for the CASP update – has specifically identified the need for transitions to preserve neighborhood character.  Every speaker – without exception.

        3. David Greenwald Post author

          Larry: You are definitely on stronger ground to argue that until the city sets the new zoning for the CASP, Trackside doesn’t make sense.  Where I think your transition zone argument has more trouble is basically you are making the argument that three stories is an appropriate transition and four stories is not.  The problem that you run into is that it’s arbitrary, subjective and therefore difficult to sustain.  If the city extends zoning in the core to six stories with two in the neighborhoods, then four is as good as transition as three.  My problem here is that while I think we have to go up higher than we have, we are doing it before we have worked out the zoning for the core.  I think that’s your strongest argument.  Everything else is subjective.

        4. larryguenther

          basically you are making the argument that three stories is an appropriate transition and four stories is not.  The problem that you run into is that it’s arbitrary, subjective and therefore difficult to sustain.

           

          (apologies for this reply being out of place, but I couldn’t reply directly to the comment from which the quote above was taken)

          Actually David, it is not arbitrary – it comes straight out of the Design Guidelines and history.  A neighboring structure that is greater than twice the height of an adjacent structure is not a sufficient transition.  This has been seen again and again in urban settings everywhere.  It is why the Design Guidelines insist on 2 stories or well-designed three stories; i.e. 3-story buildings that present as 2-story buildings.

          Your argument of an ‘average’ height may be specious, but it is not sound.  By this argument an 11-story building is a ‘good transition’ between a 1-story building and a 21-story building.  This issue of transition is not a linear phenomenon, but a threshold phenomenon.  The purpose is that the new building does not overwhelm the existing building.  Said another way, it is the relationship between adjacent structures that is at issue, not the difference between the smallest and largest allowed anywhere.

          I would argue that diverting from Planning Documents that were created by an exhaustive, thorough, community-based process on the basis of an individual project is arbitrary.

    2. Alan Miller

      If you change the zoning to fit the building, then the building fits the zoning once it is changed.

      Sort of like if City Council persons were to pass a law to make the stealing of hubcaps legal because they have friends who steal hubcaps.

  4. Alan Miller

    The entire set of answers to comments falls into the category of:  “thanks for your comments, now let us piss on your boots and tell you it’s raining.”

  5. larryguenther

    They write: “Although other commercial properties near the project site are expected to accommodate denser development based on the zoning and land use, no other redevelopment projects are currently proposed in the surrounding area. Any new proposed projects will be evaluated based on the merits of the specific project and will include review for consistency with the land use, zoning, and design guidelines.”

     

    This is the answer to those who are worried about this project setting a precedent.  In addition to this not being a real answer, it has serious flaws:

    1) It seems reasonable, perhaps inevitable, that staff/council would make the same findings and decisions if they were presented with another building that was the same as the current proposal if the current proposal is approved by Council (staff already recommends approval of the current project).

    2) Given that our entire legal system is based on precedent it also seems reasonable that if a similar project were proposed for the Davis Rock Yard site, The California Naturals site, or the site at the railroad tracks and 5th st., and the City Council denied the application, the applicants could successfully sue, especially since…

    3) the precedent is built in.

     

     
    “… and the properties between 3 rd Street and 5 th Street, east of the railroad tracks and west of the alley are allowed …”

     

    This is the language from the amendment to the Core Area Specific Plan from the 23 August Planning Commission meeting.  Note that it applies not only to the Trackside Center site, but to all the parcels along the railroad tracks from 3rd St. to 5th St.  In the copious documentation of applications and the limited time to review them, things like this may slip through if people are not wary.  Indeed, it slipped past at least one Planning Commissioner.  We have been told by staff that it was a mistake that will be corrected for the City Council meeting.

    This seems to deviate somewhat from ‘due process.’

    1. Alan Miller

      In what sense does it matter if 3rd to 5th in in there or not?  Zoning is changed on a whim, which makes it not zoning.  The fact this got in there shows what the real intentions are.  Adjacent existing use always is used in justifying larger buildings, and a project built in the future becomes — in the future — the precedent for that future present.  Stating that building a large building does not set a precedent is spin — i.e. it is a lie.

      no other redevelopment projects are currently proposed in the surrounding area.

      I know this is hard for some to grasp, but:  Trackside wasn’t currently proposed until it was currently proposed.

      1. Howard P

        I fully agree with your gist… but I hope we don’t get to the point where zoning adopted 25-35 years ago is considered stone tablets from a certain mountain… I also firmly expect/demand that the City does not go to a concept of “zoning du jour”… neither extreme is healthy from a municipal standpoint…

        Zoning should lead, not follow, specific proposals.  It should be a deliberate (and an open, deliberative), rather than a reactionary process…

        Just being a troll, as usual…

  6. Alan Miller

    A neighboring structure that is greater than twice the height of an adjacent structure is not a sufficient transition.

    This reminds me of something:  I believe I once read that one definition of “wreckless driving” was speeding at more than double the speed limit.

    Perhaps when a new building is built next to an existing building and is more than double its height, this could be considered “wreckless zoning” or “wreckless land use”.

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