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