A few weeks after the city council approved the Trackside infill development at four stories, the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association has hired attorney Don Mooney and filed a CEQA suit challenging the city council’s “approval of the Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment/Initial Study for the Trackside Center Project” and their “approval of Project on the grounds that such approvals violate the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), Public Resources Code, section 21000 et seq.; Davis Municipal Code section 40.13A.020; and Government Code, section 65300 et seq.”
The Neighborhood, an unincorporated association, argues that the council’s “approval of the Project is invalid and void and fails to satisfy the requirements of CEQA, and the CEQA Guidelines.”
They also argue that it is inconsistent with the city’s Design Guidelines, Davis Municipal Code and the city’s applicable planning documents.
In the complaint, Mr. Mooney notes: “Petitioner is committed to the environmental values and well-being of the City of Davis and its citizens, including the Old East Davis area and its surroundings. The group is composed of persons whose personal, aesthetic, and property interests will be severely injured if the adoption of the Project is not set aside pending full compliance with CEQA and all other environmental laws.”
He adds, “As a group composed of residents and property owners, Petitioner is within the class of persons beneficially interested in, and aggrieved by, the acts of Respondents as alleged below.”
He notes that the “Petitioner participated in the administrative processes herein, and exhausted its remedies. Petitioner submitted numerous written comments on the Sustainable Communities
Environmental Assessment/Initial Study (SCEA/IS) and the Project. Petitioner and its members also participated in the City Council’s hearings regarding the Project.”
Accordingly, “Petitioner has standing to sue.”
Trackside is located at 901-919 3rd Street in Davis along the Union Pacific Railroad right of way. It consists of a 0.69 acre site in the area designated as Old East Davis, and comprises a mix of residential, commercial, and retail uses.
The project calls for the removal of two existing one-story commercial buildings and the construction of a new four-story mixed-use building.
The council in November voted 4-1 to approve the project, with Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee dissenting.
The city determined that the proposed project qualified as a Transit Priority Project under CEQA and initiated the implementation of a Sustainable Communities Strategies. It released the Initial Study on July 11 for public review and comment. At the time, the petitioner and its members submitted numerous comments on the Initial Study.
Under the first cause of action, the petitioner notes that CEQA “contains streamlining provisions for “transit priority projects” that are consistent with the general plan land use designation.” In order to qualify, they argue, “the City relies upon the land leased from Union Pacific Railroad. This in turn supports the City’s determination that the Project qualifies as a Sustainable Community/transit priority project. The lease, however, is terminable for any reason on 30 days’ notice. Upon termination of the lease, which is not in control of the Respondents or applicant, the Project would no longer qualify for streamlining.”
The petitioner argues that there is “no guarantee that the lease will survive the life of the Project” and thus should not be considered as qualifying for the streamlined environmental review. They argue, “The City’s reliance on Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment/Initial Study violates CEQA because the Project fails to conform to local land use plans and zoning ordinances.”
Under their second cause of action, the petitioner argues that that the findings of fact violate CEQA guidelines in that they “fail to identify the changes or alterations that are required to avoid or substantially lessen the project’s significant environmental effects.”
Third, they argue that under the Davis Municipal Code, language states, “Wherever the guidelines for the DTRN conflict with the existing zoning standards including planned development, the more restrictive standard shall prevail.” The phrase “… including planned development…” applies to the Project.
The DDTRN (Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhood) Design Guidelines for Mixed Use Building Mass and Scale display a schematic figure with the caption: “A building shall appear” to be in scale with traditional single-family houses along the street front.”
They write: “The approved building does not appear to be in scale with traditional single-family houses along the street front. Given the mandatory standards set forth in 40.13A.020, the Project is inconsistent with the DDTRN.”
As such, “Respondents’ approval of the Project constitutes a prejudicial abuse of discretion and is contrary to law.”
Fourth they argue that the project is “inconsistent with the City of Davis’ General Plan and the Core Area Specific Plan.”
Land Use Principle states: “Accommodate new buildings with floor area ratios that can support transit use, especially within 1/4 mile from commercial areas and transit stops, but maintain scale transition and retain enough older buildings to retain small-city character.”
Policy UD 2.3 requires “an architectural ‘fit’ with Davis’ existing scale for new development projects.” It also states: “There should be a scale transition between intensified land uses and adjoining lower intensity land uses.”
The Project is not of “…a scale in keeping with the existing city character.”
They argue: “The Project is therefore inconsistent with General Plan Vision 2, item 4. The Project does not”…maintain [a] scale transition…” and is therefore inconsistent with General Plan Land Use Principle 4.”
They also argue that the project does not make “…a scale transition between intensified land uses and adjoining lower intensity land uses” and is “therefore inconsistent with General Plan Policy UD 2.3.”
The Project is also “inconsistent with the General Plan Policies on Historic Preservation. More specifically, the Project is inconsistent with Policies HIS 1.2, HIS 1.3 and HIS 1.4. These policies seek to preserve the historic features of the Project area and to maintain the character of historic resources.”
The council has scheduled a special closed session meeting for tonight to discuss this pending litigation and to respond accordingly.
—David M. Greenwald reporting