Judge Sam McAdam stuck with his original ruling despite a strong push by attorneys for the city and real party of interest, Trackside, to get him to reconsider at a hearing in mid-April.
Once again, Judge McAdam ruled (see link) that the Trackside development is not consistent with the City’s General Plan, and ruled in favor of The Old East Davis Neighborhood Association.
That means the city council will have to decide whether to appeal the decision at an upcoming council meeting, according to a release from the city late on Friday afternoon.
In a 22-page ruling by Judge McAdam, the Court stated, “Based on the totality of circumstances and a review of the entire record, it is the conclusion of this Court that Trackside is not consistent with the City of Davis planning provisions governing the transition between the Core Area and to the Old East Davis neighborhood.”
The ruling goes on to conclude that, while the City made “a compelling case” for a mixed-use, residential development, the Court believes that “the mass and scale of the project is not reasonable.”
As Judge McAdam put it, “the failure here is that the mass and scale of the proposed project is not reasonable under the current law and factual circumstances. There simply is not a logical and reasoned case to be made that Trackside is a ‘transition’ from the Core Area to the Old East Davis neighborhood. Trackside would overwhelm the existing residential neighborhood. It would not respect the traditional scale and character of the neighborhood. The record lacks evidentiary support for the City’s decision.”
The judge also stated that “it follows that the SB 375 Sustainable Community Environmental Assessment conducted by the City was inadequate.” Judge McAdam writes, “The SCEA/IS did not properly assess the project inconsistency with the General Plan and related planning provisions.”
As a result, the city was directed to rescind all approvals associated with the project.
Once again Judge McAdam concluded, “Trackside is not consistent with the City of Davis planning provisions governing the transition between the Core Area to the Old East Davis neighborhood. Trackside is twice the size of the nearby Chen Building. It is significantly larger than the McCormick Building and the Roe Building. These smaller buildings are all in the Core Commercial Area, where densification shall occur first. Trackside is four times larger than the current on-site buildings. There are no buildings inside the Core on the Third Street Corridor remotely similar in size.”
During oral arguments in April, attorneys for the city as well as the developer argued that the FAR (floor area ratio) was in compliance with city codes and the size and mass of the building simply reflected the large size of the lot.
Mr. Walsh argued that this is a larger lot and the city is looking at this in terms of Floor Area Ratio (FAR). He said that “if you include the leased area, it is within what’s expected for mixed-use areas for the city.”
The FAR of the building is 1.59. The limits in the zoning are 1.5 – however, with density bonuses for having a plaza and underground parking, it could raise the limit up to as high as 2.0. Without the underground parking, it is at 1.7.
Mr. Walsh continued: “The size of the building, that’s really a zoning issue…. This is consistent with the zoning for that site.” He added, “What you use the design guidelines… to design the project in a way that minimizes the impacts… They gradually stepped it back.”
But, while Judge McAdam heard this argument, he ultimately rejected it.
In his ruling he stated that “the FAR like the designation of the site as an opportunity site does not change or satisfy the fundamental planning policy that the project must be a transition from the Core Commercial Area to the Old East Davis neighborhood.”
He adds, “All of the necessary zoning amendments for the project must be consistent with the fundamental policies set forth in the general plan and the CASP.”
The city and developer were unhappy with the outcome.
“The ruling in this case is perplexing and runs contrary to the standard of law that applies to decisions by local jurisdictions,” said Mike Webb, City Manager, City of Davis in a statement released by the city late on Friday.
Judge McAdam acknowledged that the proper standard of review here was “abuse of discretion.” He wrote, “Under this standard, the Court must defer to the factual findings on consistency of the City unless no reasonable person could have reached the same conclusion on the evidence before it.”
The city clearly saw this ruling as contradicting its land use authority and the standard of review.
“The ruling is a disappointing setback that undermines the authority of city officials to make difficult and complicated, local, land-use decisions,” said Dan Carson, Davis City Councilmember.
He added, “It’s ironic that while state officials are threatening to take away transportation money from cities that don’t build enough housing, courts within the state are hindering our efforts to do so. Hopefully, if the City appeals, a higher court will restore local control, so we can build the community we want and address our housing needs.”
“Although I voted against the Trackside project, I believe the City Council does have discretion to decide as it did on this development issue,” said Davis Mayor Brett Lee. “I am surprised that the court felt otherwise.”
Kemble K. Pope, a managing member of Trackside, LLC, said, “We are disappointed in this result, but we remain committed to this project that provides much-needed, environmentally friendly, infill housing and modern commercial spaces for local businesses in the core of our community.”
Late on Saturday, the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association sent the Vanguard a comment.
They said, “The Old East Davis Neighborhood Association is grateful that the Court conducted a thorough review of the administrative record and made a well-considered decision. The Court was unusually diligent, in that the Parties were brought together for a second hearing to ensure that all relevant aspects of the case were presented.
The group added, “It was never the neighborhood’s intention to prevent redevelopment of this site. We support infill. In a Davis Enterprise Op Ed on Sept 24, 2017, we showed that the Trackside proposal could be downscaled to fit within neighborhood Design Guidelines and City zoning. The Court’s ruling is a good outcome that could lead to a well-designed, transitional building that is consistent with Davis’ land use policies.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Edit: Story updated to include a statement from the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association