by Mark Grote
Dear decision-makers and community members: On behalf of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association Board, I am writing to ask again for collaboration between the city, property owners and neighbors, to address the unique challenges of the Core Transition East as the Downtown Plan moves forward.
Unique challenges of the Core Transition East parcels
The Core Transition East, located in Old East Davis just to the east of downtown, consists of four large parcels adjacent to the Union Pacific railroad tracks between 3rd and 5th Streets. Current planning provisions designate this area for neighborhood-compatible buildings that make appropriate scale transitions between the downtown core and the traditional, small-scale houses of Old East Davis.
The parcels of the Core Transition East present unique design challenges that are not met by the general building forms of the November 2019 draft Form-Based Code currently under review as part of the Downtown Plan. Some of the unusual features of these parcels are:
- They are large, although adjacent to small, single-story homes and in close proximity to designated historical resources.
- They have narrow street-frontage widths, although their depths extend to half blocks.
- The adjacent alleys are not side-streets. The alleys are narrow, and are bordered by zero lot-line dwellings and garages.
Although OEDNA agrees with the three-story maximum building heights for these parcels stated in the 2019 draft Downtown Plan, we recognize that the draft Plan would create challenges for achieving housing densities and retail volumes allowing for successful mixed-use development in the Core Transition East. Property owners of Core Transition East parcels are also dissatisfied with the proposed building forms, based on their public comments.
OEDNA expects future development in the Core Transition East to exemplify good planning principles of transitional building scale and form, as well as neighborhood compatibility. We also see the need for, and agree with, the desire to increase residential options near the downtown core and maintain a vibrant retail center. We believe these goals are compatible.
At the final Downtown Plan Advisory Committee meeting, in response to discussion and questions from committee members about the Core Transition East, Opticos staff suggested potentially viable strategies for dealing with the unique design challenges of these parcels. At the same meeting, DPAC voted unanimously to call on city planners to engage neighborhoods and property owners where the draft Downtown Plan created conflict. To our knowledge, Opticos’ alternative building forms were not formally developed for use by city decision-makers as the Downtown Plan entered the environmental review stage, nor have neighborhoods been consulted further.
Call for Collaboration
In letters to the City Council in March, 2020; to city planners in November, 2020; to the Planning Commission in April and October, 2020, and February, 2021; as well as in numerous public comments, OEDNA called for consideration and discussion of alternative building forms for the Core Transition East. These alternative forms could meet needs for transitional, neighborhood-compatible design, as well as provide enough building square-footage for feasible development.
Engagement by city planners and consultants with Old East Davis neighbors— and to our knowledge with other neighborhoods facing similar issues— has not occurred as of this date. We call again for timely and collaborative discussions on these matters as the draft Downtown Plan and Form-Based Code continue through environmental assessment.
OEDNA believes that a viable way forward exists for the Core Transition East, acceptable to property owners as well as to Old East Davis neighbors. Old East neighbors look forward to the future of the Core Transition East, where neighborhood-compatible mixed-used buildings will support increased housing density and energized commercial opportunities near downtown.
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