Letter: Future of the Core Transition East

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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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5 thoughts on “Letter: Future of the Core Transition East”

  1. Alan Miller

    This is so needed, by every stakeholder in this corridor.  Ironically, the original guidelines in the Downtown and Historical Neighborhood Plan (I forget the formal name) called for a building form that was indeed transitional.  This was abandoned by the proposed development there (currently on hold pending appeal), but then the City called in Opticos for the Downtown Plan to create a plan that specified building forms that maximized gentle transitions by design.  Although the three-story design is in the written Downtown Plan, the committee, in a split-vote mirroring the city/developer vs. neighbors disagreements, decided to approve four stories, yet gave a public hearing invoking public comment on the plan as published, never mentioning that the DPAC had “changed it’s mind” since then.

    The bickering over this strip of land needs to stop, and we have the opportunity for this to happen.  No party in the disagreement is satisfied with current proposals of the other.  When we approached Opticos about coming up with a building form that would take into account and balance the needs of the neighbors, the developers and the City and asked if they could help, they confidently replied, “That’s what we do”.

    The City hired these consultants, but then failed to take advantage of their talent at creating building forms to help solve one of the most contentious land disputes in Davis history.  The neighborhood has never opposed development, only the forms it would take — forms that deviate from City guidelines and put undue burden on adjacent neighbors.  It is time to put this dispute behind us by all parties stepping forward to agree to a process to take advantage of these resources available.

  2. Tim Keller

    I have to think that there are a number of “best practices” for managing issues like this.

    Pretty much EVERY city that has grown has dealt with the problem of a downtown expanding and displacing older residential neighborhoods ajacent to the that downtown core.

    I dont think that we should limit the growth of our downtown, and old east davis is certainly in the crosshairs of the logical growth of downtown,  but I also believe in property rights and due process etc.

    So the pain here is real, but it also shouldnt be unexpected, and I suspect that there are best practices for how to navigate all of this… yes?

    1. Mark West

      Yes, the pain is real, just as is the City’s deficit, which is causing pain all over town. With the current strip of parcels available for redevelopment we have a unique opportunity to address many of the Community’s pressing needs through our decision. The ‘best practice’ here is to consider what is best for the community as a whole and not simply the desires of the near neighbors.

      1. Tim Keller

        Fair point.   I just see that this particular neighborhood is NOT going to stop having issues even if consensus is reached for the properties in question.

        With the price of land, and the low density of even the multi-family apartment complexes in that neighborhood, many of which are showing their age… There is going to be continual pressure to redevelop parcels in that neighborhood at a higher density.     This issue is SO common that it’s cliche’… ( ever seen the Pixar movie “UP”?  )

        Thats why I was asking about best practices.  The densification of that neighborhood is most likely inevitable, and I hate to think that our city’s future policy process will need to consist of re-litigating what is essentially the same issue for every project that happens there.

        I’d rather that we accept the economic realities that are going to play out in that neighborhood, and develop a process and a set of expectations for managing that future so that we DONT have to litigiate every project.

        1. Bill Marshall

          There is an old, single frame cartoon with an old lady on a rocker on a porch of her little house, with a sign placed on it, “location of the new freeway when the old lady dies”… sure it was in New Yorker in the 70’s, early 80’s… kinda like “hell no I won’t go!”

          Last time I remembered it was seeing the movie, “Up”…

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