By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – It was a day that marked the changing of the guards for the city council, in came Bapu Vaitla, out went Dan Carson. When Lucas Frerichs steps down next month, Will Arnold will Mayor and Josh Chapman Vice Mayor.
With Chapman recused from the discussion, the council pushed forward with approvals of the Downtown Plan.
The biggest areas of concern for many appeared to be buildings heights both at Hibbert and along G St.
“Most of the area covered in this plan we’re not hearing a lot of controversy about,” Vice Mayor Will Arnold commented at one point. “We’re really literally talking about some of the edges here. I think that’s appropriate for this process.”
This is perhaps best embodied in a letter from John Meyer, President of the Old North Davis Neighborhood Association. The former Davis City Manager and Vice Chancellor at UC Davis ironically sat on the DPAC.
He wrote, “As a member of the DPAC, I recall some of the primary objectives of the project were to bring more certainty to both residents and the development community about what is allowed within certain land-use designations. It was also careful to recognize the need for transitions between more intensive development and existing neighborhoods.”
On Hibbert, he argued, “During the planning process, many in our neighborhood believed that a 4-story project as allowed in the draft plan is too intense for this area as it would be adjacent to one-story buildings.”
He noted a request by the developer to allow for a five story project to which the neighborhood responded, “We believe such a change removes any ability for a thoughtful transition between more intensive development and the existing neighborhood (the reason the current designation was chosen). Therefore, we support the land-use designation currently shown in the draft plan.”
In terms of the west side of G Street on the 500-600 block, “we support the land-use designation currently shown in the draft plan.”
Others had similar concerns with one family noting that they support infill development at Hibbert “up to 4 stories” and on the west side of G Street “up to two stories.”
Many complained about the process whereby the Planning Commission heard amendment requests to the Final Draft of the Downtown Specific Plan.
“This may be a normal process, however creating the DDSP has been a thoughtful 5 year process between the City of Davis and its citizens,” one person wrote.
Vice Mayor Arnold noted that “several public commenters indicated that they took issue with the idea that council and the planning planning commission would potentially deviate in any meanful way from the draft.”
He said, “I take a little bit of issue with that, um, insofar as this is our very first official bite at the apple here as the elected representatives of the citizens of Davis. The idea that we would receive a draft and that our only appropriate role would be to rubber stamp it I take some issue with.”
Arnold noted that public commenters noted some déjà vu and PTSD with regard to building heights from the Trackside discussion.
Arnold remarked, “It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that that’s what are some of the remaining issues that we are considering here would be surrounding building heights.”
One of the issues that Will Arnold pointed out is that we are talking about a transition area, “but we’re talking about a transition and what, what we would end up having if we went to this neighborhood small is the transition from two stories to two stories. And to me, I must say that’s no transition at all.”
Responding to other public commenters, Arnold noted, “it was implied by at least one public commenter that the only benefit of adding an additional story is, uh, is financial windfall to the developer.”
“We continue to be in a housing crisis,” Arnold said. “We continue to see the benefits of having folks live near where they shop, where they are able to access transit. We need more housing and more density in this area. So there is whether we end up supporting four stories or five stories as part of the zoning and the decision we make tonight, the benefit of increased density is more folks having an opportunity to live in downtown and all the benefits that come from that.”
Echoing some of the process concerns raised by the public, Bapu Vaitla noted, “On an outcome level, I think this is a defensible and a good idea. I’m a little concerned that when we have revisions to the Downtown Plan, there is typically a process of kind of active community engagement. I’m not sure there was quite enough on this one. So I, I’m a little uncomfortable, without that community engagement.”
Mayor Frerichs responded that one of the issues that has arisen, “especially in the past couple weeks, has been this issue of calling the process into question.”
He added, “People can agree to disagree on aspects of this. It’s exactly the Planning Commission role and also the City Council role to tie up loose ends on project all the time… to work through some of these remaining issues, outstanding issues, that is exactly the role of what both entities… should be doing.”
Vice Mayor Arnold noted, “Once we get to this point in the discussion where we’re talking about one floor, eight feet with a setback, we’re really on the margins of that point.” He said, “It’s not like we’re deciding should it be two stories or should it be 50 stories.”
He said, “I just don’t think that one floor is going to be the difference between the quality of a neighborhood or not.” He later added, “I mean, talking big cities, small towns, and I don’t come away ever from those experiences thinking, man, if it was just one floor shorter, we would sure have a nice neighborhood here.”
Bapu Vaitla noted “the outcome is this question that always kind of bedevils all land use, which is that I, myself personally, when I’m looking at this and the potential to be developed, I think it’s, it’s good for the city as a whole. I think it’s good for the city.”
He added, “I however, do recognize that there are several individuals, property owners live near there that for them it’ll be negative. So how do you, how do you trade that off? What, what might be good for the city, but you know, is, uh, potentially negative for constituents? I don’t have an easy answer to that question.”
Frerichs added, “I personally try to attempt to make decisions that I think are in the best interest of the entire community. There’s going to continue to be, of course, you know, occasional times when people think that I’ve made a decision that affects their neighborhood that is against their neighborhood or is not in the best interest of their neighborhood.”
Frerichs noted that “if this is going to be allowed to be four stories” that with setbacks and such, a fifth story is not something that is unreasonable.
“We don’t know that there’s going to be a guaranteed project that comes through the door,” he said. “But I do think (housing) is important nearby shopping, walkable to employment, other things, but also eminently bikeable, but also so close to the train station as well too, in terms of transit and the bus lines that I do think it makes it a very good site for increased density.”