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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Council Preserves Anderson Bank Building as an Historic Site

The Davis City Council last night voted by a 3-2 margin to accept the "no change alternative" to the Anderson Bank Building, turning back a heavily lobbied bid by owner Jim Kidd to alter the window structure of the historic building. Councilmember Lamar Heystek and Mayor Sue Greenwald were joined by Councilmember Stephen Souza to support the preservation of the Anderson Bank Building.

Mr. Kidd speaking before the council made the case based on the need to be able to better attract customers to retail purchases through a larger and more visible window display.
"Over the last twenty years I have been attempting to rent and keep retailers at the corner of the location of the Anderson building. For the most part it has been a constant revolving door of these struggling to be successful."
Furthermore he suggested that he has at times been forced to rent this space at well below market value--at times as low as 50 cents per square foot. It should be noted however, that that is not his current rent is nowhere near that rate.

The big push though was a direct appeal to the downtown businesses who had opposed Target and other big box expansion as a threat to downtown vitality and retail.

"The big boxes are at the Gates of Davis," he emphatically proclaimed.
"Our city is surrounded by big boxes... And they continue to pull our shoppers and our sales dollars out of the city. Perhaps many in this room have been tempted to shop outside of Davis at these big boxes. We need better stores and more of those sales dollars to remain in Davis."
At the same time, he admitted that this change was not going to really stop this.
"The change that I am proposing may not stop this flow of sales dollars, but it will help to improve this downtown intersection as well as the downtown."
Davis City Staff recommended against such changes on the basis of the EIR which found that these changes would make very significant impacts on the historic status of the building.

City Staffer Ike Njokou argued that the proposed changes would alter the building's ability to physically convey its previously identified historical significance.
"Part of the EIR analysis is what we call an historical resources analysis that was performed by an historian, preservation historian. And she indicates in that report that was made by the draft EIR that both Option A and B would impact the integrity of the building, however with mitigation she does believe that Option A could be implemented, staff's concern with that is it does create a disjointed appearance relative to the building because you have to present the window sill which is a significant portion of that building."
Moreover the window sill is the current defining feature of the building, and its alteration would completely alter the building and its historic nature.
"Because the sill, the window sill is deemed as a current defining feature of the building. If you were to remove that sill it does create an appearance that is no longer consistent with the theme for that portion of the building. You have to realize that this building has three uses and also is designed accordingly. The second floor is designed for offices, where Togos is, is designed for retail, and this 2500 square foot section is designed as a bank section or bank use space, and was used as such for a while with other uses at times."
The building while recognized as a city landmark, and is eligible to be formally nominated for the national registry has not yet been included.

According to the chair of the Historical Resources Management Commission, Rand Herbert, this is due to resistance by the Mr. Kidd to its inclusion. An inclusion that would probably and perhaps likely preclude any future alterations.
"National register nomination of private property have to be done by the land owner... It is my understanding that you cannot make an adverse nomination to the register... I don't believe that the city can nominate to the national register against the wishes of the owner."
Mr. Rand, whose committed voted unanimously to recommend the "no change" alternative, reiterated the point that Mr. Njoku made about the importance of windows for the historic nature of the windows.
"Windows are considered architectural historians and architects to be the single most defining feature of any building. And I think if you cast your minds eye around to house and other buildings that you've seen where the windows have been drastically altered, it has a big effect on the way that building looks. It was designed to have windows of a certain kind."
A strong argument was made by several of the importance of historic preservation for community. One of the things that has struck me about this community as I have learned more and more of its rich history, is how few buildings remain that are historic. It is tragic as to how many of the buildings of such historic value were already demolished.

As Robin Datel, former chair of the HRMC and current professor of geography at Sacramento State put it:
"I think that our downtown has very very important functions other than just retailing and that is that is our most important civic space. That is to say it speaks to who we are and who we were. And that's what preservation is all about."
This ideal of the character of Davis and the Davis downtown has been a pervasive and overarching theme in recent debates. This idea was picked up on by many both in attendance and behind the dais.

Councilmember Heystek spoke of the need to weigh the character of our downtown community in addition to the economy value such development may create and suggested that economic development does not belong on top of our hierarchy of priorities by itself.
"If we place the goal of economic development above all other goals, I think the city would look a lot different. I opposed the Target development, and there was mention by the applicant of big box development, I opposed that because I thought it was out of character for our city, no matter how many millions of dollars in revenue it would have brought the city in the years to come. And for the same reason, I believe that my position on that is consistent with my position on the Anderson Bank Building. I don't believe that altering this building is in character with our downtown."
Mr. Rand added:
"The general plan calls for the preservation of historic resources, the landmark status means that the loss of such a resource would be a significant loss to the community... Historic buildings have an attraction to people, this one is situation such that people getting off the train walk into town, they see a really fine building."
Councilmember Stephen Souza also spoke strongly in favor of preservation.
"In fact, I believe that it is a substantial adverse change to lower it. Our general plan policies encourage the protection, the enhancement, the re-use of historic and architectural resources. Option A it would detract from the historic appearance of the building. Option B would be more appealing, but it won't result in a substantive environmental impact. Mitigation measures, I don't care, regardless of what we do here, I want the mitigation measures enacted."
Mr. Souza spoke strongly and eloquently of the need for preserving this cherished historical landmark.

"The JB Anderson Building was built 93 years ago, and that building is part of the gateway to our community. That gateway has very few representations of what Davis was. Someone said it... "who were are, what we were," and I would add, what we want to be or what we will be."
"There are five commercial historic resources left in that area, this is the only, the only, landmark commercial two story building left... We can't remake them, we can't lower the windows, go back, and fix the windows, I believe, and create what was..."
Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson made a motion to approve option B, that motion was seconded by Don Saylor.

Saylor spoke strongly in favor of the remodel:
"This is a close call I think. Yesterday, I spent an hour and a half across the street from the building, just to kind of feel it, see what the building looks like... So I sat beside it awhile and let it talk to me."
The building apparently told him that he should remodel the windows.

However, on this day, Saylor and Asmundson were not joined by Mr. Souza. This was perhaps Stephen Souza's finest moment on the Davis City Council. He spoke eloquently and passionately for historic preservation. He also touched on a key point... that we have become fixated on the single commercial use for the building--that of retail. And while retail is vital, it is not the only type of business that exists in Davis and it is not the only way to make use of this historic space.
"This evening we've been fixated on retail, we've been fixated on this notion of retail, and trying to find a use that meets the building, rather than trying to find a use that fits the building." And I'll say that again in a different way, we want to find a use that fits the building rather than altering the building to fit a use. I'm not convinced, I'm just not convinced at this point in time that we have exhausted and been creative in trying to find a use that fits the building."
He continued to make a number of alternative suggested uses for the building. One of these included the creation of a restaurant.
"Rather than punch four giant holes under the windows to extend the windows, why don't we think about punching one small hole in the back to make it a stack and make it a restaurant."
Mr. Souza on this point is exactly right on. In many cities, you do not have a lot of street exposure or window space and they have to generate innovative uses for such space which is so scarce and valuable. I've seen fantastic businesses including restaurants and even retail stores that basically enter the street from glorified doors and hallways. The key is to be innovative. Mr. Rand had used the example of Bistro 33's spectacularly innovative use of the old City Hall. By thinking outside of the box, historic preservation and business do not have to be zero sum games.

As Mr. Souza put it:
"I don't think there has been proper marketing... you have to do proper market otherwise I don't care what kind of windows that you have in the building, you're not going to survive. I don't think that the windows make the use, I think that the business owner makes the use work."
Overall Mr. Souza was extremely critical of Mr. Kidd and his enterprise.

Mr. Kidd during his comments attempted to justify the state of the building by claiming to have pumped a million dollars into upgrades following the fire, many of which were according to him, not required. Instead he suggested he did it because the tenants needed them to be competition and profitable.
"During the past years I have spent over a million dollars restoring the building after the fire in 2002... [many of] which were not required."
Many present including several on the council criticized Mr. Kidd for allowing the exterior of the building to degrade. While Saylor used this as an excuse to give Kidd what he wanted, Souza used it as a point of criticism and condemnation calling his upkeep pathetic.
"The exterior of the building is pathetic, it needs cleaning. It's pathetic. It needs to be re-painted or cleaned, in fact, I would love to see it go back to the brick that it was, to give it the history that we should be up here cherishing, because there isn't much of it left for our grandkids."
In the Davis Enterprise article on Sunday, Mr. Kidd made the "threat" that if the council did not give him what he wanted, he would spend $75,000 to put it on the ballot himself. Such a self-serving use of taxpayer resources however would likely not go over well in this community and Mr. Kidd would be well advised not to follow through.

However, that was not the limit of his heavy-handed tactics. He also made the veiled and subtle insinuation that if he did not get his way, he would simply demolish the building. A threat he coyly employed as he made assurances that if he did get his way, he would not demolish the building.
"If we can come to an agreement tonight, I would like to do even more improvements and restoration to this building. In this respect I have no reason to consider tearing down this building now or any time in the future. If we can reach a satisfactory solution to the immediate issue, I would be willing to sign a pact with the city to that effect."
Notice that he himself raises this possibility as he goes about debunking the idea that he would consider that possibility.

Furthermore, he waged a very public and heavy-handed campaign to obtain permission that was denied just five years ago by a different council. This time, he got a number of merchants to sign his petition, some of whose signatures may have been acquired in the past. He posted signs around the downtown area and in the yards of some visible private homes. Finally he organized a lobbying campaign that included a number of emails. One councilmember remarked to me that they failed to recognize any of the names of the people--although some of those people turned out to be tenants and business associates of Mr. Kidd.

Councilmember Souza was most blunt on this point.
"I'll say this straight up Mr. Kidd, when I got those 64 emails, all coming from gmail, that convinced me that something very strange was going on here. I've never got 64 emails with everyone having a gmail account, usually its pretty varied, so it made me rather suspicious, I think you would have done yourself more justice if you did run a campaign as you did over windows."
On this point, Mr. Souza once again was dead on. He was joined in a 3-2 vote in favor of the substitute motion for no action moved by Heystek and seconded by Mayor Greenwald.

Tuesday marked a solid victory for those who support historic preservation. I must say in what will be a very brief remark for right now, that I came into this process with a slight lean toward the principle of historic preservation. However, I also sympathized to some extent with Mr. Kidd's viewpoint. I know several of the members of the council went back and forth on this issue as well. In the end, it was the conduct of Mr. Kidd and his heavy-handed campaign that turned me much more strongly into the opposition camp. This is not a campaign and should not have been conducted as such. If Mr. Kidd persists in his campaign, I believe the wise voters of Davis will see through his ploys and see them as limited and self-serving. We do not need more divisiveness. I strongly support downtown business and retail. It remains a reason that I so strongly oppose out-of-town big box retail. I believe however, we can accomplish far more working together rather than fighting each other on divisive issues such as this. Historic preservation and retail and commerce should be positive sum games--not zero sum games. That means that they should work with each other and not viewed as either/ or situations. Hopefully in the future we can remember that and work toward common purpose and vision.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting