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Friday, June 01, 2007

Commentary: B Street and 3rd Project Moves on Despite Concerns

The proposed B and 3rd Street Visioning Project moved forward with approval from the Planning Commission on Wednesday night. This despite a number of concerns raised by residents in the neighborhood, some of which were altered, and by residents in the community concerned that such a massive and drastic project would alter the character of Davis.

The most serious concerns raised by the Commission were those of traffic and parking. While I agree that both of these are serious concerns, I think this is the beginning and not the end of the potential problems. The intersection of 2nd and B is of particular concern. That intersection is a disaster waiting to happen, not just because of the congestion on B Street, but also because of the somewhat obstructed visibility that a driver coming out of 2nd Street faces. The traffic planner says that is a light waiting to happen but it has not reached the outflow capacity needed to trigger such a change. What I think the city is missing is that many people simply avoid that intersection because of the difficulty particularly of making a left turn. That turns much of the traffic onto A Street, a street that will become even more congested if the density of that neighborhood increases.

It became apparent on Wednesday night that many of the residents in that neighborhood understood full well that this project is going forward. As I told several people this week, there is simply no way that this city council majority is going to vote against a development project. Moreover, with Sue Greenwald conflicted off this vote, it is basically going to be a 3-1 vote for approval on the council when it gets that far.

As such, the residents of that community seemed to strategically aim for compromise rather than outright opposition. Residents came forward with a list of recommended changes in the project itself. Resident John Hall basically came forward and said that the residents do not oppose a reasonable plan, but the current proposal is over-the-top.

The Planning Commission did make one recommendation to alter the proposal and that is to limit the buildings to 38 feet or three stories, which is certainly better than four stories, but still seems a bit much. The density is such that the trees are going to end up going.

As I suggested in my story on Tuesday, this is one of my favorite neighborhoods in all of Davis. This neighborhood is what originally drew me to UC Davis. I liked the atmosphere of the college town and this is really the neighborhood that has the college town feel with the older bungalows with both students and city residents living together. You go to many college towns in this country and you will get the same feel.

Driving through the neighborhood yesterday, it is clear that some of the homes are in disrepair. It is also clear that space could be better utilized. The solution however is not to raze the entire area, building up high density three story townhouses and other units. A more modest project could obtain much of what both the planners and residents desire.

There is one crucial mistake made by both the city, the planners, and the developers, and that is the Environmental Impact Report. The EIR looks only at the impact of the development area itself. Now that limited scope has been defended somewhat by city staff. Defended with some concerns about it clearly mentioned. But the lack of study of the impact of this project on the adjacent neighborhoods and streets may end up delaying this project by a considerable amount of time should the residents or adjacent neighbors wish to challenge the EIR in court. From the discussions it was never clear the rationale of why the council insisted on such a limited EIR.

The big question I keep coming back to in all of this has to do with part of the proposed reason for the project to bring the university and the city together. The idea here is to produce a number of owner occupied units rather than the current arrangement which has many of the units rented to UC Davis students. As many who live in the area have suggested, they enjoy living near and among UC Davis students. They do not have problems with noise from those students.

How in the world do you bring the community together with the university if the first thing you are going to do is get rid of the students? All of those students who live in our community will be forced to live elsewhere.

The problem here is not the students. The problem is that a number of the units currently are in poor condition, especially on third street between B and University. A number of the apartment units north of Second Street are also poorly designed and could use to either be torn down and rebuilt or redone. The culprits in both cases are the owners of the homes and buildings who have allowed their property to deteriorate considerably.

However, I think the model for redevelopment should not be to raze the neighborhood, destroying both the character and the historic nature of the area. Rather they should look no further than the so-called Turtle House on 2nd Street between University and A Street. This property was purchase by former Davis City Councilmember Mike Harrington, who pumped money in to restore it. It is now a mixed use home, housing not only the owner, but also a number of students who rent several of the other units. The house is no longer blight, no longer looks like a good wind storm will knock it over. And yet the historic nature of the home and the character of it are intact. Guess what, it is "high density" and yet the character has been preserved.

If people want to know what type of infill I support, what type of redevelopment projects we should be undertaking, we should look no further than this property. We can remake that neighborhood along those lines, preserve the historic nature of the area, preserve the college town feel, continue with the mixed use of business, owner occupancy, and rental units. That's the type of vision I would like to see. And that is the type of vision I simply do not see with this project.

It remains very clear that this project will go forward. It remains less clear as to whether the residents will tie things up in court with a challenge to the EIR. However, what is crystal clear to me is that this is the wrong type of project for this area.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting