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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Guest Commentary: Old North Davis Neighborhood Association Opposes 3rd and B Street Vision

Regarding the City Council Hearing of Tuesday, June 12, 2007 3rd & B Street Vision or zoning changes to the Central Park West Conservation District

Old North Davis Neighborhood Association (ONDNA) does not support the 3rd and B Street Vision.

The 3rd and B Street Vision violates The Davis Downtown and Traditional Neighborhood Residential Design Guidelines, a document written by citizens in a democratic process to protect the few Conservation Districts that exist in Davis. For many years, development within the Conservation Districts (Old North, Old East and Central Park West) has been shaped by The Design Guidelines, which imposes a rational set of rules to sustain the historic, medium density, small scale, pedestrian friendly, shaded neighborhoods that residents love and the citizens of Davis and visitors enjoy. The 3rd & B Street Vision proposes rezoning a portion of the Central Park West Conservation District. Presumably in order to forward this proposal, the EIR makes only a partial effort to evaluate impacts to the remaining Central Park West neighborhood and to the other Conservation Districts. The proposed change over time from low to high density residential construction looking for more commercial and retail space, so consequently the permitting of much taller structures along the 3rd Street corridor looks as if it will generate tremendous impacts on the Central Park West neighborhood as well as Old East and Old North by way of attempts at circumventing the Design Guidelines.

We have yet to see studies or evidence that retail along 3rd Street is even desirable or would be successful. The "vision" was initially sold as densification to accommodate student housing at the City/University interface, but that vision has now fallen by the wayside and densification is being promoted as "owner occupied" high end townhouse units. This is in defiance of the Design Guidelines that the rest of the Central Park West neighborhood would still have to conform to. The planning staff notes significant impacts to the historic character of this neighborhood, parking, traffic, loss of urban tree canopy and likely loss of context for other historic structures, i.e. "redevelopment" will occur in a piecemeal fashion, causing the initial demolition of a few original structures, but the eventual loss of context and appeal of the remaining structures and the unraveling of the historic fabric of the current neighborhood.

Additionally, the EIR did not evaluate the impact the densification would have on the traffic and parking in the surrounding neighborhoods. OND fought hard to establish a unique parking district which is community minded and allows for unrestricted parking on 2/3rds of our street space. We currently share our parking with students, downtown workers, and shoppers. About half the commuters who park in Old North come from 15 to 50 miles from Davis and have no other place to park. The "vision" currently allows for intense densification but does not require developers to provide adequate parking (the EIR would allow for in-lieu payments to the City instead), potentially pushing the parking and traffic problem into the surrounding neighborhoods, already over-full.

City Council asked to look at rezoning the 3rd & B Street area to see what could be done about "blight", as well as to superimpose zoning that would take the place of overlapping and contradictory directions for development there. This rationale is not a valid one, or else it has not been demonstrated. In order to justify requests to demolish, rebuild and sell, B Street South of 5th is being termed an "edge" area with problems common to all arterial streets in the Conservation Districts: exposure of residents to heavier or commercial use across a bordering arterial, multiple needs of a more diverse population (students, residents, landlords, homeowners, developers looking for "infill" lots on which to build new housing.

Developers and property owners, some absentee landlords, are arguing that along B Street, deterioration of the original structures is so severe they are no longer useful or profitable properties and for that reason the same owners want exemptions from The Design Guidelines. Project proposals originating with property owners on B Street have been made with the expectations of special treatment with rewards for poor or no sense of stewardship and long deferred maintenance should they build the high end townhouses they propose, and sell them at substantial profits. The vision while proposing infill is actually setting the stage for demolition and redevelopment of most if not all the historic structures sited within the proposed zoning.

Davis's other Conservation Districts also border city arterials. Old North has 5th Street on its southern border, G Street on the East and should the ball fields between City Hall and Martin Luther King High School be developed, B Street on its west. Old East shares 5th Street to the north, L to the East and H Street off the downtown. [Along with the residents of the University-Rice Lane neighborhood, we in Old North too frequently find ourselves attending meetings where developers attempt to promote similar treatment for our arterial borders. These areas of high visibility are not just of huge importance in exposing all the passerby to our architectural history, they set the context for the rest of our neighborhood structures and serve useful lives as affordable housing.

If City Council entertains exemptions for proposals to develop B Street properties, it will increase pressure on Old North and Old East to allow the Design Guidelines to be put aside in favor of building high density four story commercial and high end residential structures in our neighborhoods as well. Developers are already buying up properties in these neighborhoods, hedging their bets that they can tear down the historic houses and maximize the profitability of the property.

Old North recommends scrapping the 3rd and B Street Vision in favor of consistent application of the Design Guidelines to all development within the Conservation Districts.

We have had significant successes using the Design Guidelines, have seen solid gains in resale property values and turnover of housing from rental to owner occupied. In the last five years along C Street alone, five alley accessory structures have been added, three houses once rentals are now owner occupied, eight houses have new coats of paint, new landscaping or both. Other streets in the neighborhood have experienced similar revitalization. Student renters are integrated into the social fabric of the neighborhood by renting our accessory structures, instead of being balkanized into apartment complexes. Our neighborhood is seeing innovative architectural strategies developed: finished basements in new construction that add space without adding a second story, revival architecture, drought tolerant landscaping. We are benefiting from historical research and publications from John Lofland and Valerie Vann that contribute to our sense of identity as people who value modest homes, solid workmanship, irreplaceable materials, the generational time line of houses now approaching a century old. The residents of Old North Davis are sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into improving their existing structures and are offended when we hear that such old houses are good for nothing more than demolition or removal to somewhere else, just because they need

Our Neighborhood Association resists the removal/demolition of contributing structures.

ONDNA has the responsibility to review all proposals for major remodeling or removal/demolition of Old North houses. We work with the owners to comply with The Design Guidelines. In addition, it has provided information to realtors, potential buyers of properties, new owners and developers who benefit from understanding the parameters that apply to the Davis Conservation Districts. We aim to prevent unsuitable plans -- inappropriate demolition or inappropriate scale--from being pursued into the drawing stage, in order to prevent wasted effort and dollars. We have a neighborhood with a positive attitude toward adding appropriate density -- the original house with perhaps an additional bedroom, bathroom or perhaps an accessory structure on the alley or at the back of the lot.

ONDNA supports research and nomination of eligible structures for Merit Resource and Landmark Designations.

We support such efforts because we take the attitude that our significant old homes are Davis public space. They are palpable contact with sidewalks built by the WPA, homes built by previous generations with small energy footprints, grass and trees buffering contact with cars in the streets. They make real to the touch the history of the founders of our town and our great university. When we repair, maintain, live and work in the spaces occupied by the earlier activists and visionaries who shaped Davis we pay respect to their efforts. Tearing down the places they built seems narcissistic and unimaginative to us. Relocating them is little better than archiving their photographs , their histories then setting fire to them. City Council members should encourage property owners along the B Street and 3rd Street corridors to repair their homes, add alley accessory structures, rent to students where appropriate and maintain some our most visible, historically important sets of addresses. The Turtle House, just restored to adaptive reuse by Michael Harrington, is a terrific case in point.

We urge you to attend the Davis City Council Hearings on Tuesday, June 12 after 7:30 PM, and resist the developer vision for B St. high density.


Sheryl Lynn Gerety, ONDNA President
Kathleen Groody, ONDNA Treasurer
Steve Tracy, ONDNA Member-at-Large
Dennis Dingemans, ONDNA Member-at-Large
Angela Wilson, ONDNA Former President