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Friday, June 27, 2008

Commentary: Third and B Project On Hold For Now

I have to say up front, I think the council approved project in the neighborhood directly adjacent to the university between B and A Streets is one of the worst conceived ideas. As I have stated in the past, that neighborhood is one of my very favorite neighborhoods in the city of Davs--conveying the feel of a college town as few other areas in Davis do.

At the time of the vote, a good number of residents in the neighborhood opposed such a re-zoning believing that the character of their neighborhood would be altered by a large number of tall buildings.

However, the city council did pass the zoning change to allow the development of a series of townhouses and condominiums in this neighborhood that transitions between the university and downtown.

The first proposal under this new zoning ordinance went before the Davis Planning Commission on Wednesday evening.

This particular proposal called for the building of four, three-story buildings. It was radical enough even for the new zoning ordinance that the City planning department recommended that the planning commission deny the proposal based on its lack of conformity with the design guidelines set for the area.

The city's Historical Resources Management Commission in early June discussed the project and argued that the project did not meet specified guidelines of the area.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Mike Webb, the city's principal planner suggested that it was not necessary that the new buildings replicate the bungalow style of the existing buildings in the neighborhood. However, he also believed that this was too sharp a departure from the current neighborhood and that they would stand out. He seemed to prefer a building type that fit in while it did not regulate.

The applicant, Davis architect Marie Ogrydziak, has a choice as to how to remedy this situation. The planning commission was somewhat divided as to whether or not to allow the project to go forward. But in the end, they asked Ms. Ogrydziak to make various design changes to the project in hopes that it better meet the guidelines that were set forth by the city in cooperation with the neighborhood. The other alternative would have been for the applicant to appeal to the city and see what the city council says.

For her part, Ms. Ogrydziak seemed willing to try to make difficult changes to the roofline and trying to make it work.

The Vanguard believes that this was probably the wrong area of town to attempt this kind of remodel. Having a string of three story buildings (and there were proposals last year of up to four stories or higher) on the western edge of Central Park makes little sense.

The character of the western side of the core is too valuable to tear down the historic bungalows and put up a bunch of condominiums and townhouses. We understand the desire by the council to transition this neighborhood from the university to the downtown. One suggestion we would have would be adaptive reuse of the bungalows on B St on the western edge of the park from rental units housing students to shops and restaurants that could attract shoppers and restaurant-goers from the neighborhood as well as the rest of town. This was particularly effective for instance on the eastern edge of the park with places such as Burgers and Brew.

It is not that we oppose placing smaller and taller units around the core. It is that this does not seem the place to do it. On the eastern side of downtown and especially the PG&E yard it seems almost ideal in that you will not be destroying the existing character of the neighborhood just to the east of campus, you will not create a more boxed in feeling in the park, and yet you can achieve your goal of more housing and more housing close to the core.

That said, it is obvious that the current council majority wants to move forward with this project. As such, it is best that it as closely conforms to existing feel and design as possible. Good design and construction can produce the desired changes with a much lesser degree of alteration and intrusion as the current design produces. It is that type of compromise work that would best accomplish this goal. We look forward to seeing what a revised design would entail.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting