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Friday, November 14, 2008

Neighborhood Guidelines Trump Green on B-Street Project

Score one for the neighbors. The result happened over a week ago, and we are just discussing it now, but the principles put into place still apply.

First of all, let us commend Maria Ogrydziak for designing a fabulously innovative and green structure with flat tops on her roof to support green plants. It was an innovative proposal, one of the greenest ever. There was just one unfortunate part of the proposal, it just did not fit into an existing neighborhood. If this were a new neighborhood, a new development, a lot of the naysayers would have been cheering her on.

The problem is that the project just does not fit into into an existing neighborhood. It was rejected by both the Planning Commission and the Historical Resources Management Commission. Ms. Ogrydziak had one more option and that was appeal the Planning Commission's decision to the Davis City Council.

Late into the night the meeting went. The neighbors were dead set against this. Maynard Skinner presented a petition to the council signed by 42 other residents. He demonstrated to the council that other infill and densification projects work. He then went on to talk about Davis having its own "Jake the Plumber" and "Mike the Carpenter" (Mike Corbett). One project in particular that ought to be a model was a project on Russell Blvd. that put at least ten units onto a lot that used to have a single unit. But from the street, you would never know that it is a densification project because the project blends so well into the existing neighborhood and design guidelines.

Maynard Skinner pointed out that one of the guidelines is to preserve and protect the neighborhood character. This project is inconsistent with design guidelines, according to Mr. Skinner.

As many residents indicated, they are not opposed to any project there. It followed the guidelines and the neighbors have no problem. Indeed there was a project on B Street that was approved without opposition. This is different. And it is a simply an issue of location rather than the project.

As Councilmember Lamar Heystek put it:
"I think this is a terrific project, and I hope it gets replicated in the dozens. But we simply cannot have design guidelines that we don't ever anticipate applying."
But even with the project guidelines set as they were and even with the strong neighborhood objections--42 neighbors objecting to the project--this project still had a good chance of being approved.

For Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor:
"The design guidelines are not rules. They really are in need of balance with other considerations."
However, none of the other councilmembers saw it that way and Mr. Saylor's motion died for lack of a second.

Here is where things got really interesting.

Councilmember Heystek moved that the council uphold the decision of the planning council to deny the project. Councilmember Sue Greenwald seconded the motion.

Now remember, Sue Greenwald could not vote on the original Third and B project because she lived within five hundred feet and was conflicted out. However, at that time, it was suggested she would be able to vote on some of the projects that came forth within the area that were outside of this limit. The city attorney ruled earlier in the day, that the project at 233 B Street was outside of the five hundred foot limit.

Mayor Ruth Asmundson suggested a substitute where they would table the proposal by Ogrydziak and take another look at the design guidelines to make them more flexible. However, City Attorney Harriet Steiner determined that by law the council could not table this motion or the project would be tabled for an entire year.

This put the substitute motion by the Mayor off the table again after it had originally passed three to two.

The motion was evenly divided. And Stephen Souza held the swing position and he abstained. Because the Planning Commission already denied the project, the council’s tie vote meant the planning commission’s decision would stand and the project was killed for an entire year.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor was not happy. He informed Councilmember Souza that due to his vote the project would be killed. The councilmember was well aware of the implications of his actions.

The councilmember said:
"I have a major conflict here trying to pit history against the environment."
Mr. Saylor responded:
"So you deny the project by not doing either."
Somehow, someway, the council made the right decision with regard to this project. Why put in design-guidelines if they are not to serve as exactly that--guidelines which must be adhered to. Mayor Pro Tem Saylor was willing to scrap those. But if we go back to the original debate over the Third and B project, we will remember that literally hours were spent haggling over exactly those guidelines. To summarily scrap them is disrespectful to the previous process. If those guidelines carry no merit, then why take time to lay them out in such a clear manner.

Second point that must be raised here again is neighborhood concern. 42 residents opposed this project. The neighborhood was heavily against this project. How do you go forward with a project in a neighborhood that the neighbors are against? About this time, the charge of NIMBYISM is thrown out. It's a red herring. The neighbors have the right to protect the character of their neighborhood. It is the height of arrogance to decide that one knows better than the neighbors what does or does not fit. Once the design guidelines are put in place, that acts as the reasonably agreed limitations of the project. What a lot of people in this community seem to fail to understand is that people sink their life's savings into their homes. Most people are not investors with multiple properties, they have one home and they have an obligation to protect that investment and that asset. Moreover they should have the right to not have a project placed into their community that sticks out like an eyesore.

The big lesson here that people ought to take away is that a great project in one location is a horrible project in another location. I want green and sustainable development in this community - I encourage this kind of innovation - but, it has to fit in with the current character and design guidelines. This project did not. It should be located in a new neighborhood and many of the same people opposing this project would have been leading the way. This was simply not the place to locate it. The council was narrowly divided but ultimately did the right thing.

---David M. Greenwald reporting