It turns out that in Davis, sustainability doesn’t trump everything.
The Davis City Council voted last week not to overturn a Planning Commission decision that denied a small new housing development on B Street, just south of Third Street.
The council split evenly, two supporting the project and two opposing it, with Councilmember Stephen Souza abstaining. Because the Planning Commission already denied the project, the council’s tie vote meant the planning commission’s decision would stand.
The proposal was to build two three-story buildings containing four for-sale units on B Street. Designed by Davis architect Maria Ogrydziak, the project included a number of environmentally friendly features, including green roofs – flat roofs with landscaping to reduce heat and rainwater runoff. It would have required demolishing the small cottage that currently occupies the land at 233 B St.
The proposed project presented a unique challenge for the decision-makers in Davis. On the one hand, it fit well with the city’s constant theme of environmentally friendly development. On the other hand, the project would have put new construction in a historic part of town. Souza said he abstained because he could not pit historical preservation against environmentalism.
City staff members said the project did not meet the design guidelines for the neighborhood, which were developed as part of a community visioning process last year.
Some speakers at the meeting said they did not want to compromise the character of that part of downtown just to have a green project.
“It makes us fearful that in the future, any project that has green features could be inserted in any historic area in the city,” said Steve Tracy, who spoke on behalf of the Old North Davis Neighborhood Association.
Councilmember Sue Greenwald said she did not like the idea of demolishing a cottage in the downtown core.
“It’s the cottage feel that brings people here and it’s the cottage feel that keeps people here,” she said.
Ogrydziak, who lives adjacent to the project site on B Street, said the project had to break with some of the design guidelines for that part of downtown in order to incorporate the green features. For example, the roof had to be flat instead of gabled in order to be a green roof.
“The reality is if this project is not built at this site, it will not be built in Davis,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor said that the design guidelines that have been developed for downtown are not strict rules, and that good projects should be allowed even if they don’t meet every guideline.
“To find a new reason to say no to every project that comes to this room seems to be one of our great strengths,” he said.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.