The Davis Planning Commission voted Wednesday night to delay demolition of a building at the corner of Third and G streets downtown.
Commissioners voted nearly unanimously to ask the property owner to prepare a better plan for the two-story structure that would replace it, with an emphasis on aesthetic improvements and the color of the building. It will take up the issue again in April.
It was a compromise move that followed clear counting of votes against approving the design of the project, setting the stage for an appeal to the City Council.
It was a night of twists and turns unusual for a commission charged with normally the last word of the design of buildings that could stick with Davis for decades.
The issue started off with members of the public concerned about the relocation of two existing businesses that will have to leave the building at 239 G St. All were extremely loyal customers at Razor’s Edge barber shop who are worried about owner Sukh Banwait’s future.
Craig Blomberg, who said he was a 35-year-resident of the city, admitted the infill proposal from the owner had merit, but said he is worried about the difficulty of placing small retail and service businesses downtown, which is fast becoming a “food court.”
“We need to watch out for what I’ll call the little guy,” Blomberg said. “I think we need to be cognizant of how we make decisions that affect their lives … and my hair.”
The joke was somewhat lost on the commission, as a handful of other supporters of the barber shop pleaded with it to force the owner to find a good home for the businesses that haven’t yet located one.
The property owner, Anthony Ruebner, a Davis-raised man who now lives in Lafayette, said he is actively searching for spaces for the two businesses.
Commission Chairman Rob Hofmann reined in the conversation with the help of Community Development & Sustainability Director Mike Webb, reminding everyone that the commission’s purview is not social and economic, but architectural.
Commissioner George Hague said even so, he felt he could still express concerns.
The plan to replace the building would turn 2,475 square feet in a tight space into 4,974 square feet on two stories, and would make the drab building both economically viable and earthquake-safe. The first story would remain available for retail-type businesses.
Yet even with the commission recalibrated for design review, the owner faced harsh criticism over the boxy modern design of the building.
“I’m absolutely shocked by this,” Commissioner Marilee Hanson said. “… I can’t believe something better than this can’t be proposed.”
Hanson said the building didn’t mesh well with neighbors, didn’t look friendly to the street and didn’t match the character of the area.
“Once this gets built, the city of Davis is stuck with it for 50 or 100 years,” she said.
Other commissioners echoed her worries, but some supported the project.
“It’s a very restrained modern design,” Commissioner Cheryl Essex said. “It’s not trying to make a statement all by itself.”
In a nod to infill, Essex also called for more two-story buildings downtown, possibly three stories.
With a motion made by Commissioner Mark Braly to approve the project, Hofmann abstaining because he represented businesses across the street from 239 G St., and Hague, Hanson and Commissioner Herman Boschken pledging no votes, the project seemed destined for what city staff said was an appeal to the City Council.
Just before a vote could be taken, Webb reminded the commission it had other options, including asking the owner to prepare a better presentation.
That hit a chord with the entire commission. Braly withdrew his motion, and the commission voted, with Hofmann abstaining, in favor of the delay.
— Reach Dave Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews