Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Town should go slow on Davidson Commons East development to avoid another "Griffith Street Hotel" situation

Tuesday evening, the Davidson Town Board is set to vote on a water/sewer extension for a proposed Saussey Burbank project called "Davidson Cottages".  aShortChronicle strongly encourages the board to hold off on this decision.

To be clear, the proposed development itself is not at all a bad one.  Saussey Burbank is a quality builder and a residential project in that location makes sense with its proximity to services and transit.  However, this project is also part of the larger Davidson Commons East development site that includes Woodies and the former Griffith Street Hotel parcels.  Considering the very recent history of flawed process and procedure on other parcels of this development, those formerly intended for the hotel, it is imperative any further development at DCE be done with absolute transparency.

To date it is hard to say that test has been passed.

There are multiple complicated zoning/planning concepts that potentially come into play with the remaining parcels of Davidson Commons East.  These include vested rights, built upon area (BUA) limitations due to watershed, and density averaging.

Any development on the parcel for the "Davidson Cottages" project potentially impacts the other possible development on the remaining two parcels (the former hotel parcels) because of BUA limitations for the entire DCE master plan that includes the former hotel parcels, Woodies, and now this Davidson Cottages project in question.  The developer of Davidson Cottages has indicated in multiple public meetings that they may use something called "density averaging" to allow them to build a higher density of footprint on their project.  Density averaging allows a developer to use some of the permitted built upon area from a non-contiguous parcel elsewhere in the same watershed to allow more density on their development.  The unbuilt BUA on the donor parcel is then permanently protected.  It is a relatively new and gimmicky tactic to benefit developers, and Davidson's Planning Department and Town Attorney don't have much experience in it.  To the best of aShortChronicle's knowledge, density averaging has not been previously used on an approved project in Davidson.  Importantly in this case, by saving some BUA on the overall DCE project if density averaging is used on Davidson Cottages, that allows more density on the remaining DCE parcels.  The public deserves to know what that might be built on these remaining parcels and if anything else is in the works for these remaining parcels.  Transparency into this would also prevent the sequencing of projects on the DCE property by Town Staff to avoid unwanted public scrutiny - something which has been a problem on this property in the past during the hotel debacle.

To that point, aShortChronicle has for months been trying to find out from Town Hall exactly what might be buildable on the former hotel pieces of this development now that the former hotel project is defunct.  To say we've been "getting the runaround" is putting it politely.  Starting in August of last year, a request to Davidson's Town Attorney, Cindy Reid via the Communications Director, Amanda Preston, aShortChronicle asked some simple questions to get at what can be built on those parcels now.  After months of saying more research needed to be done, when a response was finally received in early December it was nothing more than a copy and paste of a section of the original July 2018 court order invalidating the hotel zoning - information the Town Attorney clearly had for a year and a half which does not even really answer the question.  A follow-up question regarding how any supposed vested rights for this zoning has been calculated has yet to be answered.  Vested rights is a legal term in land development identifying a legal permission to build/develop something on a piece of land.

Finally, after the December Board of Commissioners meeting where the Davidson Cottages was again on the agenda, in an attempt to get to the bottom of all of this before any votes are taken, aShortChronicle filed a public records request where the results will very likely shed some light on all these things.  The Town has yet to respond with anything.

Confused and concerned yet?  You probably should be.  These are complicated zoning issues being handled by the same Planning Department leadership and Town Attorney that landed the Town in court on the Griffith Street Hotel.

With all this in mind, while tonight's scheduled vote on water/sewer is just the first of multiple votes required for Davidson Cottages, prudence dictates going slow on any approval for any project on any parcel of Davidson Commons East until the community feels comfortable everything is being done with 100% transparency.  This community should not be put through another situation like the Griffith Street Hotel, and it is the current Board's responsibility to make sure that does not happen.

1 comment:

  1. Rick, so thankful for your knowledge and attention to this. And, for breaking it down and sharing that with all of us!