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For the last 25 years developers have been trying and failing to build on a 48-acre piece of grassy, empty land in East Sacramento. Each and every time, the plans have fallen through due to fierce opposition or tough economic times.
They’re about to try again.
The low-lying “Centrage” site is bordered by the railroad and Business 80 and has remained mostly unscathed. The city’s former landfill, Sutter's Landing Park, sits across the freeway to the north, while East Sacramento and McKinley Park are to the south.
The first proposal to develop the land came back in the 1980s, called “Centrage.” While the plot has retained the moniker, a development has yet to come to fruition.
"Why would someone live there?" said George Raya, a member of the Marshall School/New Era Neighborhood Association, which borders the land. "There's a train on one side, the freeway on the other, and you're landlocked."
Over the years several developers have submitted urban infill plans to the city, only for them to be either rejected, withdrawn, or postponed due to financial difficulties. The latest is similar to "The Village," a housing project from 2006, but with fewer amenities.
Development group Riverview Capital Investments hasn't formally submitted a proposal to the city, though it's updating the site design and getting community input through meetings. It anticipates submitting a proposal to the city within a few weeks.
Local developer and Riverview Capital Investments President Phil Angelides was also behind the 2006 effort. He’s well known for the Laguna West housing development in Elk Grove and for his political career – he was the California state treasurer from 1999 to 2007 and unsuccessfully ran against then incumbent governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.
"The overall goal will be a 21st century smart growth, urban village in the core of the Sacramento region that combines the character of the surrounding neighborhoods, sustainability features, and homes with modern amenities," Riverview Capital Investments Vice President Megan Norris wrote in an email. "Home designs and prices have not yet been set, but we would expect a wide range of homeownership opportunities – including housing for people who are already living in East Sacramento/McKinley Park, and who are seeking homes with modern amenities, more bedrooms, etc."
The housing development has been dubbed "McKinley Village" and will include about 400 homes. It will not include any church, commercial or mixed-use zoning for businesses such as a coffee shop, grocery store or laundry cleaner, according to Raya, who caught wind of the project while attending a community meeting with members of the development team this past week. There will also be no public transportation such as the Regional Transit bus going through the subdivision, and no school, he said, which are critical for a community’s well being.
As Raya sees it, Riverview Capital Investments is basically using the same blueprint as the "The Village" plans seen several years ago.
Despite the criticism, Riverview Capital Investments says this project will bring modern housing, which is too often only found in suburbia, to the city's core.
And the demand is there, says Norris. "With the Sacramento economy and housing market recovering, there is a growing demand for homebuyers who want to live close to the urban core," she wrote. "There is also strong demand from residents in existing city neighborhoods for homes with modern floor plans and amenities (e.g. modern kitchens, energy efficiency, solar) – too often, the only alternatives for such homes are in suburban areas. Also, as the region begins to grow again, it is much more sensible and environmentally responsible to encourage urban infill development vs. development in far flung suburbs."
A history of failed attempts
The site has been described as challenging and difficult to develop, as it's basically an island – surrounded by the freeway, railroad and nearby neighborhoods. But if anyone's going to be successful in doing so, according to D3 Councilman Steve Cohn, it's Angelides.
"If anyone's going to do it, Angelides may be able to find that sweet spot," said Cohn, who in the '80s led a charge opposing the "Centrage" development. "He's very smart, he grew up in Sacramento, he knows how to do smart-growth development, and he's also smart financially. If he can't figure it out, I don't think anyone can – I don't think it would ever be developed if someone like Angelides can't do it."
Previous proposed uses for the land included the ill-fated "Centrage" in the late 1980s, which would have included nearly 1,000 apartments and several high-rise office buildings. "The concept for the Centrage project was based on the character of a European city, with a mix of office, retail, entertainment, and residential uses to create a 24-hour pedestrian-oriented community," according to a city staff report.
It would have included more than 1 million square-feet of commercial office space, and room for retail, restaurants, daycare, a hotel, parking, open space and lakes. Cohn, a community activist at the time, said it was basically akin to building a second downtown.
"Obviously it didn't make a lot of sense," he said Friday. "It had very poor access, and would have been impossible to serve transit. It was not a good candidate for high-density development."
In the face of strong opposition from neighborhood associations, the city council rejected the proposed development in 1992.
Four years later, another proposed development for the site came before the city. "Capital City Marketplace" included plans to turn the space into a 500,000-square-foot shopping center with two anchor retail stores, 13 smaller stores, restaurants and a gas station. Ultimately the project failed in 1997, when the developer and property owner didn't negotiate a contract extension, according to the city.
The latest failed project, dubbed "The Village" in 2006, would have erected nearly 400 homes on the site, along with retail space, a church – the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation – and open space. But the project was eventually withdrawn in 2007, and in 2009, became stalled even further when one of the project's partners, John Laing Homes, filed for bankruptcy.
According to Norris, the plans were "put on hold due to the overall economy and the weak housing market in the Sacramento region."
Critics already coming out against proposal
With plans being modified and community meetings already happening, there is already a bit of a buzz being generated about the proposed project, which Raya refers to as "Centrage 3."
"This is a really hot-button issue for the neighborhood," Raya said. Because there will be no freeway access, neighboring areas will see increased traffic flow from connector streets, he said. While it's unclear how significant those impacts will be, neighbors made it very clear last time the housing project was proposed, that they wanted minimal to no noticeable increase in traffic, according to a “Fast Facts” document on the 2006 project.
And without bus access, those living there will be auto-dependent in an area that's considered pedestrian and bicycle friendly. "It's not a green friendly project, no matter what they say," he said.
But those already living in the East Sacramento/McKinley Park neighborhoods have very similar existing services and distances to transit, retail and jobs, Norris said. As an example, Norris said there is currently bus service at Alhambra and E streets, and residents of "McKinley Village" will be able to walk or bike to that stop via a bike/pedestrian underpass that the development group plans to construct, she said.
And someone living around 22nd and C streets would travel the same distance to a bus stop, Norris said. "As another example, someone living in 'McKinley Village' would travel the same distance to shopping (Safeway at Alhambra) as would someone at 22nd and C (Safeway on Alhambra or on 19th)."
The community would also be linked by three bike paths to Midtown and McKinley Park, Norris said. And when it comes to being "green," the homes will be more energy efficient than older homes.
"Finally, building this urban, infill community is much greener than developing in distant suburbs," Norris said.
What's the timeline on this thing?
Community meetings are being held in surrounding areas, according to Norris, and the development group will continue working with neighbors to "create the best possible neighborhood – keeping in mind that urban infill is desirable and that a residential community compatible with the design of McKinley Park is highly preferable to existing allowed industrial uses," she said.
The city is waiting for a proposal from Riverview Capital Investments, and anticipates seeing a re-submittal sometime this spring, said Sacramento City Principal Planner Greg Bitter. But, until the file gets dumped on his desk, there's no certainty.
"They talked to us a bit conceptually," he said. "There hasn't been anything substantive to talk about, except they're getting geared back up."
And the backlash isn't unexpected, Bitter said. "Any time land is put forward for development, the folks in the neighborhood are going to be concerned about how it impacts them."
On Cohn's end, he hasn't attended any of the meetings, as he's trying to remain neutral until the matter comes before the council. "I know I wouldn't personally be willing to place bets on it," he said. "But I'm not the one putting money down on it – we'll just have to wait and see."
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