McKinley Village, the proposal to put 336 homes on 49 acres in east Sacramento, is not perfect. But it is, on balance, the kind of urban infill development that benefits Sacramento and the region. The City Council should approve it Tuesday night, just as its Planning and Design Commission unanimously recommended last month.
Making any significant infill development work is a balancing act among what neighbors want, what developers will do and what city officials should require. This $160 million project is a case study.
This time, the major sticking point is access to Alhambra Boulevard to and from the eye-shaped site, which is wedged between the Capital City Freeway and the Union Pacific railroad tracks. It would be a third entrance, besides the planned ones at A and 28th streets on the west end of the site, and at 40th and C streets on the east. Under city code and state fire code, only two entrances are required for the projected 3,500 additional vehicle trips a day.
In an ideal world, there would be an Alhambra underpass with room for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. In the real world, any tunnel is very complicated to engineer because it can’t interrupt passenger and freight service on a main Union Pacific line.
Developer Phil Angelides says that requiring the vehicle tunnel now – not knowing how much it would cost or whether Union Pacific would sign off – would kill the project.
He and his partners, however, are committing to a smaller bicycle-pedestrian tunnel. Based on an updated feasibility study submitted to the city last week, they are willing to pay $2.2 million to build a 25-foot-wide undercrossing.
Angelides told The Bee’s editorial board that the tunnel would be built around the start of the second of three phases of home construction (at 140 units), probably in 2016. By then, the developer and city should know whether Union Pacific will give the necessary go-ahead.
If the bi-ped tunnel could not be built, the developers would contribute as much as $1.9 million in cash that the city could use for mass transit, bicycle, pedestrian or other projects and programs to ease access to McKinley Village. Or the city could put the money toward the vehicle tunnel if other funding can be found. Angelides has also agreed to give the city $100,000 toward further study of the vehicle tunnel, plus $150,000 for traffic improvements in east Sacramento and midtown.
The developer’s consultant estimates it would cost $7.8 million for a bare minimum, one-lane vehicle underpass, but that figure comes with lots of potentially expensive issues that have to be resolved. A two-lane vehicle tunnel would cost about $11 million, if most of the bridge costs were covered by a possible Capitol Corridor project. The consultant puts the cost at $28 million to construct an underpass similar to the one planned at 40th Street.
The controversy over the Alhambra tunnel has overshadowed improvements in the project during the last several months.
The developers successfully pushed for transferring the site from the Twin Rivers school district to Sacramento City Unified, which has closer campuses. They also helped persuade the Sacramento school board to commit to spending the estimated $2.3 million in impact fees at the neighborhood schools, Theodore Judah Elementary and Sutter Middle.
The housing mix is a tad more diverse. While still priced in line with most single-family homes in east Sacramento, the plan now includes 24 smaller, more affordable condominiums. Also, Angelides has agreed to pay fees under the city’s mixed income housing ordinance if it is extended citywide to such projects.
It’s understandable why many in east Sacramento oppose McKinley Village, fearing that their residential streets will become more dangerous and that their quality of life will be lessened. Yet there are also residents who support the project.
There are also broader issues at stake. The project follows the city’s General Plan for development and regional sustainable growth guidelines. It is far better than proposals dating to the early 1990s – first the Centrage office and residential high-rises rejected by the council, and later the Capitol City Marketplace big-box retail center – and is less dense than a residential proposal in 2006 or the original McKinley Village plan in 2008.
If this project doesn’t win approval, it’s difficult to imagine that a better one would actually get built.