Manny Crisostomo /

Two-story garden apartments near Capitol Mall would make way for new residential high-rises in the Sacramento Commons proposal now before the city.

Editorial: Is Sacramento Commons proposal the right project in the right place?

Published: Saturday, Jul. 26, 2014 - 12:00 am

The latest proposal for residential towers in downtown Sacramento has its positives. It would broaden and deepen the housing mix in the central city. It fits with the zoning, it’s close to a light-rail stop and it’s backed by a deep-pocketed developer.

Yet, foes of the project ask a fundamental question: Why tear up an established residential community when downtown has vacant holes in the ground begging for development?

To guarantee that question is adequately answered, it’s good that Sacramento Commons has been taken off a fast-track review. That should give residents ample opportunity to air their concerns – and give the city’s Planning Commission and City Council plenty of time to fully vet the proposal.

We need to be sure it is the right project in the right place at the right time with the right developer. Past proposals for residential high-rises downtown fell short. For instance, there were the twin 53-story luxury condo and hotel towers on Capitol Mall that were sunk in 2007 by the housing crash.

This time, Kennedy Wilson, a real estate investment firm based in Beverly Hills, proposes to build two 24-story towers, plus five- and seven-story midrise apartments, 69,000 square feet of retail space and a 22-floor hotel topped with condominiums, perhaps even a rooftop pool and bar.

The project would be built in four phases on a four-block site near Capitol Mall bounded by Fifth, Seventh, N and P streets. The developer plans to refurbish the existing 203-unit Capitol Towers, but knock down the 206 two-story Capitol Villa garden apartments. Eventually, there could be about 1,200 new units with 3,000 residents, triple the area’s current population.

Dave Eadie, a vice president of Kennedy Wilson, told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board that the downtown market is ripe for higher-end apartments and condos – even without the planned arena only a couple of blocks away. (The Kings are also looking at a possible hotel-condo tower near the arena.)

While there’s no ironclad commitment, Eadie said his company, which bought the 10-acre property in 2012 for $64 million, has no plans to “flip” the project if it is approved by the city – one concern raised by opponents.

More broadly, some residents of neighboring Bridgeway and Pioneer towers, which sit next to the development site but aren’t part of it, say that the project would ruin their quiet residential area. In a meeting with the editorial board, several noted that a number of trees would be cut down, though the developer says there would be green space.

Also, they’re cringing at the prospect of lengthy demolition and construction, which wouldn’t start until at least 2016 and would last for at least six years.

It’s encouraging that in their initial discussion of the project Thursday evening, several planning commissioners sought to balance the needs of current and new residents.

While some commissioners expressed initial support for the project, others voiced skepticism and demanded more detail on the project’s design.

In early artist renderings, the towers look straight out of Orange County; it would be nice if they reflected Sacramento.

Sacramento Commons had been proceeding under a streamlined review as a transit-oriented, mixed-use development. But the city is now requiring a full environmental impact report because Sacramento Modern, a nonprofit that promotes and preserves midcentury architecture, is seeking to have the site declared a historic place.

That means the project, which had been on a schedule for Planning Commission and City Council votes this fall, won’t be decided until next year. That delay is a small price to make sure this potentially groundbreaking project – if it’s built – brings all the promised benefits to downtown without causing too much pain.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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