Elk Grove’s plan to develop acres of open land on the city’s southern edge into a business hub is moving forward.
The proposal for 1,200 acres west of Highway 99 that make up the Southeast Policy Area is ambitious: a city within a city with as many as 4,790 homes and apartments for an estimated 17,000 residents; the potential for as many as 21,345 jobs, largely in office and industrial trades; and three elementary schools.
Elk Grove council members, who tentatively approved plans last week with a unanimous vote, say the city-led development plan is an aggressive jobs-and-housing strategy designed to recast the city of 160,000 long considered a bedroom community.
The Southeast Policy Area is the last major undeveloped expanse within current city limits. A third of the land – 400 acres – is dedicated to business space, mostly along the southern border and separated from housing by a drainage canal. City leaders also envision a town center with retail shops and condos, as well as neighborhoods with single-family homes situated around parks and schools.
The master plan still requires a second reading July 23 at Elk Grove City Council. City planners, finance and public works staffers will then craft a public works financing plan for the area, said Elk Grove City Manager Laura Gill, working with county water and sewer authorities to understand the policy area’s infrastructure and drainage issues.
The financing mix, Gill said, will include development impact fees and money from the city’s general fund, but Gill said the city also wants to identify other funding sources, including state loan programs and the state’s investment bank.
“We want to make sure of what we have in place for infrastructure, letting the employment community know we’re there and that we have a place available,” Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis said. “We want to get close to shovel-ready. Our goal is to get there as fast as we can.”
The timeline is dependent on public works financing, as well as how quickly the city can recruit developers and businesses.
The Southeast Policy Area has assumed greater significance after regional leaders last year rejected Elk Grove’s bid to expand its planning area by 30 percent to the south. Elk Grove officials told the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission that they needed an additional 8,000 acres to attract employers and accommodate future growth, but opponents argued the expansion would lead to more sprawl.
For years, housing had taken precedence in Elk Grove – jobs-to-housing ratios were as little as half a job per home, city officials have said – far less than the 1.5 jobs-per-home considered ideal by the American Planning Association. The Southeast Policy Area master plan foresees five jobs for every housing unit.
Leaders have come to regret that previous Elk Grove developments, including 2006’s developer-driven Laguna Ridge master plan, were skewed almost exclusively to residential rooftops.
“This is a city project. We wanted it to be reflective of the vision for the city, not just what’s expeditious for the market,” Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis said. “By designating so much land as employment, it’s a good marker of where our values are.”
But with that opportunity comes the possibility that some property owners could lose their homes to the development, a long-planned throughway that would connect Interstate 5 to U.S. Highway 50 and a drainage canal that may be routed through properties along Kammerer Road on the southern fringe of the plan area.
Marcy Bradshaw said she could cry when she thinks about it. The Kammerer Road house she and husband Jeff have called home since 1986 is potentially in the plan’s cross hairs, set between a planned rerouting of a drainage canal through their property and the long-envisioned crosstown thoroughfare. Getting answers from the city, she said, has been frustrating.
“The hardest part is not knowing what the scenarios are going to look like,” Bradshaw said Tuesday from the home that also houses her embroidery business and her husband’s welding shop. “It’s like ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ Is it two years away? Ten years? Twenty? They won’t tell me what’s behind Door No. 1 or Door No. 2.”
Gill said the city understands the angst of longtime residents.
“That is not to be taken lightly. Depending on where the drainage canal is located it could be very detrimental to their property,” Gill said.
She said there is still quite a bit of engineering and surveying to be done, and city staff reports insist that the land plan “does not close the door to preserving these homes.” Gill added that the homeowners “have every right to be concerned. But we’re not in any position to tell them anything definitive. We are acutely aware of their concerns.”
Meanwhile, city staffers envision Regional Transit light-rail service some day extending down Big Horn Boulevard to Kammerer Road and east to the Lent Ranch area at the far south end of the city. The Blue Line is currently slated to extend south to Cosumnes River College by September 2015.
“We want to get people to work where they live (and) get people off of the roads,” Gill said. “Different modes of transportation will further our goal.”
Gill looks to the strong jobs data among city residents as a tool to recruit employers. Elk Grove’s 5.5 percent jobless rate in May was among the lower unemployment rates in the Sacramento region, according to the state’s Employment Development Department.
“The numbers are encouraging,” Gill said. “It speaks well to our workforce – educated, motivated. It will be nice to give them the opportunity to work closer to home.”