Sacramento City Council members approved a controversial plan Tuesday to build a new subdivision in east Sacramento on a vacant swath of land that has defeated developers’ dreams for a quarter century.
The 6-3 vote on McKinley Village came after councilmember Steve Hansen proposed that the city explore building a vehicle tunnel at Alhambra Boulevard to provide greater access to the project.
“This is the best project we’re going to get on this site,” Hansen said before the vote. “This is a site that is destined to be developed.”
Councilman Steve Cohn, who represents east Sacramento, said a vehicle tunnel at Alhambra should have been required from the developer for the project to move forward.
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“Alhambra access is a necessity, not an amenity,” Cohn told his colleagues. Council members Angelique Ashby and Kevin McCarty joined him in voting no.
In contrast, Hansen said the city should work with other government agencies to explore funding options for a railroad undercrossing at Alhambra Boulevard. The project includes planned entrances at 40th and 28th streets, both relatively quiet residential streets. Alhambra is a busier commercial corridor. Angelides said developers will build a bike and pedestrian tunnel at Alhambra Boulevard or else donate about $2 million to the city for alternative transportation programs.
Residents of east Sacramento and midtown had made their desire for the third vehicle access point at Alhambra “loud and clear over the past year,” as they expressed concerns about increased traffic in their neighborhoods, Hansen said.
Opponents of the project took issue with Hansen’s idea, saying the McKinley Village developers, led by former state treasurer Phil Angelides, should be responsible for paying for the pricey tunnel – not taxpayers. Angelides has said repeatedly that a vehicle tunnel at Alhambra would be prohibitively costly and complex, with a price tag of more than $28 million. Having to build it would cut so far into profits that it would essentially kill the project, he has said.
Ellen Cochrane, head of the group East Sacramento Preservation and a McKinley Village opponent, asked Hansen, “Who’s going to pay for the things you suggested?”
“We should not as taxpayers be left holding the bag,” Cochrane said. “It’s not our job to make Phil Angelides’ project profitable. It’s his.”
Nearly 100 supporters and opponents testified for two hours Tuesday night, and council members debated the plan until nearly midnight.
The McKinley Village project will build 336 homes and a 4,200-square-foot recreation center on nearly 49 acres. It will occupy an eye-shaped parcel surrounded by the Capital City Freeway and elevated tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad.
For many years, the land was a peach orchard. Then developers started eyeing it, only to be met with powerful opposition from neighbors and city leaders.
The first project that failed was Centrage, a high-rise development proposed in the late 1980s that the City Council denied in 1992. Next came a plan for a 500,000-square-foot retail center that was withdrawn by the applicant in the mid-1990s. In 2006, developers put forward a proposal for new housing, just as the housing crash was about to send the region into a five-year tailspin. It too was withdrawn.
Angelides first submitted his plan for McKinley Village to the city in 2008 but put it on hold in the downturn. He revived it early last year and began moving it through the approval process. He touted it as a model urban infill development that would put new homes close to downtown jobs instead of in distant farm fields.
The project was the subject of more than 50 community meetings since February 2013, and the developers made dozens of changes in response to concerns from city officials and neighbors, including reducing the number of housing units.
Nearly 1,000 residents signed petitions against the project, saying it was essentially suburban car-oriented development masquerading as infill. Traffic and poor air quality for residents living by the freeway were among their major concerns.
At the same time, more than 800 residents and groups signed letters in support, saying the project was quality infill that would benefit the city and generate jobs.
The 11 members of the Sacramento Planning and Design Commission unanimously backed the plan last month, recommending that the council approve it.
And city staff’s report to council members called the project consistent with the city’s general plan as a medium-density infill neighborhood adjacent to the streets of east Sacramento.
“Traditional neighborhoods and the characteristics associated with them are highly desirable and expected to be highly sought after in the future,” the staff report said.
Developers are counting on that desirability. Angelides and his partners, including land owner Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, believe there will be enough families willing to pay for high-priced new homes adjacent to established neighborhoods and near downtown – even though they would be close to a busy freeway and rail line used by freight and passenger trains. The New Home Co., which will build the new neighborhood, is also counting on strong demand from buyers to make the estimated $160 million project profitable.
“There’s a leap of faith here,” Angelides said after the meeting. “We’ve got a long way to go.”