Big yellow and orange earth movers graded dirt this week to prepare for the first phase of 825 new homes about a mile from downtown Sacramento in an industrial area near the venerable Land Park neighborhood. Nearby, at a ceremonial groundbreaking, City Councilman Steve Hansen called the start of construction on the Northwest Land Park development a “seminal moment” in Sacramento’s rebuilding of its residential urban core.
During the mid-2000s real estate boom, Sacramento’s growth occurred mostly on the suburban fringe, with developers churning out thousands of houses in new subdivisions. Despite much talk about “infill” development, and several proposals for high-rises downtown, the actual growth of housing units in existing city neighborhoods was incremental and came in small batches. The high-rises fizzled in the housing crash, and plans for such major sites as the downtown railyard went dormant.
Today, however, Sacramento’s central core and its surrounding established neighborhoods are poised to add hundreds of housing units on sizable pieces of land in the next few years. Northwest Land Park is the latest to get underway. Its developers aim to attract young professionals and downsizing baby boomers with smaller, energy-efficient homes, which will be built on land long occupied by a wood products plant.
In east Sacramento, the Sacramento City Council recently approved the McKinley Village development, envisioned with more than 300 homes, on a crescent of land along the Capital City Freeway that has frustrated developers for decades. And after $30 million in toxic cleanup and a decade of wrangling with neighbors, developer Paul Petrovich is selling home lots to builders in his Curtis Park Village project, which will include nearly 500 housing units.
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Builders and developers say they think they can tap into pent-up demand for urban living at sales prices high enough to make their investments worthwhile, despite infill’s greater costs and challenges. Most of the projects started before last decade’s housing crash, then went dark in the downturn. But they have come out of hibernation at a time builders say couldn’t be better.
“I do believe the timing’s right. It’s the maturing of the Sacramento real estate market,” said Kevin Carson, Northern California president of the New Home Company, which is building McKinley Village and The Cannery project in Davis on the site of a former tomato processing plant. “In other core areas, in Denver and elsewhere, you saw this happening a decade ago.”
Sacramento’s central city, the area between the rivers and the freeways, saw 1,780 housing units created between 1990 and 2006, most of them rental apartments, according to the city. That compares to 15,332 units built in downtown Denver during the same period.
In Sacramento’s last housing boom, a decade ago, builders covered suburban fields in “nondescript beige-colored tract homes without character,” Carson said. In contrast, infill developments tie into established neighborhoods, which can provide instant character and amenities.
“That’s what’s so exciting about infill,” Carson said. “You have neighborhood character, with restaurants and shops that are part of the fabric. I think that’s what people are looking for. Neighborhood creation and neighborhood planning are becoming as important as home construction as far as what’s going to make people move.”
At this week’s groundbreaking in Land Park, Councilman Hansen told those gathered that it’s time for the city to reclaim its residents, after a suburban exodus that lasted more than 50 years.
In 1950 there were 60,000 residents downtown; today there are 32,000, and not enough housing to meet demand from those who wish to live near the roughly 100,000 jobs that downtown employers provide, he said. “We have a jobs and housing imbalance.”
Here’s a look at some of the new Sacramento-area neighborhoods nearing construction or underway:
The Bridge District, West Sacramento
On former industrial land above the west bank of the Sacramento River, the Bridge District is slated to be one of West Sacramento’s prime addresses following two decades of intensive planning and $52 million in public works improvements, partly funded by a voter-approved state bond measure. From the Pioneer Bridge, where Highway 50 crosses the river, motorists can see an affordable apartment complex and dozens of town homes taking shape near Raley Field.
Fulcrum, a Sacramento-based development group headed by Mark Friedman, is currently building 32 homes called The Park Moderns and has already sold about 16 of the units, with two-bedrooom 1,500-square-foot-homes priced at about $400,000. The first residents are expected to move in by June, with all 32 homes complete by early next year.
A variety of landowners are planning further development. At build-out, the Bridge District could have 4,000 residential units, with 9,300 residents, 5 million square feet of commercial space and 500,000 square feet of retail space.
McKinley Village, east Sacramento
Despite strong resistance from neighbors in east Sacramento, City Council members recently approved the new development of 336 homes and a 4,200-square-foot recreation center on nearly 49 vacant acres bounded by the Capital City Freeway and elevated tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The New Home Company will build the homes with architecture and streetscapes modeled after the neighboring east Sacramento area. Developers, led by former state treasurer Phil Angelides, plan to invest about $130 million to develop the site, including putting a railroad undercrossing at 40th Street and upgrading a freeway overcrossing at A Street to connect to the grid in midtown. The city plans to explore the possibility of adding a pedestrian and bike undercrossing at Alhambra Boulevard.
Angelides has contended the project will connect seamlessly into the urban grid, so that new residents can have ready access to east Sacramento’s schools, shopping and restaurants. New Home expects to start construction and sales in the summer of 2015.
Curtis Park Village
After years of removing toxic dirt from one of the city’s former railyards, developer Paul Petrovich has nearly succeeded in making his vision for Curtis Park Village come to fruition. Main streets are in, along with street lighting and traffic signals, and a construction trailer was recently installed to herald the first 86 homes to be built by BlackPine Communities of Sacramento. The initial phase of home construction, expected to start soon, will occupy nearly 8 acres of the 72-acre community near Sacramento City College and Sutterville Road. A pedestrian bridge to the college and a light-rail station is part of the plan. BlackPine said it plans to build and sell the first 29 homes by year’s end.
Once completed, Curtis Park Village will have 300 single-family homes plus about 200 multi-family units. Petrovich said earlier that the first phase of homes will be priced from $450,000 to $650,000 and will range from about 2,200 to 3,200 square feet.
Township 9, River District
With sightlines straight down Seventh Street to downtown Sacramento, Township 9 is being built on the site of a former cannery along the American River in an industrial area now re-branded as the River District. The 65-acre mixed-use development is planned for more than 2,500 housing units, 840,000 square feet of office space and 145,000 square feet of retail. A new light-rail station has been installed near the California Highway Patrol headquarters. The Cannery Place, a large complex of affordable apartments, is scheduled to be finished in September with additional development to follow.
Sutter Park, east Sacramento
The plan to replace Sutter Memorial Hospital with up to 120 homes won unanimous support from the Sacramento City Council last month and generally favorable reviews from neighbors. The Sutter Park project will replace the 20-acre hospital, which is surrounded by residential tree-lined streets, with homes that fit neatly into the established neighborhood, according to Stonebridge Properties, a subsidiary of construction giant Teichert.
Among the design concepts are small groups of cottages positioned around common courtyards and a row of homes facing a long park space. The hospital, which has delivered 300,000 newborns since 1937 and is known as Sacramento’s “baby hospital,” will move to Sutter’s expanding midtown campus. It’s scheduled to be decommissioned later this year, with home construction to start in 2016.
Northwest Land Park
At Northwest Land Park, developer Kevin Smith, with Ranch Capital of San Diego, expects most buyers to be part of two large groups: the nation’s 76 million baby boomers, many of whom will want to downsize after raising families in larger homes, and the 79 million “millennials” who are getting started in their careers and will be seeking their first homes.
“It’s demographics,” Smith said.
The project will include a 4-acre park and a 2.5 acre urban farm that will supply neighboring schools with produce and provide an opportunity for students, many of whom live in nearby low-income housing, to learn about agriculture. A public market will be created in a long brick structure now occupied by food distributor Produce Express. A freeway under-crossing will connect residents by bike trail to Miller Park and the Sacramento River.
Construction will start later this year, with homes to be mostly priced under $400,000, Smith said.
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