More than a decade in the making, a massive community of lakeside homes and apartments on farmland near Sacramento International Airport is up for key city approvals this week, with possible home construction next year.
The nearly 600-acre Greenbriar development is planned for a square of land on the city’s northwestern edge, wedged in the “Y” created by the split of Interstate 5 and Highway 99. Despite its location next to suburban North Natomas, the city’s guidelines for Greenbriar say it will be designed in the pedestrian-oriented style of old city neighborhoods like Land Park and Curtis Park, targeting a variety of resident types, including first-time buyers, young professionals, young families and older renters.
Eventually, a light-rail line planned to connect Sacramento to the airport would run through the community. That $1 billion transit project, however, is unfunded.
The developer, Integral Communities of Newport Beach, will ask the City Council Tuesday to approve a development agreement and other final documents. The project has been controversial in the past, with opponents arguing it represents suburban sprawl development on land that serves as habitat to at-risk species. The project developers still need state wildlife approvals for their habitat preservation efforts.
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Integral Communities plans to build more than 2,400 for-sale houses and nearly 500 rental units, including 200 for lower-income seniors. The project also will include three commercial sites.
Integral Communities executives could not be reached for comment this weekend. City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents North Natomas, said she’s been told home models could be up by late 2018.
“The Greenbriar project provides some solutions to our ability to provide a variety of housing options for families in our city, near the urban core and on a future light rail line,” she wrote to The Bee. She said the project includes a school site for the Twin Rivers School District. A map of the project also shows a combination lake/flood drainage basin winding through the community.
Like the rest of western Natomas, Greenbriar sits beneath the flight paths used by Sacramento International Airport.
Airport officials say they have arrangements with the developer to handle legal issues and to minimize bird-related safety concerns. Home sales will include disclosure statements that jets fly overhead. The airport also will establish an avigation easement, attached to property titles, protecting aviation rights, airport manager Glen Rickelton said.
Rickelton said the developer also has agreed to make the project’s planned lakes less attractive to birds, which sometimes collide with jets. That could include making the embankments steep so that it is hard for birds to walk in and out of the water as well as keeping the lake area free of garbage that birds might see a food source and telling residents not to feed birds.
Greenbriar managers also will be authorized to chase birds off the site using fireworks, scarecrows, water spray and dogs, so that those birds do not set up house around the lakes, according to project environmental documents.
Advocates for the Swainson’s hawk, listed as threatened by the state, are unhappy with the habitat mitigation land chosen for the hawks, which is an orchard west of the airport, adjacent to the Teal Bend golf course. Advocate Jude Lamare said the site is too close the airport, where 11 Swainson’s hawks have been counted as hit and killed by jets in the last four years.
The hawks forage in various places around the Natomas basin, but, as development continues, nesting areas will be reduced, forcing more birds into limited sites, including the one next to the airport. “If you are picking a ‘forever’ home for threatened avian species, it would not be next to a runway,” Lamare said. “You are squeezing the species down.”
The city gave its initial approval to Greenbriar in 2008, on the eve of a de facto building moratorium imposed by the federal government on the whole Natomas Basin due to flooding concerns. That moratorium has now been eased with improvements to the levees.
Around the same time as the moratorium began, the new home market in Sacramento collapsed. It has since largely recovered, though new home construction remains lower than it was in the boom years.
Integral Communities bought the property in 2010 from a partnership controlled by Sacramento developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, who had worked for years to get the land annexed into the city. According to market research firm Corelogic, the price tag was $28.1 million.
Records filed in the Sacramento County Recorder’s Office at the time showed that the partnership that included Tsakopoulos loaned $17.5 million to Integral Communities to help finance the purchase.
Back in 2006, when he was trying to persuade the City Council to move forward with annexing Greenbriar, Tsakopoulos pledged to donate as much as $20 million from the project to the Crocker Art Museum and the UC Davis Medical School. He acknowledged in 2011 that those promises had gone unfulfilled, blaming the recession’s punishing effect on land values. He said he hoped to revisit the issue when the market revived and did not intend to take any profit on the project.