Real Estate News

Controversial proposal for downtown high-rises goes to Sacramento planning commission

The proposed Sacramento Commons is scheduled for what is expected to be a final hearing Thursday before the Planning and Design Commission, which will make a recommendation to the City Council. The council is set to take up the matter July 14.
The proposed Sacramento Commons is scheduled for what is expected to be a final hearing Thursday before the Planning and Design Commission, which will make a recommendation to the City Council. The council is set to take up the matter July 14. rbenton@sacbee.com

A proposal to convert a downtown Sacramento development built in the 1960s from low-rise apartments to high-rise condos has reignited a debate over whether this leafy, four-block piece of real estate should be packed with housing or left alone.

The proposed Sacramento Commons is scheduled for a final hearing Thursday before the Planning and Design Commission, which will make a recommendation to the City Council. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chamber, 915 I St. The council is set to take up the matter July 14.

Beverly Hills-based real estate investment firm Kennedy Wilson purchased the property bounded by Fifth, Seventh, N and P streets in 2012. The 10-acre parcel is occupied by Capitol Towers, a 15-story tower with 203 apartment units, as well as 206 low-rise garden apartments, known as the Capitol Villas. Designed as a pedestrian-oriented community with streets closed to vehicle traffic and a lush canopy of trees, it is regarded by residents as an oasis in the city.

Various developers have proposed more intense uses for the prime real estate since the 1990s, but they’ve all faded in the face of opposition.

Kennedy Wilson proposes to retain the Capitol Towers but replace the Capitol Villas with condominium towers, retail space and possibly a hotel. The project calls for increased density, which supporters and opponents agree would change the character of the neighborhood.

Project advocates say it would help fulfill the city’s goal of enlivening downtown by adding more residents. Mayor Kevin Johnson has called for the creation of 10,000 new housing units in the central city in the next 10 years.

One of two scenarios for the proposed Sacramento Commons calls for 1,394 dwelling units, a 300-room hotel and 74,122 square feet of commercial space.

“The market is shifting as we speak,” said Dave Eadie, vice president of the Commercial Investment Group of Kennedy Wilson. “With the development of the arena, it points toward quite a different downtown environment.”

Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said the need for such a project is supported by a recent study commissioned by the organization, which represents area property owners. “People’s perception of the downtown core is beginning to evolve,” he said.

Young professionals, Ault said, want to live and work in an area with “cool coffee shops and unique restaurants.” Nearly half the people polled in the study said they would be interested in living in downtown Sacramento after the new Kings arena was built, but they cited a lack of housing options as an obstacle, he said.

Opponents of the project say the need to offer a variety of housing types is one reason Capitol Villas and the neighborhood’s historic attributes and parklike ambiance should be preserved.

“Density is our destiny, but let’s do it right,” said Gretchen Steinberg, president of SacMod, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving modern art, architecture and design in the Sacramento region. She said SacMod seeks an alternative that would allow high-rise condos on part of the site, while preserving some of the existing low-rise units.

The Sacramento Preservation Commission recently nominated Sacramento Towers for listing in the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources. The commission recommended denial of the Sacramento Commons proposal and requested revised alternatives.

Other opponents say they are concerned that Kennedy Wilson is seeking entitlements for the property with the intent to sell off parcels to developers who have yet to be identified. James Pachl, an environmental attorney who until recently lived in the neighboring Bridgeway Towers, said he fears Capitol Villas, along with 199 trees, will be demolished and the property left to languish as a vacant lot until a developer is found.

“The last thing the city wants is another hole in the ground,” Pachl said.

A city staff report recommends that Capitol Villas not be demolished until construction begins for that phase of the project, a condition Eadie said Kennedy Wilson considers reasonable.

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