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Planning Commission recommends approval for proposed Sacramento Commons

The Sacramento Commons project calls for increased density, which supporters and opponents agree would change the character of the neighborhood.
The Sacramento Commons project calls for increased density, which supporters and opponents agree would change the character of the neighborhood. rbenton@sacbee.com

A proposal to replace 1960s-era low-rise apartments in downtown Sacramento with high-rise and midrise condominiums received the unanimous backing of the city’s Planning and Design Commission.

Following a three-hour hearing Thursday night, the panel voted to recommend that the City Council approve the Sacramento Commons project proposed for the 10-acre site occupied by Capitol Towers and the Sacramento Villas.

Kennedy Wilson, a Beverly Hills-based real estate investment firm, plans to retain the 15-story Capitol Towers but replace the 206 low-rise Capitol Villas units with high-rise and midrise condominiums, retail space and possibly a hotel.

The property is bounded by Fifth, Seventh, N and P streets. Designed by noted architects in the 1950s and ’60s, the current pedestrian-oriented community features streets closed to traffic and a lush canopy of trees regarded by residents as an oasis in the downtown area. The Sacramento Preservation Commission recently nominated Capitol Towers for listing in the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources and recommended denial of the Sacramento Commons project.

Sacramento Commons 
Conceptual rendering of the Sacramento Commons project. City of Sacramento

But commission member Alan LoFaso seemed to sum up the sentiments of the commission saying, “Ultimately, the question is, ‘Do you want to be about the past, or about the future?’ ”

Commission members argued that the project is necessary to revitalize the downtown core by increasing the number of residential units.

“We need an infusion of market-rate housing downtown, and we need it at increased density,” said commission member Todd Kaufman.

Commissioners said they were swayed by the support voiced for the project by representatives of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality District and Sacramento Regional Transit. Mike Wiley, Regional Transit’s general manager, said the project is close to an RT station with 10 trains an hour operating in both directions.

The project also is backed by labor unions representing construction trades, and hotel and restaurant workers, as well as the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which represents area property owners.

Commissioners said they shared some of the concerns voiced by project opponents, including the loss of tree canopy and the risk that the property could be left to languish if the development project fell through. They supported a condition that would prohibit the developer from removing trees or demolishing the Capitol Villas units before a building permit is issued. Staff members said the developer also would be required to post a bond to ensure that the property could be landscaped if the project failed to go forward after work on the site began.

Commission members argued that approval of the project is necessary if Sacramento expects to attract private investment to revitalize the central city.

“The policies of the city say develop this parcel,” LoFaso said.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the project July 14.

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