25-story apartment towers proposed for downtown Sacramento would be the region’s tallest

A real estate investment firm from Beverly Hills said Wednesday it will build two 25-story apartment towers, the tallest residential buildings in the region, as well as midrise apartments, condominiums and perhaps a boutique hotel in a quiet residential area off Capitol Mall in downtown Sacramento.

The ambitious proposal, called Sacramento Commons, could add 1,200 apartments to the downtown’s housing stock, more than has been built in the central city in the last dozen years combined. City officials said it is a sign that the downtown Sacramento housing market could be stirring to life after years of minimal development.

The developer, Kennedy Wilson, an international real estate investor, purchased most of the site bounded by Fifth and Seventh streets and N and P streets several years ago, after it conducted an analysis that showed there is a market for housing in Sacramento’s central business district.

“We feel confident and encouraged by what we see happening downtown and want to be involved,” Kennedy Wilson vice president Dave Eadie said.

The project is being challenged, however, by some current residents of the site who say the high-density development plan will ruin the area’s bucolic, garden-like setting. The plan calls for eventually knocking down as many as 200 two-story garden apartments known as Capital Villas, but leaving three existing housing towers in place. Two of those towers, Bridgeway and Pioneer, are on the project blocks but are not owned by Kennedy Wilson.

Jim Pachl, an environmentalist and retired attorney who lives in the Bridgeway Towers building adjacent to the development site, said the city and developers are trying to squeeze too much onto the property. He said the city should focus on other empty or blighted sites around downtown in need of redevelopment.

“This neighborhood is working,” Pachl said. “It’s been livable housing for decades. Why cannibalize it?”

The project also has drawn opposition from SacMod, a group that promotes preservation of midcentury architecture in Sacramento.

“The open space planning (at the site) was intentional … for the mental health and well-being of people who live there,” SacMod’s Gretchen Steinberg said. “Sacramento Commons is trying to fill that space with buildings and mass.”

Project developers counter that their plan meets city and regional “smart growth” goals by providing more urban-style housing close to jobs, stores and entertainment areas. The project site is literally in the shadows of Capitol Mall offices and five blocks from the Capitol.

The site also is just two blocks from the planned Sacramento Kings arena at Downtown Plaza, although Kennedy Wilson’s Eadie said his company chose to invest in downtown Sacramento prior to the emergence of the arena plan. Notably, though, Eadie’s company has hired site planner AECOM, the company the Kings are using to design their arena.

Eadie said his company will submit its plans to the city on Friday. City officials have been pushing for years to get more people living downtown. City Planning Director David Kwong said the project would be one of the first major housing applications in the post-recession era.

“It’s a good sign that they are taking the risk to move forward with this kind of project,” he said. “It (indicates) a confidence level on their end.”

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the area, declined comment on the project until he sees the developer’s plans, an aide said.

Michael Ault, head of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said downtown needs housing projects, along with the arena, if it is going to see a resurgence and become a 24-hour community.

“That is what we are looking for, people with discretionary income, the creative class, people with resources to be part of this downtown momentum,” he said. “The arena itself is a great project, but we’ve got to be about more complementary use. We have to do a better job of building more residential, and more variety of retail, something more than just restaurants.”

The Sacramento Commons development calls for removing the two-story Capital Villas apartments in phases over years to make room for new high- and midrise buildings. Those new buildings would be built adjacent to the three existing housing towers on the four-block site – Bridgeway Towers on N Street, Pioneer Tower on P Street and Capitol Tower near Seventh and O streets.

The plans call for two 25-story residential towers, located near the northwest corner of Seventh and P streets. Eadie said his company intends to rent at market levels, but declined to guess what those rents would be. He said he expects some of the 1,100-square-foot high-rise apartments will be marketed to affluent renters.

The company remains uncertain whether it will propose condominiums or a boutique hotel, or a combination of the two, for the corner of the site at Seventh and N streets.

Kennedy Wilson officials say they expect the city planning and approval process will take two years. The first construction would likely start no sooner than 2016, Eadie said.

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