City Beat

City Beat: Fight over midtown Sacramento house appears headed to City Council

The battles in Sacramento aren’t always about arenas or condo towers. Sometimes, they’re over something as simple as a house in an alley.

Erica and Nathan Cunningham are learning that lesson again as they try to build a home facing an alley behind D Street in midtown.

The problem? The two-story home would be 8 feet taller than a cottage in the adjacent yard. Neighbors also don’t like that the Cunninghams want to build something modern. Most of the other houses on D Street are pretty old and small.

And so it was that the city Planning Commission – a powerful bunch that can make or break massive developments – spent 75 minutes on Thursday discussing a home in an alley.

Neighbors appealed a decision by city staffers to approve the project, requiring the Planning Commission hearing. The commission approved the project anyway, so now the neighbors are probably going to appeal that decision and demand a City Council hearing. And if that doesn’t go their way, the neighbors might sue.

The city, which talks a lot about trying to “activate” the central city’s alleys, backs the Cunninghams.

The Cunninghams are the kind of young, talented people Sacramento is trying to cultivate. They’ve lived near the central city for more than a decade. Their homegrown firm, Indie Capital, builds modern homes and renovates old houses in midtown, Land Park and East Sac.

Three years ago, they tried to build a three-story home in another midtown alley. Neighbors complained, and the City Council ordered the Cunninghams to build a smaller home.

“We receive so much backlash,” Erica Cunningham said. “Maybe we should just pack up and take our business somewhere else.”

The latest tussle is emblematic of a broader debate. Sacramento wants more people living in the central city. But city leaders struggle with how to attract new residents, while preserving the stable neighborhoods that already exist.

And that’s why neighbors like Pamela Fitch get so involved in such matters. She’s lived on D Street since 1998, right next to where the new home would go. It’s easy to call her a NIMBY for wanting to change the Cunninghams’ plan, but that’s because you and I don’t share her backyard. The new home would clearly change the character of her home and her neighborhood.

I asked Fitch about a system where someone can demand a City Council hearing over a single house. Is that fair?

“Why not?” Fitch said. “We live here, too.”

She then talked about a government that responds to its people. “When Lincoln was president,” she said, “anyone could walk into the White House.”

Sacramento: where neighborhood scuffles over a house in an alley evoke references to none other than Honest Abe.

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