Does it mean “something spicy”? Is it a Maidu Indian word for “mountain”? Is it what your grandmother yells when she sees a spider?
In the case of midtown, Yamanee definitely means “tall.”
Yamanee is the name of a 13-story, 178-foot condo tower proposed for the southeast corner of 25th and J streets. It would be modern and tall – perhaps the tallest building in midtown.
Its 134 condos would have large patios with fireplaces that face inside and out, inspired by lanais found in Hawaii. The rooftop would have a gym, sun deck and lap pool. A vertical network of plant life would extend the height of the structure.
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Did we mention it would be tall?
Yamanee is the vision of Ryan Heater. While his family has owned property in midtown for years, he hasn’t developed any major projects in town.
Heater said coming up with the name for the tower was the hard part. Perhaps that’s true, but he has a lot of heavy lifting in front of him to prove he can build the tallest residential tower in midtown. It starts with a Planning Commission hearing next month, when he’ll ask the city to give him the OK to go higher than the 65-foot height limit in midtown.
Heater said this kind of project wouldn’t work in most corners of midtown. But it works at 25th and J because there aren’t historic buildings in its path and J Street is a major thoroughfare that can support dense, vertical housing. Yamanee would replace a two-story building Heater owns that houses a barbershop, a Thai restaurant and a Birkenstock shoe store.
“This building works to many advantages,” he said.
Despite the tower’s scale, an overwhelming majority of the letters and emails sent to City Hall about this project have been supportive. Midtown neighbors fight each other over garage heights, so the level of support is a bit surprising.
However, limited opposition to Yamanee is percolating because of the city’s building height limit in midtown. And the opposition is coming from two of the city’s better-known preservationists: William Burg and Karen Jacques.
Both are concerned that if city officials allow Heater to deviate from the neighborhood’s height restrictions, they’ll have to do the same for every developer who wants to build a high-rise in midtown. And this city has a storied history of developers buying land, unveiling ambitious plans for high-rise towers and then – poof! – nothing happens.
Burg pointed to the 1000 block of J Street, where a developer owns a handful of properties and has big plans to construct a 39-story hotel and condo tower – plans that city officials are skeptical will materialize. In the meantime, a line of empty buildings and lots stands along a highly visible stretch of downtown.
“The concern is that if they set that precedent, it will lead to a wave of property speculation,” Burg said. “That’s a real risk. (Developers) could buy land speculatively and let it sit for 20 years.”
Jacques said she and others fought hard to get zoning codes into the city’s general plan that set height limits in midtown. She loves Yamanee’s design and wishes Heater wanted to build it downtown or in the railyard.
“If Yamanee is approved, it will not only seriously – and irreparably – damage a place that so many people have loved and fought for, but it will also send a message that public involvement in determining city policy is pointless,” she said.
This debate will evolve quickly. Heater said he has investors lined up and has spent “several million dollars” already on design plans and city permit requests. If all goes smoothly, he wants to start construction next spring.
Is what he’s proposing a dangerous precedent? Is it a natural progression for the city’s most desirable urban neighborhood? Or is this really just about one project on one street corner, as Heater said?
As usual in Sacramento, it seems to be a little bit of everything.