Capitol Alert

How high is too high? California to allow taller buildings near state Capitol

How a state law was changed for one proposed highrise building near the state capitol

At the city of Sacramento’s request, the California Legislature and Gov. Brown agreed in September 2018 to adjust a state law that imposes building height limits around the Capitol. Cresleigh Homes has proposed a residential high-rise for the site.
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At the city of Sacramento’s request, the California Legislature and Gov. Brown agreed in September 2018 to adjust a state law that imposes building height limits around the Capitol. Cresleigh Homes has proposed a residential high-rise for the site.

As Sacramento’s skyline began to inch higher in the 1990s, state officials decided to take steps to keep the city’s premier piece of architecture — the golden-domed Capitol — from being drowned out.

The resulting 1992 Capitol View Protection Act has kept adjacent buildings well below the dome’s 247-foot height. But city and state officials now say the act appears to have gone a block too far.

When a major builder, Cresleigh Homes, recently proposed a high-rise housing project at 16th and N streets, officials discovered the state’s protection act map included that site and precluded developer’s from going more than 10 stories high, even though the site is a half-mile from the Capitol dome.

“It seemed to be an anomaly, given how far it was away from the Capitol,” city community development director Ryan DeVore said.

The city’s own building code allows a highrise as tall as 240 feet, or 20-plus stories, on that site.

At the city’s request, the governor and Legislature agreed last month to move the protection act boundary a half-block to the north to Matsui Alley to free the site from the act’s 120-foot height limit.

Cresleigh representatives say they do not yet know how tall they will go. But, it’s likely they will exceed 120 feet in an effort to pack more housing and commercial venues onto a tight urban corner, the city’s DeVore said.

Cresleigh vice president Deana Ellis said the company will be drawing up designs in the coming months, and could launch the project next year.

Drone video shows landmarks and life in Sacramento, capital of California.

The project includes rehabilitation of the historic Jefferson School building on that block. Ellis said her company, which owns the block, has not yet decided on a use for the school building.

Cresleigh also is planning a nine-story condominium project a few blocks closer to the Capitol at 14th and N streets. Together, the two housing projects reflect the growing interest by developers in downtown locations.

“It’s a tough task, but this is the direction of this market,” Ellis said. “We believe in core cities.”

Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, who authored the legislation to change the Capitol preservation act boundary, said it makes sense to allow for a taller building at 16th and N.

“Everyone wants more housing, less commuting,” Pan said. “We want more people living downtown.”

If Cresleigh were to build to the full 240 feet allowed by the city, the structure still would not crack the top 10 downtown buildings in height.

The city’s tallest building is the 420-foot Wells Fargo Center on Capitol Mall, which is about the same distance from the state Capitol dome as the Cresleigh project.

CalPERS and a development partner announced in August a proposal to top that with a 550-foot-tall mixed-use tower at the infamous “hole in the ground” site on the 300 block of Capitol Mall.

Notably, though, the Wells Fargo Center and other structures on Capitol Mall have been built in a stepped-back fashion, away from the street, creating a broad view corridor of the Capitol building for anyone entering the city across the Tower Bridge, which is Sacramento’s historic front door.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova, who supported the rewrite of the map for Cresleigh, said he and others nevertheless are solicitous of maintaining good views of the statehouse, and will continue to guard against crowding near the Capitol.

“Our Capitol is a centerpiece not just of the downtown grid, it’s the centerpiece of government for our entire state,” he said. “It needs to stand out.”

A time-lapse video shows clouds rolling over California's state Capitol in Sacramento on a wet Friday, May 25, 2018.

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