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Visioning a smarter future: Sacramento's example

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Sacramento's efforts to rebuild 240 acres of long-vacant industrial land into a modern extension of its downtown earned the city a prominent article in the New York Times the other day. "In the next 20 years, the developer Thomas Enterprises, based in Newnan, Ga., plans to build up to 12,000 residential units, 800,000 square feet of commercial space, scattered small parks, a railroad history museum and a performing arts center," the Times notes. But that's only part of the story.

The Railyards project is small pickings compared to a larger effort to transform a  748 acres of mostly light industrial and warehouses into a cohesive district with a mix of residential, commercial, industrial, public, and open space uses where sustainable development is encouraged and infrastructure provides a balanced approach to regional traffic issues.

The city is nearing the completion of the community outreach, specific plan chapter writing, policy development, special planning district update and the historic resources survey. In September, an infrastructure finance plan will be available for public review and the city plans to release the draft environmental impact report in October.

The guidelines that came out of the visioning process establish laudatory goals, among them to provide a range of housing types that are attractive to families and individuals and affordable at all income levels. The project seeks to support transit oriented development and to incorporate Sacramento Smart Growth Principles.

"The vision for the River District is that of an eclectic mix of uses that will transcend an evolution from a primarily light-industrial, low-intensity commercial district, to that of a series of distinctive walkable neighborhoods within a district that is contiguous to the American River and serves as the northern gateway into the Central City," city planning officials explain.

The target growth for the area is approximately 8,000 residential dwelling units,
780,000 square feet of commercial, 3.9 million square feet of office, 1.4 million square feet of light industrial and 3000 hotel rooms, phased over a period of 20 years or more.

In May, the city presented the River District Specific Plan to stakeholders. The detail-filled PowerPoint slideshow outlines the scope of the effort and the vision for the area.

Several projects are in the planning process for this area. In August 2008, the 52-acre Township 9 project was approved for approximately 2,300 housing units, 150,000 square feet of retail and 800,000 square feet of office," according to the city website. 

Township 9
Township 9

The project, located on the west side of North 7th Street north of Richards Boulevard, was awarded $17 million in State 1-C funds and anticipates starting construction this year. The Township 9 project will include a stop on the new light rail line that Sacramento Regional Transit is building from downtown north to the Sacramento International Airport.  The Township 9 stop on the northwest corner of Richards Boulevard and North 7th Street is expected to be operational by October of next year.

Another project benefiting from RT's light rail extension will be the recently approved headquarters consolidation of the California Highway Patrol, which will bring 900 new employees to the district.  The CHP Headquarters will be located at Continental Plaza, on the east side of North 7th Street north of Richards Boulevard.

"Sacramento’s riverfronts after long neglect are becoming a desirable asset for its citizens," the city explains. "These waterfront edges are a key development amenity for the River District and an asset to which the land use plan and circulation plan seek to exploit. The Specific Plan sets a strong agenda for
connecting pedestrians and cyclists to the waters edge through a series of destinations or 'moments' that are laid on roughly quarter-mile increments along a pathway called “Ribbon of Parks.” This armature of activity nodes is designed to provide a ten minute walking interval along the river walk and provide alternating passive and activity nodes from Old Sacramento and the future Robert Matsui Park past the American River Bridge, a distance of nearly three miles, a distance equivalent to San Francisco’s Embarcadero from Pac Bell Park to Pier 39."