Not in my backyard: Curtis Park Village Project derailed
By KATY GRIMES
Editor’s Note: The following is a special commentary by local political columnist Katy Grimes, publisher of the online political journal “The Sacramento Citizen” (thesaccitizen.squarespace.com). Grimes is a well-known Sacramento political analyst, having been published in The Sacramento Union and The Sacramento Bee.
One of the bigger problems with social “do-gooders” is that they always think that their solutions are good for everyone else. Affordable housing, water restrictions, solar power, healthy eating, bicycling to work, public transit are all great ideas – for other people. The satirical newspaper The Onion exemplified this syndrome years ago with their own headline: “A study released Monday by the America Public Transportation Association reveals that 98 percent of Americans support the use of mass transit by others.”
Usually we see this occur on neighborhood association boards where a few like-minded bullies can prevent developments, impose unrealistic traffic calming measures, randomly decide land use, and even impose remodeling requirements and restrictions on homeowners.
Local developer Paul Petrovich has been working for more than 5 years and invested more than $40 million in his proposed Curtis Park Village development, currently home to the unsightly, old Union Pacific railyard located behind Sacramento City College, between the neighborhoods of Land Park and Curtis Park.
The proposed development appears to have all of the necessary elements that concerned citizens say they want: A mixed-use project, urbanized community structure, in-fill development (utilizing land within the city limits); a public transit oriented development with two light rail stations, while being pedestrian-friendly offering a pedestrian foot bridge to connect the neighborhoods and City College; neighborhood retail (no big-box stores); office space; a health club; a 7-acre park; tree-lined streets; and 240 affordable, subsidized, multi-family housing units, 184 single family homes, and 90 senior housing units, all utilizing a design that integrates with architecture in the surrounding neighborhoods.
What’s the beef?
The project has turned personal. Area residents have made the Curtis Park Village project about Paul Petrovich the man, instead of focusing on the project, which takes a blighted piece of land and gives it life, turning it into homes, businesses, parks and pretty streets.
With most of the 32 design changes that Petrovich made to the plan at the behest of five vocal members of the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association, it appears that they are now requesting changes to their original requests for changes. This can only lead one to believe that they are nothing more than attention-starved obstructionists who should take up a hobby instead. The spaceefficient street grid Petrovich originally designed was replaced with meandering streets and a traffic-calming roundabout; now the opponents of the development want a street grid again. The cries about increased traffic are based on three-generation-old plans that included a hotel; even the Draft Environmental Impact Report showed a minimal traffic increase at major intersections and no traffic increase on most Curtis Park streets.
Support for Pertovich’s development seems to cut across socio-economic, political, philosophical and environmental lines and has received support from some unlikely sources: The Smart Growth Leadership Council, Friends of Light Rail, Assemblyman Dave Jones, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, Mayor Kevin Johnson, and even the once contentious Land Park Community Association.
Given that area residents have to get in their cars and drive to other neighborhoods for most services, for a residential area of more than 10,000 households, the Curtis Park, Land Park and Hollywood Park neighborhoods are underserved in retail services when compared to other Sacramento areas. This seems to defy the environmental green movement as well as Petrovich’s development plans, which presents a mix of residential, retail, office, park space, even a health club for residents, and will be pedestrian friendly.
Four of the five vocal opponents are on the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association board of directors and several of the project opponents write for the neighborhood newspaper, “The Viewpoint.” Three of the five opponents are attorneys. With the Curtis Park neighborhood made up of 2,500 households, and neighboring Land Park with 7,000 households, the neighborhood association should take a poll of the area if they are truly interested in taking the pulse, in order to sincerely represent the neighborhood. The Land Park Neighborhood Association offered support for the project as well as some suggestions.
Ironically, when the need for multi-family low-cost housing came up, the opponents of the project insisted that the low-cost housing be removed from the original prominent locations nearest Curtis Park, and placed instead, in the rear of the development by the railroad tracks, demonstrating that their involvement is not for the greater good, but instead the Not-In-My-Backyard attitude – living in lowcost housing and riding the bus is good for other people.
Petrovich has made clear that while he has a great deal of time, money and emotions invested in this project, it is already zoned industrial. Opponents disingenuously have tried to claim that he threatened to rezone it industrial and build warehouses on the land. If the land does not become a lovely, welcoming neighborhood, it still needs to have the toxic dirt removed and something eventually built, and no developer or city can afford to put another park on land that can generate income and property taxes. There are already two large parks in the vicinity – William Land Park and Curtis Park.
The city requires that a certain percentage of high density and low income or senior housing be built into all projects of this scale. Petrovich has melded the city’s requirements, neighbor input as well as his own, to come up with a project that appears to have a good balance. But a few Curtis Park activists could still chase away this developer, leaving behind the unsightly toxic wasteland, ripe for any national developer specializing in big box stores or warehouses.
Prudent planning, review is best for Curtis Park Village Project
By ROSANNA HERBER
Editor’s Note: Rosanna Herber is the president of the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association. SCNA represents more than 2,500 households in the historic Curtis Park neighborhood located just south of downtown Sacramento. Visit the group’s Web site at http://www.sierra2.org/.
It’s decision time for Curtis Park Village. The proposed development on the 72-acre parcel between Land Park and Curtis Park is the City’s best opportunity to see a forward-looking, state of the art, infill development that will endure for the next 50 years. The project application is going to the Planning Commission on February 25 and to the Council on April 1. The Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association (SCNA) is eager to see the development go forward, but not without first making sure the surrounding neighborhoods get a fair deal from the developer. Issues related to toxics, design and traffic must be addressed before the projects approved.
The December editorial by Katy Grimes “Not in my backyard – Curtis Park Village Project derailed?” left me wondering if Grimes had read the project application. Grimes wrote “the proposed development appears to have all of the necessary elements that concerned citizens say they want:: a mixed use project…offering a pedestrian footbridge to connect the neighborhoods and City College…no big box stores…a health club…240 affordable, subsidized multi-family housing units…all utilizing a design that integrates with architecture in the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Sounds beautiful, right? But, read the project application. It does not include a pedestrian footbridge to City College. Only bus service is proposed between City College and the commercial area. It’s unrealistic to expect students and faculty who drive to the campus to take bus service to the commercial area to purchase food or services. It is more logical they would either drive their cars or walk over the pedestrian bridge. The lack of an overcrossing is a serious flaw that must be corrected. We need the Council to put the pedestrian bridge back into the project and get federal dollars to pay for it.
In public meetings, the developer has promised not to allow “big box” style commercial development. However, the proposed project application offers nothing to ensure this promise. SCNA has asked the Council to condition the commercial zoning guidelines so that each building be limited to no more than 55,000 square feet. (For comparison purposes, the Safeway store on R Street is 53,000 square feet.) This requirement would allow a grocery store, but still ensure that “big box” retail stays out of the neighborhood. There is no firm proposal for a health club in the Village as Grimes reported. It’s just a “concept” for the commercial area, like the previous ideas of a hotel and dinner theatre. After the developer gets approval for 259,000 square feet of commercial space, he can build any type of “big box” store he wants as long as it meets the commercial zoning guidelines.
The proposed 259,000 square feet of commercial space is a suburban, auto-oriented design that is not consistent with the Sacramento General Plan’s designation of this area as a Traditional Center. The Land Park Community Association recognized this inconsistency and wrote in a September 2009 letter to City Planning staff, “Land Park and Curtis Park are both traditional neighborhoods…We fear that the current development proposal contains many elements of a more contemporary, car-oriented suburban type of development: elements that are inconsistent with our existing neighborhoods and that would undermine their unique character.”
The letter goes on to say, “We are concerned that the current configuration of the development plan will funnel most of the project’s residential commuter traffic on to 21st Street and overwhelm the street’s traffic capacity during commute times, reversing the gains achieved by the recent conversion.” Make no mistake. This oversized commercial space will significantly increase traffic. You can look forward to gridlock on Sutterville Road and more cars on your neighborhood street. While LPCA did not recommend a size for the commercial area, SCNA urges the Council to limit it to 170,000 square feet because it will generate less out-of-the-area auto traffic.
The project application doesn’t propose 240 affordable, subsidized multi-family housing units as Grimes reported. Most are upscale multi-family units. The only subsidized housing will be the 90 units at the senior housing complex. SCNA would welcome more affordable units so that the students and faculty connected with City College could live in the Village. That is why SNCA asks for duplexes and granny flats to be allowed by right on single family lots. We also want the Council to approve guidelines so that fourplexes and triplexes can be built. This would allow for a wider variety of ownership housing types and sizes, including live-work units.
What about the remaining toxic soil? How will families know they live in a safe neighborhood? The plan is to bury the toxics under a 7-acre park, which will be covered with a geomembane cap and two feet of clean soil. It will essentially establish a hazardous waste storage facility in our neighborhoods. SCNA is alarmed there is no requirement that the Master Plan for the park be completed before the Council certifies the environmental document that allows the state to approve a final clean up plan. We do not believe two feet of clean soil can support an adequate neighborhood park. In order for an average sized shade tree to be planted, clean soil of approximately 6-8 feet would be needed so the tree’s roots didn’t disturb the cap. If the Council rushes forward with certifying the environmental document, the state will decide the level of clean dirt for the cap. We could see a park with no trees! SCNA urges the Council not to approve the environmental document until the Master Plan for the park is complete.
While SCNA understands there are significant financial demands on the developer stemming from the clean up of the toxics, we do not believe these circumstances should compel the City to accept a project that may be financially viable in the short term, but does not serve the surrounding neighborhoods or the City well in the long run.
Readers: What do you think? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will print them in the next edition of The Land Park News.