ECOS Endorses Fair Oaks EcoHousing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 25, 2016

Marty Maskall, Project Manager, and Brandon Rose, ECOS president, at the Fair Oaks EcoHousing site

Marty Maskall, Project Manager, and Brandon Rose, ECOS president, at the Fair Oaks EcoHousing site

Contact:
Alexandra Reagan, Dir. of Operations, ECOS, at office[at]ecosacramento[dot]net or (916) 444-0022
Marty Maskall, Project Mgr, FO EcoHousing, at mmaskall[at]pacbell[dot]net or (916) 967-2472

ECOS Endorses Fair Oaks EcoHousing

Sacramento, CA – The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) voted unanimously on July 18, 2016 to endorse Fair Oaks EcoHousing. According to Brandon Rose, ECOS Board President, “One of the key objectives of ECOS is to promote and reinforce Smart Growth principles. We are pleased to endorse Fair Oaks EcoHousing as an example of a sustainable infill project that will enhance the Fair Oaks Community.”

Fair Oaks EcoHousing, soon to be built on New York Avenue near Fair Oaks Boulevard, will be a cohousing community. Cohousing neighborhoods are composed of privately-owned homes clustered around shared open space and common facilities. A central clubhouse is the heart of the neighborhood for a variety of activities and typically includes a dining room, kitchen, lounge, workshop space, kids’ playroom and guest rooms. Cars are kept to the edge of the site, thus making the neighborhood pedestrian-friendly and safe for children. Future residents are involved in the design and development so that it reflects their needs and priorities, creating a truly custom neighborhood. Marty Maskall, Project Manager & Future Resident, says: “I’m looking forward to living in a friendly and sustainable neighborhood close to Fair Oaks Village. We plan to break ground in early 2017, with move-in scheduled for Spring 2018.”

Architects and authors Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett introduced cohousing to North America in the 1980’s after studying the movement in Denmark. They are the authors of “Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities.” There are now more than 160 cohousing communities in the United States, including 32 in California. McCamant and Durrett, a husband and wife team, have worked together on over fifty cohousing projects. They live in Nevada City Cohousing. McCamant says: “Cohousing neighborhoods across America are proving that we can live a more sustainable lifestyle that is healthier and more fun for people of all ages, as well as good for the environment.”

Cohousing neighborhoods in the Sacramento Region include Southside Park Cohousing in Sacramento, Nevada City Cohousing, Wolf Creek Lodge in Grass Valley, and three communities in Davis. A new community called Renaissance Village Homes is being formed in West Sacramento, close to Raley field. According to Dr. Alex Kelter, Co-Chair of the ECOS Land Use Committee, “I am excited to see cohousing coming to West Sacramento, and I have joined forces with the group to do my part to help create this special neighborhood.”

Environmental sustainability is a core value in cohousing neighborhoods, which combine Smart Growth, Green Design, and Quality of Life. Community is the secret ingredient of sustainability because people help each other learn to be good stewards of the land. On-site activities enable residents to socialize close to home and reduce their need to drive as much for day-to-day activities. The Fair Oaks property offers close proximity to the American River Parkway, Fair Oaks Village, Bannister Park, the Sacramento Waldorf School, and Rudolf Steiner College.

Fair Oaks EcoHousing is welcoming prospective residents at free site tours, offered twice a month. For more information , visit www.FairOaksEcoHousing.org, www.cohousing-solutions.com, www.cohousingco.com, www.cohousing.org, and www.RenaissanceVillageHomes.org.

Future Residents of Fair Oaks EcoHousing celebrating approval by Sacramento County in April 2015

Future Residents of Fair Oaks EcoHousing celebrating approval by Sacramento County in April 2015

Railyards Update & June 30 Public Meeting

June 23, 2016

NOTICE: There will be a public meeting of the City Planning & Design Commission on the proposed Railyards project in Sacramento.

When: Thursday, June 30th
5:30 Commission Training on Principals and Terminology
6:30 Railyards Review and Comment
Where: E.M. Hart Senior Center, 915 27th St, Sacramento, CA 95816.

Background

The Sacramento Railyards project is one of the largest contiguous infill opportunities in the nation. The 2007 Specific Plan for the project estimated the construction of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 new dwelling units of varying types within the Plan Area. The city of Sacramento has stated that we need 10,000 more residential units downtown to correct the jobs-housing imbalance in the urban core. In November 2015, Railyards planners were stating that they had changed the plan to include only about 6,000 housing units. In response, the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and Mike McKeever of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) both expressed concerns about this reduction in housing units.

The Latest

On June 13, 2016, Alan Hersh LDK Ventures, the project’s developer, presented to ECOS at our Land Use Committee meeting. You can view the full minutes from the meeting, including his presentation, here. Hersh said they are “getting an entitlement for 10,000 units.” The zoning entitlement allows for a maximum of 10,000 housing units, but there won’t be a minimum requirement of units to actually get built, although this requirement could be created in the zoning. Hersh says only 6,000-8,000 units are probably realistic and that the density that works in the current market is 4-6 stories wrapped around central parking. This allows for wood frame buildings and will result in significant cost-savings per square foot.

What’s Next?

ECOS is disappointed that the number of units has been so drastically slashed and we hope that number will rise again. This is major infill proposal that could potentially do a lot to improve the jobs-housing balance in Sacramento and potentially set an example for a successful smart growth, infill, brownfield development for the rest of the country to consider.

Take Action

Make sure your voice is heard as the plans for this major development are being formed.

  • Contact the Planning and Design Commission and City Council via email, letters, phone calls and social media.
  • Attend the June 30th meeting if you are able and interested in flexing your civic power.
  • View early design concepts of the Railyards and provide feedback directly to the Railyards planning team here.

Update on the Status of a Lower American River Conservancy (AB 1716)

June 14, 2016

From our friends at the Save the American River Association (SARA)…

ACTION ITEM: Help make a state conservancy happen for the Lower American River. AB 1716 has passed the Assembly and moved on to the Senate where it will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee:

June 28, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. in Room 112

Please join SARA on the 28th to show your support. SARA and our many partners, as well as the County of Sacramento, have submitted amended language to the bill that we feel would help strengthen the intent of the Conservancy to protect the natural resources of the lower American River Parkway and ensure that local control is not compromised. Click here to view the bill with proposed submitted amendments.

BENEFITS OF A CONSERVANCY

Over the past twenty years, conservancies have directed hundreds of millions of state dollars to acquire and restore land and improve public access to key resources including the coast, Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada, and several rivers including the San Joaquin, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and others.

The proposed Lower American River Conservancy would be a state partner that would provide grants to the County of Sacramento, nonprofit organizations, and others to:
– Restore lands along the lower American River that have been severely damaged by fire and invasive weeds;
– Acquire and restore additional lands to further advance the American River Parkway values;
– Improve public access.

THE CONSERVANCY’S ROLE

AB 1716 does not change the current management of the American River Parkway and expressly protects the existing authority of the County of Sacramento and other local agencies. The Conservancy’s role would be to fund projects that strengthen the natural and recreational values of the American River Parkway consistent with the American River Parkway Plan. A very exciting benefit of the Conservancy would be to acquire critical funding for the Natural Resources Management Plan.

June 7, 2016

Assembly Bill 1716 is the proposed legislation to create a state conservancy for the lower American River. The American River Natural History Association, the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, the Environmental Council of Sacramento, Habitat 2020, Sierra Club, Planning and Conservation League, the California Native Plant Society, the County Parks Department, etc., have been working diligently with the bill’s co-authors, Assembly Members Kevin McCarty and Ken Cooley, to make sure our identified amendments make the final bill. The goal is to ensure a bill that will bring all of the promised conservation benefits to the lower American River Parkway by potentially providing millions of dollars of state funding for projects such as habitat restoration, invasive plant eradication/management, projects improving water quality and trail access to the Parkway, as well as fund projects that provide for continued education and interpretation of the American River’s and Parkway’s cultural and natural resources.

While the legislative process is more a marathon than a sprint, the bill is moving along and soon will be the time to write letters of support. More details will follow at the appropriate time.

AB 1716 TIMELINE TO DATE

January 28, 2016
Assembly Members Kevin McCarty, Ken Cooley, Senator Richard Pan, Sacramento City Council Member Jeff Harris and County Supervisor Phil Serna held a press conference at Discovery Park announcing AB 1716, proposed legislation to establish a state conservancy for the lower American River Parkway.

March 3, 2016
First public workshop at the Clunie Clubhouse in McKinley Park. More than 100 members of the public attended and expressed support for AB 1716.

April 25, 2016
AB 1716 passed out of the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee with three amendments.

May 4, 2016
Appropriations Committee heard AB 1716 and referred it to the suspense file.

May 27, 2016
Second public workshop at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Ancil Hoffman Park. Approximately 75 members of the public attended and expressed support for AB 1716.

May 28, 2016
AB 1716 passed out of the Appropriations Committee.

June 1, 2016
AB 1716 passed the Assembly. Ordered to the Senate.

The bill probably will move on now to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. This is the committee that will take up the amendments we submitted.

Please keep your networks informed. The Save the American River Association is offering to meet with anyone or group who would like more information regarding AB 1716. You can contact Save the American River Association (SARA) to arrange a presentation.

The requested amended language that Sacramento County has sent to the State can be found by clicking here. These amendments reflect the desired changes identified by our coalition of stakeholders and changes the County identified as important. Please read the requested amended language carefully and let us know what you think.

Participation in this issue is critical to the future of the lower American River Parkway.

Sincerely,

Betsy Weiland, Facilitator
American River Parkway Coalition

The Mission of the American River Parkway Coalition is to provide a forum for continuing communication, collaboration, and coordination in order to better protect and preserve the natural and recreational resources of the American River Parkway and monitor and implement the American River Parkway Plan.

[Photo by George Nyberg]

ECOS Comments on Natomas North Precinct Master Plan Notice of Preparation, May 2016

On May 31, 2016, the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS), Habitat 2020 and the Sierra Club Sacramento Group submitted a comment letter on the Natomas North Precinct Master Plan Notice of Preparation. You can read the letter in text below, or view the PDF by clicking here or the image of the letter at the bottom of this page.


May 31, 2016

Catherine Hack, Environmental Coordinator

SENT VIA EMAIL TO hackc[at]saccounty[dot]net

Department of Community Development Planning and Environmental Review Division

827 7th Street, Room 225, Sacramento, CA 95814

SUBJECT: NOTICE OF PREPARATION OF A DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT FOR THE NATOMAS NORTH PRECINCT MASTER PLAN (CONTROL NUMBER: PLNP2014-00172)

Dear Ms. Hack:

These are comments from the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS), with dozens of  individual members and organizational members in the tens of thousands. ECOS has a history of over 4 decades of advocacy to limit sprawl, preserve agriculture, habitat and open space, and improve the quality of life while supporting growth with a vibrant and equitable economy. These comments relate to all the requested entitlements, and the Project Objectives found on NOP, pages 3-4, Objectives 1-6, except where noted.

Land Use, Transportation, Air Quality, Climate Change

The proposed Master Plan is obviously inconsistent with the Metropolitan Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS) and with the Regional Air Quality Attainment Plan. The DEIR must include a full analysis and discussion of the project’s inconsistency with the MTP/SCS and the Regional Air Quality Attainment Plan. How this inconsistency will be mitigated (e.g., with strict project phasing) must also be addressed.

Since the proposed project is inconsistent with the MTP/SCS and the State’s mandates under SB 375 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the project must also, by definition, be inconsistent with the County’s Climate Action Plan.  If this plan is to have any value, this inconsistency must also be addressed and mitigated.

The above inconsistencies are critically important since the project, as proposed,  is a totally auto-oriented community.  Regional Transit will not have the ability for many years, if ever, to provide service to this area at the proposed densities.  Therefore it is critically important to establish a Transportation Services District, similar to what exists in North Natomas and portions of the Southeast County, to provide funding for transit service, connectivity and other transportation-related services.

It is important that the EIR, as a tool in assessing impacts, provide information which allows all interested parties and decision-makers to ascertain the level/degree of consistency/inconsistency with critical land use policies. The EIR must fully evaluate consistency with Sacramento County General Plan Policy LU-127. Any finding of inconsistency must be explained and where appropriate quantified, particularly with respect to the crucial finding pertaining to available holding capacity.

In addition to analysis of the “No Project” alternative, there should also be an examination of the alternative that 55,000 people will, indeed, move to Sacramento County, but will choose to reside elsewhere, say, in the northern and central portions of the City of Sacramento, choosing infill locations that are already zoned for residential development of the same or higher density as that proposed in this project. It is widely reported that modern  homebuyers are preferentially seeking more compact, urban locations than large-lot, suburban locations. The continuing demand for compact, urban of housing is further bolstered by the history of the recent foreclosure crisis: while homes in Elk Grove and Natomas literally could not be given away, homes in the central city lost very little value, and recovered these losses (and then some) before any other locations did. While such an alternative may not be the preference of these developers, neither is the “No Project” alternative. But the “No Project” alternative ignores the reality that more people are, indeed, choosing to live in this region. In practical terms, if these developers end up with “No Project,” that alone will not halt the population increase. Rather, the new arrivals will live somewhere already zoned for the type of residential development they prefer. That is the comparison that should be made with the project as proposed.

The proposed project includes substantial employment and higher density residential development in order to meet General Plan policy criteria for new development at the urban fringe. The EIR must evaluate the increase in impact, particularly with respect to VMT and CO2 air quality emissions, if the development were to build out at lower, traditional levels of suburban development. The EIR must consider mitigation measures, including but not limited to phasing requirements and development moratoriums, to prevent occurrence of those adverse impacts.

There are already enough flawed assumptions in the feasibility analysis for the regional hospital to conclude that such a facility is extremely unlikely to materialize. The nation has spent the past six decades trying to reduce the ratio of hospital beds per thousand population, not increase it. Therefore, in order to properly assess the range of possible impacts of the proposed project, the EIR must include at least one alternative that does not include a regional hospital.

Water

The EIR must consider the adequacy of water to supply the development. A conclusion that the “project will be supplied by surface water supplemented with groundwater withdrawals” is inadequate. State Water Board approval of Natomas Central Mutual Water Company surface water rights from agricultural to municipal/industrial (M/I) use should not be counted upon as a given outcome. All potential sources of surface water, constraints and obstacles to obtaining them, the timing of water delivery, the potential for delivery curtailment in dry years, and overall feasibility of supplemental surface water supplies must all be thoroughly vetted.

The project is outside of the Urban Services Boundary (USB). M/I development was not assumed as part of the studies and assumptions underlying the Water Forum Agreement. The EIR must include a comprehensive analysis of the North American River Sub-basin, taking into account the buildout of approved and planned projects in Sutter and Placer Counties. The EIR analysis must complement and support sustainable groundwater planning undertaken to implement the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The EIR must include legally enforceable mitigation measures, including but not limited to phasing requirements and moratoriums, if assumed supplemental surface water supplies are not available sufficiently in advance to forestall groundwater overdraft.

As part of this analysis, the EIR must assess groundwater quality, including the presence of chromium, manganese, iron and arsenic, and its feasibility for domestic consumption. Assessment of infrastructure costs must consider the additional cost of water treatment to remove potentially harmful levels of these and other elements in groundwater supplies.

We are aware of the drainage studies performed under the auspices of the County and others over the past two decades. We believe the drainage problems are even more complex because of additional development that has occurred or been approved since the completion of these drainage studies, including those in Sutter County. The EIR must be extremely detailed as to how adequate drainage will be achieved for this project, as well as how these drainage solutions affect the project’s ability to mitigate for any proposed take of endangered species.

Growth-inducing Effects

The EIR must evaluate growth inducing impact of extending the USB to the County Line. The analysis should include speculative land price increases in the region and the resulting impact on implementing the Natomas Basin HCP, Sacramento County’s relationship to that HCP notwithstanding. The analysis should also include the regional growth-inducing impact of this, the most populous jurisdiction in the region, acting in violation of its own general plan to expand the region’s footprint in a manner inconsistent with regional plans.

Biological Resources

As proposed, this project conflicts with the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (NBHCP). While the County declined to become a signatory to the Plan in 2003, nonetheless the proposed development would remove vital agriculture that provides habitat and foraging for at least two endangered species. Without this acreage, mitigation for this project could be rendered inconceivable, especially since other development in the area has already been approved. Those previous approvals have not yet resulted in construction, nor have their approved mitigations been implemented. When they are, the availability of mitigation acreage for this project is nil. The EIR must be explicit about the precise acreage, timing and location of mitigation land, and must demonstrate beyond doubt how compatibility with the NBHCP and already-approved mitigation for already-entitled projects will be achieved.

Specifically, the EIR needs to analyze the impact of this proposed project on the implemented Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Analysis of impact on conservation strategy implementation in the NBHCP.
  • Analysis of impact on effectiveness of mitigations in the NBHCP. As an example, the NBHCP stipulates a 1:1/2 acre mitigation for terrestrial non wetland habitat loss, but this was predicated on no additional development beyond that covered in the NBHCP within the basin.
  • Analysis of the impact on “feasibility for acquisition” for the lands needed within the available inventory for the NBHCP within the basin given that over 5600 additional acres are proposed to be removed from the inventory, and at least that amount, if not substantially more, will be needed to mitigate for the proposed development.
  • Analysis of the impact of potentially increased acquisition costs for acquiring mitigation lands for the NBHCP because of the increased demand resulting from trying to mitigate for this project in the same geography as the NBHCP.
  • EIR needs to provide substantive evidence that the loss of so much more habitat than was contemplated and covered in the NBHCP in the basin will not result in jeopardy for the Swainson’s hawk and the giant garter snake.
  • Analysis of the impact of removing more than 5600 acres of important habitat for the giant garter snake needs to be included. Cumulative effects need to be analyzed for the giant garter snake in this context as well.
  • Analysis of the impact of removing more than 5600 acres of important habitat for the Swainson’s hawk needs to be included. Cumulative effects to the Swainson’s hawk need to be analyzed in this context as well.
  • The EIR needs to provide all appropriate and feasible mitigations for impacts to species so that their efficacy can be analyzed, and not kick the can down the road with the deferred mitigation of indicating that such details will be worked out later with the regulatory agencies after entitlements are granted.
Financing

The environmental challenges of this project represent astounding obstacles, of a scale rarely seen in this region. The EIR must be very sound in its demonstration of how the provision of public infrastructure and services to this project can be achieved while maintaining a “neutral-to-positive fiscal impact” to the County (see NOP, page 4, Objective #8).

Infrastructure costs for internal drainage, SAFCA flood control assessments, roads and other essential services will be extensive. Parallel evaluation of these costs is essential to the EIR process. The EIR must show that mitigation measures attached to the project, particularly those that rely on developer funded implementation—and in particular those that are related to habitat mitigation requirements—will, when combined with the burden of infrastructure costs, be financially feasible.

Bonding of mitigation measures must be evaluated as part of the mitigation and monitoring program. This evaluation must be part of the draft EIR process and available for public review well before final project approvals.

Conclusion

ECOS agrees with the assumption that the population of the region and the county will grow. The purpose of the General Plan is to control future development such that it meets the stated needs of the county. Applicant must demonstrate how the proposal will help the county meet these needs, consistent with the existing General Plan, MTP/SCS, Regional Air Quality Attainment Plan, Climate Action Plan, Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the NBHCP, and, of course, CEQA. Any requested departure from these requirements must demonstrate unequivocal and unique circumstances that outweigh the considerable constraints of those existing requirements. To the extent that one considers the provision of public infrastructure and services, themselves, as mitigation for the environmental impacts of the project, their feasibility, adequacy and their own inherent impacts must be explicated fully and compared to alternatives that do not require amendments to the General Plan, various specific plans ( listed in the NOP as “Requested Entitlements”), or new annexations to the Sanitation District and Sewer District.

The region, and the county, specifically, already have countless alternatives to meet future growth within the above requirements (well beyond the 55,000 people subsumed by this proposal). In fact, the existing General Plan subsumes much more growth than is projected by SACOG. It is incumbent on the applicant, therefore, to demonstrate how the proposal comports with the alternatives already available under the General Plan, MTP/SCS, etc. A simple “No Project” alternative that also assumes no growth anywhere else in the region, or one that fails to relate the project to at least one of these alternatives, is simply not good enough to support rational decision-making.

Sincerely,

Brandon Rose, President, Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS)

Robert C. Burness, Co-Chair, Habitat 2020

Barbara Leary, Executive Committee Chair, Sierra Club Sacramento Group


natomas letter image

ECOS Comments on North Natomas Panhandle Annexation NOP, May 2016

On May 27, 2016 ECOS submitted the comments below on the Notice of Preparation (NOP) of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Panhandle Annexation and Planned Unit Development (PUD) in North Natomas.


Attn: Dana Mahaffey SENT VIA EMAIL TO dmahaffey[at]cityofsacramento[dot]org
City of Sacramento Community Development Department
Environmental Planning Services
300 Richards Blvd, 3rd Floor
Sacramento, CA 95811

RE: Comments on Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the Panhandle Annexation and Planned Unit Development

Dear Ms. Mahaffey:

This letter provides initial comments from the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and Habitat 2020 (H2020) in response to a notice of preparation application for the proposed Panhandle Annexation and Planned Unit Development in North Natomas. ECOS’ membership organizations include: 350 Sacramento, Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, Citizens Climate Lobby Sacramento, Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, International Dark-Sky Association, Mutual Housing California, Physicians for Social Responsibility Sacramento Chapter, Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association, Sacramento Housing Alliance, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, Sacramento Vegetarian Society, Save Our Sandhill Cranes, Save the American River Association, SEIU Local 1000 (Environmental Committee), Sierra Club Sacramento Group, and The Green Democratic Club of Sacramento.

Habitat 2020 (H2020) is a coalition of environmental organizations collaborating on common issues in and affecting, the Sacramento region. Members of Habitat 2020 include the Sacramento Audubon Society, California Native Plant Society, Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk, Save the American River Association, Save Our Sandhill Cranes, Sierra Club Sacramento Group, Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the Sacramento Area Creeks Council.

Incorporate Prior Letters in Comments

ECOS was signatory to a comment letter (attached as Attachment 1) dated December 18, 2006 in response to the Panhandle Annexation and PUD DEIR of a predecessor project. In addition, James M. Pachl, an attorney representing ECOS and other concerned organizations, submitted a letter on May 34, 2007 (attached as Attachment 2) commenting on the FEIR. Many of the concerns and comments in those letters pertaining to the evaluation of that project’s impacts are still relevant. These comments are incorporated herein by reference and we ask that you address them during the preparation of the new DEIR with the objective of providing a full and complete environmental analysis that addresses deficiencies in the prior documents.

We would also like to provide the following additional comment:

Evaluate Growth Inducing Impact of Enhanced Road Connectivity

The proposed project will provide a new through road between Del Paso Road and West Elkhorn Blvd. Del Paso Blvd represents the north boundary of the Sacramento City Limit, the Sacramento City Sphere of Influence Boundary, and the Sacramento County General Plan Urban Service Boundary. The proposed road will facilitate access to land north of West Elkhorn Blvd that is not included in any adopted plan for urban development. It is essential that the DEIR address the growth inducement potential of the planned road improvements and recommend appropriate mitigation measures.

Sincerely,

Brandon Rose, President of the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS)

Attachments:
Attachment 1 – Comment letter dated December 18, 2006 in response to the Panhandle Annexation and PUD DEIR of a predecessor project (PDF)
Attachment 2 – James M. Pachl’s letter dated May 34, 2007 commenting on the FEIR (PDF)


View the comment letter in PDF by clicking here.

ECOS Comments on Yamanee

May 26, 2016

The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) submitted our comments on the proposed Yamanee Project, P15-047 (“Yamanee”) to the City of Sacramento’s Planning and Design Commission on May 9, 2016. ECOS then provided testimony supporting the letter at the Planning and Design Commission hearing on Thursday, May 12, 2016. On May 26, 2016, ECOS submitted the same comment letter to Mayor Johnson, City Councilmembers, City Staff and City Planner John Shirey, as we believe our concerns should be of vital importance to the Council’s deliberations.

Read our comment letter below.


The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) has long advocated for less growth at urban Sacramento’s fringe in favor of a greater focus on infill and redevelopment. We support land use plans that are in line with realistic growth expectations, are environmentally sensitive, and while cognizant of neighborhood values, not beholden to them. We also believe that once adopted, local governments need to follow those plans.

The ECOS Land Use Committee has reviewed the Yamanee Project at 25th and J Street, which certainly offers a bold infill project: a 14 story building with a residential density of around 300 units/acre. It is located on a well used bus route and is close to downtown Sacramento jobs.

But the project proposes a 178 foot tall structure in an area zoned for a maximum height of 80 feet (approximately 6 stories)—almost 100 feet greater than the zoning requirement. The only other structure in Midtown of comparable height is Sutter Hospital.

The zoning code does allow for a “deviation” from the zoning code height restriction if the approving body finds that the project is balanced by significant benefits. So far as we aware this is the first height deviation request since adoption of the land use and zoning plans. It is not only a significant deviation in scale, but a precedent setting deviation.

We urge that your Planning Commission carefully consider the justification for the deviation. In an earlier era this would be called a variance—an exception which state law requires findings that there is not a grant of special privilege and that there are unique and special circumstances associated with the property that justify the granting of the variance. Sacramento City’s deviation language was created to avoid those mandated findings, but your Commission would be well advised to reflect on them as you make your decision.

So far the only justification for the project we have heard is that it will be LEED certified and that the architectural design will enhance the J Street corridor. But these are things your Commission should be expecting of all development—they are certainly not of and by themselves a justification for granting a right to more than double the size and density allowed by the zoning. The building would be exempt from the requirement to provide affordable housing, but this upscale project has yet to offer to contribute to affordable housing opportunity in the neighborhood.

And the argument that a building of this height only works at this location, or is not precedent setting, is disingenuous. It is not a basis for granting the exception. The rationale for granting the deviation is the important thing—it will be cited for any project that seeks a deviation whatever its height.

The decision you make will send an important message to landowners and developers in Midtown. It could well impact land values and speculative purchases in a way that changes the character of the neighborhood. If so you will have started a process that undermines implementation of a plan developed with community participation and compromise that would disserve the City and its residents.

ECOS welcomes infill and higher density, but not at the expense of effectively implementing adopted plans. We urge you to set the bar high in weighing the proferred community benefits in exchange for the “special privilege” of a precedent setting height deviation.

To this end, ECOS could support a significant project deviation if the project’s community benefit could justify it. A possible community benefit is the provision of workforce housing units. Yamanee proposes approximately 134 units, and the Sacramento Housing Alliance conservatively estimates that an ownership housing infill project such as Yamanee generates a workforce housing demand of about 15%, or 20 units for Yamanee. ECOS could support a significant project deviation if Yamanee provided mixed income housing sufficient to meet community demand, including approximately 20 units of workforce housing (or 15% of units for any final project). Other desirable community benefits should include facilities to accommodate the expected Sacramento bike sharing program and enhanced transit shelter facilities.

While ECOS commends the City’s efforts to provide housing in the Sacramento grid, to date the significant portion of it has been unaffordable even to moderate income persons. Yamanee’s deviations set a precedent for how and whether development honors existing plans and community agreements. Offsetting the deviations with community benefits that meet actual community need would help ensure the precedent places community need first.

Sincerely,

Brandon Rose, President of the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS)