Posted Jun 26, 2007, 7:26 PM
Hindrance to Development
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Jun. 25, 2007
Railyards Redevelopment in Sacramento Takes Faster Track
By Colleen Flannery
CREJ Staff Writer
With new potential funding in sight, efforts to reinvent Sacramento's historical rail yards into a model infill-development project appear to be rounding a crucial bend.
Thomas Enterprises Inc., which will redevelop the 240-acre rail yard site, has positioned itself to compete for November 2006 state infrastructure bond funding at a statewide level by speeding up its plans to develop the site, said Suheil Totah, the company's vice president of development. Totah said Thomas Enterprises expects to advance the plans for approval by the end of the year in order to compete effectively for the Proposition 1C transit-oriented development funding.
If approved by the state Legislature and the governor, new guidelines will spell out eligibility for transit-oriented development projects like the Sacramento Railyards. Projects closer to completion have a better chance of receiving this state funding than projects with slower timelines, according to local and state government officials.
Competition for funding under the November 2006 voter-approved bond measure will begin in 2008. If the project receives ample funding and the city approves the plans, infrastructure construction can commence next year.
"Proposition 1C funding is very important for projects like this," Totah said. "We are very hopeful we will be able to obtain funding."
Augmenting its competitive stance, the Sacramento Railyards project will integrate transit-oriented development features, including an intermodal transit station that will allow Sacramento residents to connect with Sacramento Regional Transit District transit options and with Amtrak trains. As many as 1.5 million people annually could pass through this station.
Smaller blocks in residential and retail areas allow roads to be built with fewer lanes, increasing their safety and multi-use appeal, Marty Hanneman, assistant city manager for Sacramento, said during a June 7 public meeting introducing the project's latest incarnation.
The city also asked Thomas Enterprises to scale back its planned traffic circles in order to improve its integration with the existing grid of city streets, and aimed for higher density of the project, which now sits at 67 units per acre.
Housing some 10,000 to 12,000 Sacramentans, the proposed project also has room for 2 million square feet of office space, 1.4 million square feet of retail and 485,390 square feet of "historic cultural specialty retail" that includes a newly proposed performing arts center.
These new ways of approaching transportation and infill development make the Railyards project a "viable" project that will prove very competitive for the Proposition 1C transit-oriented development funding, said Mike McKeever, executive director for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
"In the world of trying to promote infill development in the region, that project is a smart-growth grand slam," McKeever said.
Because of the size of the state and the anticipated breadth of the expected guidelines, other projects will be competing for the transit-oriented development funding, McKeever said.
Totah confirmed the project likely would face competition. However, he said he was encouraged by the fact that top legislative officials like Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez actually cited the example of the Railyards project during 2006 hearings regarding the placement of Proposition 1C on the ballot.
Lawmakers On Board
Delivery of this key funding will begin after the passage of Senate Bill 46, written by Perata, which drafts broad potential guidelines for the state to use when doling out Proposition 1C transit-oriented development dollars. As approved this month by the Senate, the bill lays the groundwork for potential approval of transit-oriented development funding by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. It next faces hearings in the Assembly.
Perata's bill offers broad provisions for allocating infill money to deserving transit-oriented development projects in order "to encourage the development of high-density infill housing and mixed-use development for all levels of income and locations near job centers and transit stations, thereby reducing vehicle trips, commute times, vehicle miles traveled and vehicle emissions."
Because of its "novel" approach to transit-oriented development, the project has the support of Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the senator's chief of staff Jim Evans confirmed.
Senators commonly indicate their support for a project by drafting letters or sending staffers to attend hearings when state agencies consider favored projects for funding. Evans could not confirm whether Steinberg would do so as the Railyards project advances through the funding process.
In addition to this potential Proposition 1C funding, the rail yards redevelopment also might qualify for funding under Proposition 1B, a transportation initiative also supported by the voters in November 2006, according to Totah. The money could be used to fund the intermodal, which could even be used to link a future high-speed rail line to Sacramento.
Next Stop, Arts and Recreation
Beyond the transit aspects of the project, Thomas Enterprises recently added plans to create a regional center for the arts, which Totah said would include a proposed California Academy for the Arts. The academy would teach college-aged adults, but also could include a charter arts school for younger students.
"It will be the Julliard of the West Coast," said Totah.
Thomas Enterprises' latest version of the project has scaled back 2006 plans to create a canal system similar to the city of San Antonio, Tex.'s famed "River Walk," Totah said, citing regulatory red tape and technical problems. In lieu of the waterside space, the rail yards' residents will have access to several community parks and green spaces.
A full assessment of the project's traffic, noise and environmental impact is slated for August 2007 completion. Meanwhile, the city is taking comments on the version of the plans released to the community this month.
City officials want to make the project a reality, Sacramento City Council member Ray Tretheway said June 7 at the community meeting.
"We've gone beyond the rail yards, beyond the city of Sacramento," Tretheway said. "I've got to think the world is watching us."
- E-mail Colleen_Flannery@DailyJournal.com
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