Building a vision
Property owner and architect create model infill project
When Brad Slocum, organist and musical director of Westminster Presbyterian Church, came to Sacramento six years ago, he rented an old house in Midtown. Not long after that, macular degeneration left Slocum blind in one eye and in danger of losing sight in the other.
Faced with an uncertain future but fortunate enough to have made some money in the stock market, Slocum began searching for an investment that would provide him not only a place to live but a steady income. He decided to buy the rental property, a Craftsman-style home built in 1900 that’s located on S Street between 14th and 15th streets.
“When I saw this property, I was living with my brother about a mile away,” he explains. “I thought it was a good opportunity, since my employer is only five blocks away. I thought I could fix the old house, put in a garden. All of this was motivated by the eye problem and the stock market declining. I needed a safe place for my money.”
In order to increase his income from the property, Slocum built a duplex on the back of the lot. Then he hit on the idea of buying the lot next door. Now, with the help of local architect Darryl Chin, Slocum has transformed the problems with his own sight into a model vision for sustainable infill development.
Like his first property, the front of the second lot was occupied with an older Craftsman-style home, built in 1920. Slocum subdivided the back of the lot into thirds, then, emulating the Craftsman style, built three new homes in a row behind the original house. The pastel-hued two-story homes (one home actually has three stories, to provide a parking garage for all the tenants) exude a traditional sort of charm despite the fact that they’re slotted between Caltrans on the west, a law firm on the east and the state Department of Personnel Administration on the north.
The units range in size from 1080 to 1315 square feet, enough room for a couple or a small family. All the houses are designed to afford maximum privacy in the small space and conform to the city’s vision of infill development. For Slocum, realizing his vision was no simple task.
“It was a struggle, really stressful, but Daryl Chin provided the answer,” Slocum said.
Chin has been on the Midtown scene since 1986, serving on the planning commission in the 1980s and participating in the early planning for the R Street Corridor and the 26th and R street development.
“This was a challenge,” he says of the Slocum project. “We did a lot of soul searching and head scratching to satisfy the city’s high-density requirements, and it required working with a number of city departments. The city Development [Services] Department was extremely supportive, but the approval process was complex and went on for nine months. Satisfying the high-density issues on such a small parcel was tough. But I think we have something special in the final result.”
The planning process began in January 2006, and construction was completed last year. The results are not only innovative but beautiful. Slocum’s project stands out like an oasis in a neighborhood punctuated with industrial, commercial and state government properties.
The project consumed much of the past four years and required patience and fortitude that would tax most anyone, particularly those ignorant of the pace of the contracting business and the exactitudes of city ordinances and regulations.
“This is a new direction for the city, and this project will serve as a prototype for similar efforts,” Chin said. “Much of the city is built on 40-foot parcels, and this plan could be modified and adapted to fit many needs. We’ll see more of this kind of development to satisfy the city’s high-density requirements. And much of the credit goes to Brad. He was tenacious in seeing the project through.”
Slocum currently lives in one unit of the duplex. Originally, he planned to sell all the homes, but with the slump in the housing market, he decided to rent them out. He had no problem finding tenants, and all the units are currently occupied, although the home built in 1920 is currently on the market. In the meantime, thanks to Slocum and Chin, the city has a blueprint for its high-density future, a partial solution to renewing Sacramento’s urban core.