Is McKinley Village smart urban infill housing—or a traffic nightmare?

Sacramento developer Phil Angelides' team and neighborhood groups at odds

Julie Murphy (right), a Midtown neighborhood-association co-chairwoman, speaks at a meeting on the proposed McKinley Village development earlier this month.

Julie Murphy (right), a Midtown neighborhood-association co-chairwoman, speaks at a meeting on the proposed McKinley Village development earlier this month.


Residents of East Sacramento, McKinley Park and Midtown don’t agree with developer Phil Angelides on much lately. But they do see eye to eye on at least one issue: Sacramento needs less suburban sprawl and more urban-infill development.

What exactly qualifies as smart growth in the central city, however, remains up for debate. Passionate, long-winded, even angry debate.

Angelides—longstanding local developer, former state treasurer and former gubernatorial hopeful—says his newest housing project, McKinley Village, fits the bill when it comes to eco-friendly development. Tucked into a nearly 50-acre wedge between East Sacramento, Cal Expo and Business 80, the project would introduce 328 new homes to a slice of the urban core that for years has seen nothing but fruit orchards and freeway billboards.

His company, Riverview Capital Investments, is promising that this neighborhood will have the look and feel of nearby heritage neighborhoods. There won’t be what he calls “snout-nose” homes with huge garages facing the streets; rather, these houses will feature garages in the back, similar to the older homes of McKinley Park and East Sac. He’s also promising a canopy of trees, parks and competitively priced, energy-efficient houses.

“If this looks and feels like Natomas housing, it’s a disaster,” Angelides told SN&R during an interview earlier this month.

Neighborhood groups, however, aren’t buying his vision. They’re worried about things like traffic from hundreds of new residents. And flooding. And they say Angelides’ group isn’t listening.

“They seem to have an attitude of we’re in an urban area, and we need to deal with it,” explained Ellen Cochrane, president of the East Sacramento Preservation Neighborhood Association.

Riverview Capital and neighborhood groups both held public-outreach meetings during the past weeks, and the standing-room-only events awoke a village of activists, many of whom argue that his project isn’t right for the city.

Angelides says he hears these worries. But added that after years of neighborhood opposition to any proposed projects for the land, “at some point, I think there are some people who don’t want anything.”

McKinley Village, if realized, would rest on an almond-shaped property that, for decades, has been a point of controversy for abutting neighbors.

In the 1950s, when the Business 80 freeway was built, access to the site became difficult: It’s stuck between the freeway and a railroad embankment, and the plot sat undeveloped for decades.

Finally, in 1992, a developer jockeyed to build a high-density office-and-hotel project, then referred to as Centrage, which would have included a new freeway interchange, but neighborhood activists defeated the effort. Over the years, there were also attempts to build big-box commercial retail stores, plus as many as 600 housing units and homes.

Angelides himself hoped to develop nearly 400 residential units (plus retail, a preschool and a new church) in 2008, but the project fizzled with the housing-market collapse.

He says his latest plan addresses neighbor concerns from five years ago.

For instance, McKinley Village’s density, at 10.9 residential units per acre, is comparable to McKinley Park’s 7 units and Midtown’s 14. There will now be two points of entry—one at 40th Street in East Sac and another at A and 28th streets near Midtown—plus pedestrian and bike access at Alhambra Boulevard. The homes will meet “tier 2” energy-efficiency standards.

There will be new traffic in nearby neighborhoods, Angelides conceded; a city report on the impacts will be completed later this summer, along with an environmental-impact report. “But we live in an urban area, we share streets,” he said. “If we’re going to have urban infill, we’re going to have to find smart ways to handle traffic and still keep our neighborhoods livable.”

Residents, however, say McKinley Village isn’t smart.

Over in Midtown, Marshall School/New Era Park Neighborhood Association co-chairwoman Julie Murphy is worried about all the new vehicles that will be filling her streets. “It’s going to be a very car-centric development,” she explained. “There’s not going to be any commercial element within the community, and we’re really concerned about it not having ready access to [Regional Transit].”

Her group has not taken an official position on the Village yet, but Midtown and East Sacramento activists would like to see Angelides build a vehicle-access connector to the new neighborhood at Alhambra Boulevard and A Street.

The developer says he explored this option, but that it’s too costly and challenging.

To construct a passageway on Alhambra to the proposed housing project, his team would have to tunnel through the railroad embankment. They’ll already be doing this at 40th Street, where 40-or-so trains pass along the rails each day and cannot be interrupted.

“We have to reroute the railroad,” Angelides explained, which includes building new embankments and trestle parallel to the existing train line, to the tune of at least $15 million.

To build a similar tunnel at Alhambra, the developers would have to reroute the railroad over the top of Business 80.

Plans include floodgates at this new tunnel, but East Sac’s Cochrane says that “people are very scared of having something there, because it’s dangerous, the flooding.”

A spokesperson for the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency told SN&R that McKinley Village is “not mapped into a regulatory floodplain” and is no greater “than what the risk is currently anywhere else in downtown Sacramento.”

Myriad other neighborhood quibbles emerged during the recent town-hall meetings—preserving the Swainson’s hawk habitat, storm-surge impacts, the lack of affordable housing and Angelides’ lackluster neighborhood outreach. And it seems that people, in general, think the site isn’t a great one for residential homes, what with the busy, loud freeway and passing trains.

“We want there to be an open dialogue, we want there to be good ideas. I personally support good infill projects,” Midtown’s Murphy assured.

Angelides’ resolve remains strong. “Infill’s what we need to do, and these sites are going to be the most challenging,” he said. “But I want to build things I am going to be proud of.”