Sunday, February 04, 2007

R Street Projects

The R Street corridor is on the verge of the next housing boom in downtown/midtown Sacramento. There are currently 22 projects planned or under construction for R Street between the river and 28th Street. One project I really like is the R Street Station Towers which as reported by the Sacramento Business Journal, would have towers rise on either side of the light rail tracks and have as many as 250 units. The two towers would have a mezzanine walkway connecting the towers together that allows trains to pass beneath. Height limits for the area would have to increase from 75 to 90 feet and are currently under consideration for the reworking of the corridor’s special plan. Also being considered are new streetscapes that emphasizes the areas industrial feel and preservation on historic buildings. I’d really like to see what they have in mind… it could be really cool.

Regis Homes has plans to submit an application next month for a 305 unit mid-rise replacing a parking lot the size of a full city block with a five story building. Parking would be in the middle of the building with housing and retail along the outside. I really hope we can see more of this in the future.

Regis Homes has several projects planned for R Street, another is 125 units, eight story mid-rise that has lofts, condominiums, and penthouses. According Rodger Hume who is one of the partners working on the project, the project needs to be eight stories to work. The proposed building site is in a part of town where it goes beyond current height limits. That law could change if a proposal to allow high density housing near light rail lines is approved by the city council. This project has not submitted an application to the city.

The R Street district runs from 2nd Street to 29th Street for a total of 54 blocks. Rules for development along R Street were established 10 years ago and now need to be updated to include taller buildings, according to a city planner. Long shadows worry some residents and proposed changes to accommodate their concerns would be set-backs for taller building as well as eight story building would need to be narrower at their higher floors to allow more sun light down to the street below. These suggested changes will be considered in April.

I get puzzled when I hear worries of shadows from an eight story building… in my opinion, the canopy of trees that covers the downtown grid blocks out more sun light than what a few mid-rise buildings will ever do.


Anonymous said...

The shade from a building is far different than that from trees. That being said, shade does help keep the city cool in the summer. There is something to be said for that.

wburg said...

There's a big difference, though, between the shadow cast by a tree and the shadow cast by a building. For starters, you can't see the sky through the shadow of a building except while they're still building it, and the leaves don't fall off a building in winter allowing much more light to pass through when it's cold. There's all the issue of what people would rather look up and see.

That being said, shadow studies seem like a worthwhile effort for this project because they will show people where shadows don't land, as well as where they do. Sometimes I'll hear people mention shadows falling on their property from developments built to the north of them, that wouldn't be able to cast a shadow on their house unless we had a severe shift of the Earth's axis.

Thursday's R Street meeting was pretty interesting. I am not too offended by the height recommendations, but I did like the idea suggested that the "height trading" concept mentioned for use in the CBD might be transferred to R Street as a way to preserve older structures along the corridor.

In my mind, preservation of structures is critical to the success of R Street. This project is built on the idea of highlighting the transit/industrial history of the corridor, and tearing down warehouse-style and other old buildings (as opposed to their maintenance and adaptive reuse) makes about as much sense, in terms of city-building, as ripping out the tracks in the street. Yes, building new buildings means developers make more money and more tax increment and it's easier than doing restoration work, but the point here is not to do things the easiest way, but rather the right way.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Height doesn't bother me, I'm much more interested on how the project works on the street level.

I think heights along R Street of 8-10 stories are fine. I guess that would bring the limit to around 100 feet. I would even be okay with a little more as part of the 13th street station project.

"preservation of structures is critical to the success of R Street."

I'm usually of the mentality "just because it's old doesn't mean it's ALWAYS worth saving" ..but for R Street, I totally agree.

It blows my mind how long Capitol Lofts has taken. I remember when it came before the city back in 2002 along with 800J, Fremont Mews, Ping Yeun and 18th and L, now we are in 2007 and they still haven't started and they need 5m+ more for the affordable portion.

I get there are lot of needs on R Street from toxic cleanup, longer process for an old building, infrastructure, ect..but come on now.

Zwahlen Images said...

I guess I should have made my argument in the contexts that tall buildings downtown should be expected, and to get worked up over buildings that will barley get out of the tree line seems silly.

I love Sacramento and all it's trees. It just sounds nutty to me that this is an issue. Downtown and Midtown are the only places in Sacramento where high density building can take place, and to achieve that you have to build up.

wburg said...

The problem is this: Midtown is already built, predominantly with buildings in the 2-3 story range. Many of these structures are buildings with a high level of architectural, aesthetic and historic value. Many were swept away, replaced by freeway expansion or low-rise apartment or office buildings. The relatively low survival rate of old buildings in the city's historic core means that every old building demolished weakens the neighborhood's historic character, which is the basis of much of its appeal.

Talking about building very tall buildings along Capitol Mall or J Street and Tenth is a very, very different ball game than talking about building very tall buildings in Marshall School or Poverty Ridge neighborhoods--the whole context changes in a relatively small geographic area. There are still ways to build dense and build right in the central city (you won't see midtowners screaming about anything over 4 DUA, like Citrus Heights residents do, for example) without trashing too much of Midtown. Filling in lots currently used for parking lots along the retail corridors in midtown with 3-5 story mixed-use with integral parking is one possible strategy.

It seems like there is a lot of opportunity to build taller in the first place in areas close to the central city but not in the central business district: to create regional city nodes (one of the alternatives of the Sacramento general plan is based on multiple urban nodes, rather than putting all the tall stuff downtown), and avoid making the same mistakes we have made for the past few decades in suburb construction. We can build new city areas without destroying old ones by spacing out taller projects, and focusing on infill lots (that don't necessarily have to match adjacent lots in height--the Thursday meeting outlined some good ways to address that issue) in the central city.

td said...

i just don't understand the snail paced, beurocratic approach to all these design guidelines when everyone knows damn well that projects reviewed on a case to case basis. it seems almost every development recently has bent, tweaked, or broken some sort of restriction. what's the point of continually returning to the drawing board to create more restrictions, when they always fall short of their intentions?

and it's also ridiculous to worry about shadows cast by 8 story buildings - on R Street especially. Just stand on the other side of the street from the 6-story CADA warehouse if you need an example. or better yet, check out the horrible awnings on the fox & goose.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

"and it's also ridiculous to worry about shadows cast by 8 story buildings - on R Street especially"

I Agree, TD.
There are a lot of buildings of high level of architectural, aesthetic and historic value as you mentioned in midtown, but there is an awful lot of crap that I would love to see go away too.

Just like human character, not all character is good.

I know you are very big on preservation wburb, but as I said in my mind just because it's only old, doesn't mean it's worth saving or should be for that matter.

I agree, filling in the empty and under utilized lots in midtown is the best approach to connect the dots, IMO. At the same time, while there are a lot of buildings, big and small, that I would be very much opposed to being torn down, this city has a history of building a lot of really really crappy stuff, that's a piece of history I assume be gone.

I also think people take height of a new building WAAAY too seriously, on both sides of the argument.

I think it's absolutely ridiculous when I hear people complain about the a project because it's two stories taller than other buildings in the area.

I don't see any issues with building taller in midtown in appropriate locations given the right design. There are already a few in the 8-10 story range, and while they don't need to be or should be everywhere, I don't see a problem with them in certain locations. What is deemed an appropriate location is where people are going to differ on opinions.

The other side of the coin bugs me too. Some people are only concerned about what a new development can do for the skyline or judge it by how high they need to tilt their neck, and not what it does on the street level and how it works into the area.

While I want to see a larger skyline, it's not the most important factor in a city, or even close for that matter.

wburg said...

Aesthetic considerations about a city's skyline smack of the schools of city planning of the early 20th century, which looked splendid as mocked-up models but worked really badly as cities where people lived. Active cities are vibrant and eclectic and are based around function, not form.

I'm not insisting that every old building be preserved--my concern is with approach. The process should begin with "Does the existing building have historic value, or contemporary utility, that makes it worth reusing or restoring?" rather than "Can we get rid of this old junk?"

And I'm not talking about every existing building. A walk down R Street with eyes open should make it pretty obvious which buildings I'm talking about and which ones I'm not--the Buzz-Boxes, for example, can pretty much go. The hundred year old brick warehouses and wooden frame homes, on the other hand, stand out pretty obviously from the Buzz Oates properties...

td: The purpose of guidelines on an area like R Street is to assist development projects by providing a general outline of what the city would like to see. This gives developers a more accurate and prescriptive/descriptive baseline to start from, rather than tossing designs at the city, who then say "no" to whatever doesn't meet their standards. Part of the idea, under the new city manager's administration, is to streamline the design approval process, and part of that streamlining involves having a set of prescriptive guidelines for development in central city neighborhoods, ideally ones where the neighborhood and city have already had input. This raises the threshold for things like design review board approval and other public deliberation on a project by project basis. Because of this foreseen "need for speed," the idea is to GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME and have a strong set of guidelines that, while not making everyone happy, at least minimize individual grumbling to an acceptable level.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

I think you and I have always been on the same page when it comes to the the obvious (at least to me) structures such as restoring the old brick warehouses on R Street, the Marshall or the Berry, and dumping Buzz properties along R Street for example.

It's the buildings like The Biltmore and Greyhound for example that make me scratch my head.

td said...

Yeah.. i understand the intentions of guidelines.

My point was more of a cynical observation, in which it seems the guidelines are working in reverse, or not working at all. Where a developer proposes something that breaks the guidelines, so they go back and rewrite the book, while the neighborhood argues a moot point.

I want the guidelines to protect the neighborhood and assist developers. I don't want guidelines to delay projects and aggrevate neighbors. And if you take 2 years to establish a neighborhood design guideline, what are you actually streamlining?

Projects like the CADA warehouse being the case in point. Where just before everybody is on board, the boat leaves again* and everyone is left scratching their head for another 10 years.

*Rob Fong's quote on missing windows of opportunity.

wburg said...

td: okay, I see the cynicism and share does seem that whenever guidelines are established, the city has no problem with rewriting or ignoring the guidelines whenever a preferred developer wants to build a project that exceeds the new rules. In that case, instances of "shall" in the law become interpreted as "might," and new rules become surprisingly similar to new projects--and neighborhoods who thought their areas were protected by city codes discover that the rules can be changed whenever the city sees fit.

My one concern with the "height transfer" idea (whether downtown or on R Street) is that some future mayor or city council or city manager will see it as outmoded early 21st century thinking, which should not stand in the way of whatever future trend in urban development, and will thus be ignored...

td said...

I'm just ready for some of this deliberation to come to fruitation on the west end of R Street. I wasn't at the meeting - where/when was this announced?

and speaking of he west side... the Dock's are supposed to resurface with revised concepts right about now. has anyone heard anything?

I was really bummed to see that "Concept C" made it through. That is the concept that features a vast and useless swath of "open space" over the storm water reservoir. It bugs the piss out of me, that a huge chunk of "open space" would be considered in a time when sacramento has no choice but to build up - sometimes taking up small pieces of sacramento's historic structures.

Here's an idea... take that giant "open space" reserve and move every single displaced historic structure there. Like an old town built from stratch. At least then the "open space" could potentially be interesting. :)

Zwahlen Images said...

Damn TD... you sure know how to say it, and it's well said at that :)

Daniel said...

I hope everything on that map gets built. Thanks for the new info.

FYI - #15 Alchemy on R Street is well under construction. There are also some sort of multifamily units going in on the 2300 block of Q.

It would be great if eventually there was a short headway R Street shuttle bus, or street car. As much as I like the street car concept, it would be so much cheaper and flexible to have a bunch of shuttle buses instead. (think 16th Street in Denver - free low-floor buses on <5 min headways)

wburg said...

The good news is that the product of the latest R Street meeting goes to Planning and then to City Council within the next couple of months, and then it's done.

Open space is overrated. Too often, random patches of open space never get used--like the green deserts in the middle of Capitol Avenue. City planners seem very proud of their little patches of "green space" but don't realize that rectangles of grass don't provide the kind of green spaces that appeal to people. Hell, there are plenty of examples of that sort of space currently around Front Street (little pockets of nature in an urban setting) that will probably get bulldozed when the Docks gets put in.

Here's a counter-offer--let's put a big-ass tall building on that green space in the Docks, and leave the buildings where they are!

td said...

...and Concept C-2 is born!

fill the empty redevelopment sites with the variety of buildings that we clearly need.... then maybe we can fully utitlize Capitol Park, Miller Park, Crocker Park, Roosevelt Park, Southside Park, Oneil Field, and the Riverfront.

though i'm not sure that the riverfront masterplan really qualifies as "nature getting bulldozed".

td said...

and now that i think about it... Concept C-2 there, is actually Concept B that was thrown out.

Anonymous said...

Hey- off subject but important, I think.
It looks like Capitol Wines just opened on 16th at L. Looks very cool. And perhaps I'm making a big deal of nothing, but I think that this is a pretty important development. Along with a couple other little hole-in-the-wall-but-substantial businesses, Sac is starting to see "nooks and crannies". San Francisco has these-little places that bring character, and can survive because of the specialization that density brings. (I would also classify Old Soul similarly).

But hooray anyway!

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Sweet. I have been waiting for that place to open. I'm going to have to go check it out this weekend.