By Tony Bizjak
A decade in the making, McKinley Village in East Sacramento opens its doors to visitors Saturday to view the first of 336 planned homes planned for construction over the next three years.
The much anticipated development has been hidden from view for months behind tall sound walls along the Capital City Freeway and by a large railroad berm on the project’s other flank, creating a touch of mystery. The main entry is through a tunnel that will be colorfully lit at night.
Its opening marks the continuation of a notable trend toward new “urban village” housing in Sacramento. McKinley Village is the fourth sizable housing development to open in central Sacramento in the past year, following The Creamery in midtown, The Mill at Broadway in Land Park and Curtis Park Village.
It joins a regional housing market that is making its way only slowly out of a deep, multi-year stall during the recession. In July, the most recent data from North State Building Industry Association showed 266 new homes sold regionally, the second highest July sales number since 2007, but still far less than pre-recession peaks of more than 1,000 houses a month, most of them in the suburbs.
Co-developer Kevin Carson of The New Home Co. says the 49-acre community, with bocce courts, a central park, pool and clubhouse, offers an old East Sacramento ambiance with modern technology and energy efficiencies. The site is within biking distance of downtown jobs, as well as near the arena, midtown nightlife, the river and bike trails, Carson said. “It’s part of something. That’s what infill allows for.”
Prices range from $350,000 to more than $900,000. The houses range in size from 2,000 to 3,200 square feet, making them less expensive at about $300 per square foot than existing homes for sale in adjacent East Sacramento, which are roughly $400 a square foot.
Developers are taking a go-slow approach, more typical in Sacramento housing after the recession. Carson said it likely will take three years before all 336 homes are built. The project is a joint venture between The New Home Co., which also is developing The Cannery in Davis, and Riverview Capital Investments, co-headed by longtime Sacramento developer and former state treasurer Phil Angelides.
The McKinley Village location, a former agricultural site, is unusual because it is largely sequestered from surrounding communities by an elevated freight rail line and the Capital City Freeway.
It will have only two entry and exit points. One, McKinley Village Way, runs under the elevated UP railroad tracks, connecting with C Street in East Sacramento near 40th Street. The other, A Street, will run on a bridge over the Capital City Freeway and connect to midtown at 28th Street.
Developers have sought to reduce the freeway and freight train impacts. They built a 14-foot-tall sound wall, blocking the freeway view and much of its noise. Trains are still audible in much of the community, but Carson said trees and other vegetation behind houses at the base of the berm will provide a buffer between houses and the tracks.
“We are not trying to fool anybody,” Carson said. “The train is there.”
House wall thicknesses, insulation and foundation work will minimize the impacts, he said. “There is no jiggling, no vibration” in the model homes at the base of the tracks , he said.
Ryan DeVore, city of Sacramento community development director, said he is curious about train and freeway impacts, but bets the site will succeed because of the desirability of the location and lack of available homes in East Sacramento. Real estate consultant Greg Paquin said The New Home Company showed in its Davis project that it can create an attractive community in an unusual setting.
The property had been the focus of debate for years over what type of development is appropriate. Several previous proposals died, opposed by nearby residents because of proposed building heights, densities and traffic.
The current project has won support among some residents, including the area’s City Councilman Jeff Harris, a River Park resident, who see it as a more fitting use than other projects proposed over the years. But residents near the two access roads say they fear the added traffic will negatively affect their area.
Sacramento traffic engineering head Hector Barron said the city expects about 3,500 new car trips daily, split roughly between the two entrances. That translates to about 350 extra cars during commute hours, he said.
Harris said the city has $1.9 million in seed money to build a third entrance to the site, but that seems unlikely at this point, due to UP concerns about tunneling under its train tracks. Instead, the money could be used for traffic impact mitigation, if needed, Harris said.
The city’s environmental review for the project has been challenged in court. The lawsuit argues that the city failed to adequately study health, noise, traffic and other impacts of the project. A lower court has rejected the suit, saying the city adequately followed environmental law. The plaintiff, listed as East Sacramento Partnership for a Livable City, has appealed in the California 3rd District Court of Appeal.
This week’s opening prompts a side question: Will McKinley Village be considered a part of East Sacramento?
Harris, the city councilman who toured the site last week, says “yes, absolutely.” East Sacramento residents may not embrace it right away, he said. “But it will be embraced. There is a lot of neat stuff in there.”