Photograph showing the front façades of the three-story townhomes of La Valentina North and the four-story apartment buildings of La Valentina Station. Photograph showing portions of two four-story apartment buildings joined by walkways on the upper three stories. Photograph showing a resident walking down a partially enclosed stairwell. Photograph showing south-facing solar panels on the roofs of the townhouses at La Valentina North. Photograph showing a light rail train stopped in front of four-story apartment buildings. Photograph showing an excavator at the La Valentina site prior to construction.

 

Home >Case Studies >Sacramento, California: Smart Growth in Historic Alkali Flat

 

Sacramento, California: Smart Growth in Historic Alkali Flat

 

The city of Sacramento updated its general plan in 2009 to call for a new era of urban development, one that would mark a change in course from the city’s established suburban pattern. Under the new plan and its underlying smart growth principles, the city would leverage existing assets, such as its 38-mile light rail system, to accommodate infill development. Implementing the plan would require significant changes to the city’s decades-old zoning code, whose mandates for suburban style development made infill projects costly and uncertain propositions. As a result, many sites that would otherwise be ripe for redevelopment remained vacant or underutilized.

Not all developers were deterred by the challenges presented by infill projects. In 2007, Domus Development partnered with the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency to redevelop 1.23 acres of brownfields on the northern edge of downtown in Alkali Flat, one of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods. The property embodied the latent assets that the general plan identified as key to the city’s sustainable growth: a prime location at the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light rail station but vacant for more than 20 years after several failed attempts at redevelopment. Through an agreement with the city, the development team solicited the input of neighborhood residents to help shape the vision for the property. The result was a mixed-use development plan that included 80 units of affordable housing along with street-level commercial space, all within a short distance of Sacramento’s downtown and just steps away from mass transit.

National Model of Excellence

The 2013 winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the Built Projects category, La Valentina consists of two projects designed by different architects on adjacent sites. The two projects provide 80 units of affordable housing for low-income households at various income levels (table 1).

Table 1. La Valentina Income and Unit Mix


 

Studio

1-bedroom

2-bedroom

3-bedroom

Total

30% area median income

2

5

4

5

16

40% area median income

2

2

2

2

8

50% area median income

6

12

10

12

40

60% area median income

2

5

4

5

16

Total

12

24

20

24

80

 

La Valentina Station is a mixed-use development that combines 62 affordable units with a street level café. The development consists of two 4-story buildings connected by elevated walkways bridging an alley. Both structures feature distinctive vertical and horizontal façade paneling broken up by recessed balconies that provide private outdoor space for each unit. The studios and 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments range in size from more than 400 square feet for a studio to approximately 1,000 square feet for a 3-bedroom unit. The upper residential floors are accessed by open-air stairwells that minimize the space conditioning demand of the buildings.

Adjacent to La Valentina Station is La Valentina North, an 18-unit townhouse development that is the product of a partnership between the developer and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to demonstrate advanced green building strategies and techniques. Part of SMUD’s Home of the Future Demonstration Program, La Valentina North set the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero energy by combining design elements, construction techniques, high-efficiency systems, and solar energy production. With Home Energy Rating System II (HERS II) Index scores ranging from 15 to 29 for the 18 three-bedroom units, the homes fall slightly short of the HERS II Index score of 0 required to qualify as a net-zero project. Compared with similar projects built according to Title 24 of the California Energy Code, the La Valentina units are 50 percent more energy efficient and draw 70 percent less energy during peak load demand, defined as the period between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Overcoming Barriers to Smart Growth

Although the 2009 General Plan update laid the framework for smart growth, the changes to the city’s zoning code to support this type of development were not adopted until after the La Valentina projects were built. As a result, the La Valentina projects required a combination of special permits and variances from the city’s zoning code. For La Valentina Station, regulatory relief allowed taller buildings, limited setbacks, reductions in the number of parking spaces, and the use of ground floor space for retail. The La Valentina Station site was also rezoned to allow a density of 72 units per acre, approximately twice the density allowed under the previous zoning. The complexity of permitting the project led to revisions to the zoning code that were adopted in 2013. As a result of the zoning changes, projects like La Valentina face a much more streamlined regulatory review process today.

Development of the site also required a significant amount of environmental remediation. The automobile repair shops that had once occupied the La Valentina property had contaminated the soil with high levels of lead, mercury, and arsenic. The soil was removed to a depth of two feet, totaling approximately 4,600 tons of material, and the remediation work took more than 50 days. In total, the remediation cost approximately $1.5 million, which was funded by a $631,000 grant from the California Recycle Underutilized Sites Remediation Program and $900,000 in tax increment financing from the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

Financing

Financing the nearly $24 million development came from federal, state, and local sources (table 2). The project received $12.4 million in low-income housing tax credit equity, and the city provided a $7 million loan through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and tax increment financing. The project also received $484,000 in grants from SMUD for the energy-efficiency features in La Valentina North.

Table 2. La Valentina Financing


Low-income housing tax credit equity

$12,400,000

HOME and tax increment financing

7,000,000

Conventional loan

2,230,000

Land donation

1,600,000

Sacramento Municipal Utility District

480,000

Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery assistance

140,000

Other sources

150,000

Total

$24,000,000

 

Lessons Learned

The La Valentina projects have played a critical role in advancing smart growth reforms across the city and have demonstrated the development potential of underutilized parcels along transit lines. In navigating a fairly complex approval process, the developers helped identify and encourage implementation of land use reforms across Sacramento. The project itself is proving a success in providing affordable housing in locations that offer several transportation options; nearly 40 percent of La Valentina residents bike, walk, or use light rail for their daily commute. The projects have had a noticeable effect on transit ridership at the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light rail station, which has risen by 10 percent since the project opened. The La Valentina projects are part of a new era of development in the once-forgotten Alkali Flat neighborhood. Additional projects have been proposed that would bring more residents and additional investment to the neighborhood.

Source:

City of Sacramento. 2015. “General Plan Overview.” Accessed 5 February 2015.

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Source:

Information provided by Domus Development; Interview with Bernadette Austin, project manager at Domus Development, 16 January 2015; David Kwong. 2009. “Report to Council, City of Sacramento. La Valentina Station Project (P08-106),” public hearing, 24 March.

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Source:

La Shelle Dozier. 2010. “Report to Council and Redevelopment Agency, City of Sacramento. Substitution of Loan Funds for the La Valentina Project,” 2 March 2010. Accessed 5 February 2015; David Kwong. 2009. “Report to Council, City of Sacramento. La Valentina Station Project (P08-106),” public hearing, 24 March. Accessed 5 February 2015.

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Source:

David Kwong. 2009. “Report to Council, City of Sacramento. La Valentina Station Project (P08-106),” public hearing, 24 March; David Baker Architects, “La Valentina Station.” Accessed 5 February 2015.

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Source:

Sacramento Municipal Utility District. 2012. “12th and D Streets: Sacramento, CA: Case Study: SMUD Near Zero Energy Buildings — Home of the Future Demonstration Program.” Accessed 5 February 2015.

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Source:

David Kwong. 2009. “Report to Council, City of Sacramento. La Valentina Station Project (P08-106),” public hearing, 24 March. Accessed 5 February 2015; Interview with Tom Pace, senior planner with the city of Sacramento, 30 January 2015.

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Source:

Information provided by Domus Development.

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Source:

Information provided by Domus Development.

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Source:

Domus Development and Anton Communications. 2013. “Brownfield to Green TOD: LA VALENTINA Revitalizes Sacramento’s Oldest Residential Neighborhood,” poster. Accessed 5 February 2015; Anton Communications. 2014. “Presidio Residential Capital and BlackPine Communities to Build 117-Home Community in Sacramento,” press release, 24 November. Accessed 5 February 2015.

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