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The Citrus Heights City Council unanimously voted to award a $1.2 million contract to a San Francisco-based architectural and planning firm for the creation of a “shovel ready” plan to comprehensively guide future development on the 100-acre Sunrise Mall property.
The plan, and an associated environmental impact report, is expected to take up to two years to develop — and a senior city planning manager indicated that actual development “could take a couple decades, perhaps” to complete.
The award of the contract to the Gensler firm during the council’s Oct. 10 meeting represents the next major step in the city’s plan to re-envision what many view as a declining and under-utilized Sunrise Mall property.
In a staff report to the City Council, Economic Development Manager Meghan Huber said that while the mall thrived for several decades after being built in the early 1970s, the economic impact of the mall has declined by about 50% over the past 13 years.
Planning Manager Casey Kempenaar also told council members during the Oct. 10 City Council meeting that many examples of dying malls can be found around the country, but said “they also represent a huge opportunity for cities.” He noted examples of cities successfully turning their failing malls into “downtowns” or entertainment centers.
“We know that people don’t want to just go into the store and shop. They want the experience — they want to have an experiential experience of food and dining and seeing other people out — and you just don’t see that in the mall today,” said Kempenaar. “So we want to create a different approach to the mall in the future.”
So what exactly is being planned?
While specific aspects have yet to be determined through the process of developing a Specific Plan that will guide future development at Sunrise Mall, city leaders and staff have indicated a goal to steer away from a strictly retail and restaurant vision for the mall.
In comments during the council meeting, Huber said city staff had spoken with Gensler about a “shared vision” for what could be possible on the property — including how to apply “things like wellness amenities, integrating work-live-and-play,” streets as public space, and “remaking a downtown.”
Integrating new green spaces and converting unused and under-utilized portions of the 75-acres of parking lots surrounding the mall were also mentioned. Potential for a hotel and popup stadium were also brought up by one or more council members, but city leaders made clear that public input and collaboration with mall property owners will be taken into account before plans are finalized.
Housing was also discussed as a likely feature to be integrated into the Specific Plan.
Nate Cherry, a spokesman from Gensler, told the council during the meeting that he saw an opportunity for “all kinds of housing” to be integrated into future plans for Sunrise Mall. He said such use would help address the state’s housing shortage and also make a “village” environment.
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The housing aspect was also indicated by the City Council, which adopted a General Plan amendment on July 11 that refocused the vision for the mall from being only a “commercial destination” to a broader vision of becoming the city’s “premier destination to shop, work, live and play.”
A state SB 2 grant, which is partially funding the development of the Specific Plan, is also specifically tied to funding only projects that have the “potential of increasing housing.”
Two residents spoke during public comment on Thursday, with David Warren advocating for more opportunities for public input and advising the council hold off for a month to allow more public review of the contract with Gensler. A representative from the Homeless Assistance Resource Team also spoke, advocating that empty parking lots be turned into townhouses and condos and stating there was general support for a fitness center, movie theater, a grocery market and other features to make the mall property have a “complete everything.”
In comments made during the meeting, Mayor Jeannie Bruins called the opportunity to guide the future of Sunrise Mall “exciting.”
“You know, I’m not afraid of visioning,” said Bruins. “I think we have to have vision and we have to be ready to accept that what worked in the past does not work in the future necessarily.”
Councilman Daniels called the planning stage “a very big deal” and said Citrus Heights wouldn’t exist without Sunrise Mall, referencing the key economic base the mall has provided the city since it first incorporated in 1997.
“The worst thing that could happen, I think, out of this is that we get some big, big grandiose plan about something so wonderful and it looks great in pictures and great in the ideas and it sits on the shelf and it never happens,” said Daniels, cautioning his colleagues to be “realistic” in the planning stage.
What is a Specific Plan?
The Specific Plan will provide a vision for the future of Sunrise Mall, which will include enhanced zoning for the site, a cohesive site design and a pre-approved environmental impact report that results in a “shovel ready development opportunity,” according to Huber. She also said it will deliver a “pro forma that proof points successful development.”
The Stock Ranch commercial area in front of Walmart on Auburn Boulevard is also guided by a Specific Plan. Such plans can provide a vision and specific guidelines for development of an area, but the city is not able to dictate which specific tenants will set up shop.
The development of a Specific Plan will include four parts: market analysis, community outreach, execution and an environmental impact report.
To develop the plan, the city selected Gensler as the “most qualified” of six bids. According to a staff report, other bids received ranged from $700,000 to $2.5 million.
Gensler will be working with a team of sub-consultants, including MXD Development Strategists for market analysis, De Novo Planning Group for developing the EIR, Fehr and Peers for traffic-related aspects, and Mark Thomas for providing civil engineering services.
The city says a portion of the cost for developing the plan and EIR is expected to be gradually recouped through reimbursement from future developers. A significant portion of the funds, $310,000, will come from an SB 2 Planning Grant.
According to the city, work on the Specific Plan and EIR is set to begin next month and will take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete.
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