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By Mike Hazlip—
Citrus Heights Planning Commissioners earlier this month took a deep dive look at the city’s plans to re-envision Sunrise Mall, asking city staff and project representatives questions about traffic impacts, parking, flexibility and feasibility.
During the Sept. 1 meeting, which was held remotely via Zoom and broadcast on the city’s Youtube channel, Jaymes Dunsmore of the urban development consultant group Gensler and Associates presented the Sunrise Tomorrow plan to the commission and fielded questions about the overall plan.
The city’s recently released draft “Specific Plan” seeks to guide re-development of the 95-acre mall property with a vision to turn it into a “21st Century Main Street.” The plan includes significant new event space and a mix of residential, office, dining and entertainment uses, creating a “new heart” for Citrus Heights.
Plans call for tripling the development allowed at the 95-acre mall site, with a maximum of 480 hotel rooms, 2,220 residential units, 320,000-square-feet of retail, 960,000-square-feet of office space, 450,000-square-feet of community/institutional uses, and 6,400 parking spots.
What about traffic?
Discussion about traffic impacts from the plan largely focused on relocating a current transit hub on Arcadia Drive over to the main entrance of the re-envisioned mall site on Sunrise Boulevard, along with adding a new traffic signal on Sunrise Boulevard north of Macy Plaza Drive.
A third left-turn lane on northbound Sunrise Boulevard to westbound Greenback Lane would also be added to handle expected increased traffic from office workers headed from the mall site to Interstate 80 in afternoons. Other turn lanes in the area would also be extended to handle additional traffic.
A presentation from a traffic consultant with Fehr & Peers said the project would contribute to a “less than significant impact” to VMT, referring to vehicle miles traveled. The consultant said the finding was based on revised California Environmental Quality Act criteria, which focus on VMT and categorize the area as a “high quality transit” area, along with the corridor having a relatively lower existing VMT count compared to the rest of the region.
“Level of Service” (LOS) ratings for traffic, which range from “A” to “F” grades, show traffic would improve slightly in the afternoons from a current “E” grade to a “D” grade at Sunrise and Greenback, assuming proposed development at the mall and traffic-related improvements. Other areas along Sunrise Boulevard would see LOS ratings drop from a “C” grade down to an “E” rating. Traffic ratings on Greenback Lane would stay the same, according to a slide presented during the meeting.
What about parking?
Commission Vice Chair Marcelle Flowers raised questions about parking, saying she had concerns about whether there would be enough spaces for the mix of commercial, office, and residential buildings.
Dunsmore said the residential buildings would have their own parking spaces, and parking structures are also included in the overall plan. A “shared parking” concept is also part of the overall plan, where event parking during evening or weekend hours could use spaces normally occupied by office workers, Dunsmore said.
Are plans flexible?
Commissioner Michael Nishimura raised a concern that the plan layout shows senior housing along Sunrise Boulevard next to a music venue, and questioned whether that mix would be the best fit, asking about flexibility in the plans.
Dunsmore clarified that the plan only shows the various types of development that could be allowed within the plan’s framework. The final projects will depend on developers and market conditions, he said.
Commission Chairman Tom Scheeler also emphasized during the meeting that the plan is not “set in stone” and there will be room for changes throughout the process. “This is one vision of what this site could be,” he said.
Will there be bike lanes?
Commissioner Paul Makhnovskiy asked if the plan could include bike lanes, as none of the streets in the plan show dedicated bike lanes.
Citrus Heights Planning Manager Casey Kempenaar said bike lanes were considered, but he cautioned that adding a dedicated lane for bicycle traffic would increase the speed of traffic.
“Our thought process was to make the street slower, and you could have mixed traffic through there as well as really leveraging the green loop that kind of connects to most of the site,” he said.
Will the plan actually happen?
Noting the Stock Ranch special planning area in front of Walmart on Auburn Boulevard, which is still not fully developed after the city passed a similar “Specific Plan” for guiding development in the area two decades ago, Commissioner Andrew Van Duker asked if the Sunrise Tomorrow plan might see a similar fate if private developers don’t show an interest.
Kempenaar said he and the city’s economic development manager have been working hard to ensure the plan attracts private developers to make the city’s plan for the mall a reality and called the comparison between Stock Ranch and the mall areas “a little bit of apples and oranges.”
“There is a huge amount of development interest from very large developers in this project site,” Kempenaar said. “As of right now, we don’t have that problem. I think there’s a lot of interest in it.”
The next phase of approval will be another Planning Commission hearing where commissioners will make a recommendation to the council on whether to approve the plan. The plan will then go before the City Council for final approval, which is expected to occur by the end of this year.
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