By Phillip Pesola–
A public hearing will be held on March 22 as the Citrus Heights Planning Commission considers a new draft booklet that lays out guidelines for residential and mixed-use development along a two-mile currently commercial stretch of Auburn Boulevard.
“[N]ew state laws will make it easier for developers to add new residential and mixed-use development to this corridor,” an FAQ document about the proposal says. The proposal would “ensure high quality design for new multi-family and mixed-use buildings, streamline development proposals, and spur economic investment,” according to the document.
An agenda packet for the March 22 meeting, available on the city’s website, outlines the proposed standards and reasoning in detail.
According to a staff report included in the meeting’s agenda packet, Citrus Heights is described as having a “significant oversupply” of properties zoned for strip retail centers, similar to the region in general. With over 60 square feet of retail space per capita, the report says the city has nearly triple the U.S. average.
Between 2007 and 2019, retail rents in Citrus Heights declined by 16%, the most significant decrease in the Sacramento metro area, according to the report. Auburn Boulevard, in particular, has faced vacancy rates of nearly 20% over the last five years, with “up to 170,000 square feet of vacant retail” along the two-mile commercial corridor from Sylvan Corners to the Roseville border.
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The report says the surplus of vacant retail space provides an opportunity to meet the growing demand for housing. The Auburn Boulevard Specific Plan already encourages mixed-use and housing development along Auburn Boulevard and anticipates over 600 housing units within the corridor. However, challenges still remain in repurposing commercial properties for housing.
In recent years, the California legislature has passed AB 2011, allowing housing in commercial zones, and SB 6, which promotes higher-density residential projects. The state has also introduced laws which require expedited review of qualified housing projects and limit jurisdictional discretion to objective standards.
Objective design standards, as defined by state law, “involve no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or criterion.” These standards are a key component of housing legislation, as they replace subjective design guidelines and discretionary review with objective standards and ministerial approval.
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Contracting with Opticos Design, an urban design consulting firm, the Planning Division prepared a draft booklet of “Auburn Boulevard objective design and development standards” (ODDS) to provide developers with a clear understanding of the city’s rules for mixed-use and multi-family residential projects within the Auburn Boulevard Specific Plan (ABSP) area. The document details the regulations related to density, neighborhood compatibility, building setbacks, and various other design elements to ensure compliance with local and state housing laws.
Outlined and expanded upon within the booklet are seven basic principles:
- Plan for connectivity. “Compose an idealized grid of new streets and blocks before working on individual parcels.”
- Provide common open space. “Compose an idealized open space network before working on individual parcels.”
- Shield parking from the street. “Parking should be located at the center of blocks and screened from sidewalks.”
- Orient buildings toward pedestrian realm. “Place buildings so that entrances face the sidewalk.”
- Transition to context in form and scale. “Step down to form and scale of neighboring properties.”
- Shape a legible public realm with frontages. “Frontages are the interface between the public realm (street and sidewalk) and the private realm (building).”
- Expand the corridor sidewalk. “Rather than setting the building face at the property line, set it back a few feet and pave that space to make a wider sidewalk.”
The draft plan divides the corridor into two zones, a Neighborhood zone and a Main Street zone, in order to accommodate the varied environment. The Neighborhood zone applies to areas which could be made more walkable and are close to neighborhood-serving retail and services. The Main Street zone applies to the more urbanized areas of the corridor and is meant to encourage commercial and mixed-use activity.
The 100-plus page booklet also addresses neighborhood compatibility, outlining standards for physical characteristics such as building placement, types of buildings allowed in different zones, and width and depth restrictions. These standards are meant to ensure that new buildings relate to the existing surrounding neighborhood while creating distinct environments for each zone.
ODDS also provides a range of allowed setbacks for each zone. Buildings in the Neighborhood zone are set back further from the street, while those in the Main Street zone are required to be slightly closer to the street.
Additionally, the standards specify minimum side setbacks for each zone and requires a greater rear setback for new developments adjacent to existing residential properties. These measures a intended to help maintain the character of neighborhoods and minimize detrimental impacts on existing homes, according to a staff report.
The document further outlines standards for building types, widths, and massing, as well as facade articulation for larger buildings. The regulations aim to ensure that new developments relate to the scale of existing neighborhoods and avoid monolithic appearances.
The ODDS booklet has been circulated for review and posted on the city’s website, with comments already received having been incorporated in the booklet. The staff report says any additional comments from the Planning Commission or the public will be considered when the booklet is presented to City Council in April.
Planning Commissioners are slated to review the design standards and hold a public hearing on March 22 and then forward recommendations to the City Council for final approval. The Planning Commission’s meeting will be held at City Hall at 6 p.m. on March 22, 2023. Comments can be submitted in advance via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.