Does Our Community Really Need This?

Get ready, Arden Way, here comes yet another "something is better than nothing" business to, you know, add value (?) to our community's growing array of fine commercial enterprises like X-rated massage parlors, usury lenders, bong shops, liquor stores, hookah bars and other similar businesses that you will not ever find in the neighborhood of a member of the Board of Supervisors. That's right, according to the Business Journal, just down the street from the Kiss N Tell risqué lingerie shop there will soon be a Hustler Hollywood, porn king Larry Flint's "upscale" adult sex gear shop. Upscale? in more expensive and more aggressively marketed than Goldie's Adult Superstore on 12th on the way into Sac on 160. Gee, thanks, so much, Sacramento County and your world-class business development team. Does anyone out there think Susan Peters will be at the ribbon cutting?

Hustler Hollywood Bakersfield. Though it's not against the law to sell their products, apparently not everyone is happy to have such stores in traditional retail locations. {Photo credit: KERO23, Bakersfield} 

Hustler Hollywood Bakersfield. Though it's not against the law to sell their products, apparently not everyone is happy to have such stores in traditional retail locations. {Photo credit: KERO23, Bakersfield} 

1 Comment

A Tale of Two Sign Regulations

Merlone-Geier is the developer of the proposed Arden Creek Town Center as well as the developer of the mostly-completed University Village shopping center, now called "The UV", 3 miles away on the periphery of the City of Sacramento. The Arden Creek project has been approved by county staff and is being appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The appeal is supposed to be heard on October 17th. One of the aspects being appealed is the signage. In response to the community, the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC), saw no reason why the developer should have extra-large signs. County staff ignored the CPAC's recommendation and OK'ed giant signs because, well, you know, the Howe 'Bout Arden project got away with giant signs. "Whoa," said the appeal, "what's up with that?" And that's a really great point when you consider that "The UV" has smallish signs that discretely say, "this place is cool, hip and upscale", while the Howe 'Bout Arden signs scream, "Look at me, dammit!" by comparison. So why would Merlone-Geier want great big signs (bigger than the other nearby commercial centers) like Howe 'Bout Arden's instead of understated signs like its own development at "The UV"? The answer has a lot to do with where the project sits. The Arden Creek Town Center project is in Arden Arcade, part of the the vast unincorporated UnCity of Sacramento County, whereas "The UV" is in the City of Sacramento. Each jurisdiction has different sign regulations. Check out the graphics and ask yourself which project reflects a local governing body that values developers more than its people?

For the Arden Creek Town Center, county staff OKed 3 signs: 2 @ 15'x11+' and 1 @ 13+'x 10'

For the Arden Creek Town Center, county staff OKed 3 signs: 2 @ 15'x11+' and 1 @ 13+'x 10'


"The UV" has 5 signs: 4 like this one @ 10'x8' and one along Howe Ave. that is about 2' taller


A tangled web

Oh! what a tangled web we weave When first we practise to deceive!
— Sir Walter Scott in his 1808 romantic poem, "Mamion, A Tale of Flodden Field"

Sir Walter Scott's assessment certainly seems to apply to the Arden Creek Town Center Project. That's the proposal to remodel the shopping center at Arden and Watt, which has been the subject of several blog posts within this page. As last reported, the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC) had appealed the decision. A second appeal has also been added to the case. That one was filed by Julie Linderman, one of the many neighborhood people who stand in opposition, not to the concept of a sorely-needed spruce up of the site, but instead against the way the County is letting the well-heeled developer cut corners despite concerns of the public. She has been bird-dogging the proposal since day one. When she noticed that the CPAC appeal appeared to have left some things out, she filed the second appeal to ensure coverage of the rest of the concerns of the neighbors. The CPAC is not charged a fee to appeal, but private citizens must pay, big-time, for the next step in the approvals process. The County thus socked Ms. Linderman with a whopping bill, $3935 (!), to keep the ball rolling into the public sunlight of an agenda item for the Board of Supervisors.

Keep in mind that this is all happening in the context of a process whereby the County rigged the decision to be finalized by staff -- the Zoning Administrator, despite the fancy title, is just another employee of the County Planning Department. The Zoning Administrator's approval deferred to the advice of his fellow staff members and ignored specific recommendations of the CPAC, the appointed citizen group that is charged with ascertaining the opinions of the community. And the process has become even more complicated by some recent conversations on Nextdoor that appear to have been orchestrated by the developer as a way to belittle the concerns of the community which had been discussed in public meetings and the official project record for months. The appeal, and a request to waive Ms. Linderman's fee, have been scheduled for the Supervisors' October 17th meeting. In the interest of democracy, people are strongly encouraged to send emails to the Supervisors requesting that they grant her request to waive the fee (see graphic, below). It really doesn't cost anything for an item to be placed on the Supervisors' meeting agenda, the CPAC's appeal will be heard at no cost, and, besides, the steep price --which, while possibly burdensome to corporations, is potentially an understandable business expense--is clearly intimidating to individual citizens. 

The latest wrinkle, announced at the CPAC meeting last night, is that the Oct. 17th CPAC appeal might have to be rescheduled because none of the CPAC members are available to attend then. And the County staff expressed concerned because that might cause problems for the developer. Let's recap: County lets developer break rules, neighborhoods and CPAC have concerns, citizen appeal costs a ton of money, and rescheduling appeal is inconvenient for developer. Are those the right priorities for our local government? What a tangled web, indeed!

Screenshots of the flyers about the appeal that are being distributed to doorsteps in the affected neighborhoods

Screenshots of the flyers about the appeal that are being distributed to doorsteps in the affected neighborhoods



Did Hell freeze over?

After a long path of twists and turns, with spring and early summer CPAC meetings filled up with neighbors opposed to the the Arden Creek Town Center development at Arden and Watt, with County desks inundated with letters expressing why this project's design was a horrible idea, and ultimately, the County Zoning Administrator dispassionately defying the strong wishes of the community by giving his rubber stamp approval 11 days ago, the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC) fought back. Last Thursday night the CPAC did something it had never done before. It voted to appeal the project's approval decision even though the CPAC had itself voted in favor. By so doing, the CPAC also relieved the community of the ridiculous $4000 price the County charges for an appeal. 

Normally, a CPAC is allowed to vote for appeal if they recommend denial of a project.  If they approve, no option for appeal is typically available.  Neighbors had asserted the CPAC had half denied and half approved the project because they had approved the Arden Creek Town Center with two conditions that the County subsequently disregarded. Therefore, said the neighbors, the CPAC should be entitled to vote for an appeal to take place.  County staff put up stiff resistance to the notion that the CPAC could revisit a project after approving it. When pressed, though, County staff could not identify a Sacramento County Code provision for what happens if a CPAC both approves and denies. The CPAC then moved forward with an agenda item to consider appealing the project.

What swung the CPAC to vote to appeal was the fact that their recommendations had been ignored by the County, and they didn't like that!  CPAC had recommended two conditions -- that the boundary wall would be equivalent to a concrete masonry unit wall AND that no variance on sign height be allowed.  County staff, including the Zoning Administrator, paid no attention to either recommendation.  That did not sit well with the CPAC. It doesn't sit well with the community, either. We shall see what happens next.

This is the cheap boundary fence that the County allowed at the Quick Quack car wash, saying it would protect adjacent homes. But it doesn't, and it drives the neighbors crazy. The Arden Creek Town Center developer wants to put up a wall just like this one. The CPAC said OK only if the wall would actually protect nearby homes, but County staff brushed-off the CPAC's recommended condition. Similarly, County staff poo-pooed the CPAC's recommendation against sky-high signs. The staff's handling of the CPAC's input prompted the CPAC to vote to support the community and appeal the Zoning Administrator's decision. 

This is the cheap boundary fence that the County allowed at the Quick Quack car wash, saying it would protect adjacent homes. But it doesn't, and it drives the neighbors crazy. The Arden Creek Town Center developer wants to put up a wall just like this one. The CPAC said OK only if the wall would actually protect nearby homes, but County staff brushed-off the CPAC's recommended condition. Similarly, County staff poo-pooed the CPAC's recommendation against sky-high signs. The staff's handling of the CPAC's input prompted the CPAC to vote to support the community and appeal the Zoning Administrator's decision. 




Totally Predictable

The Merlone Geier shopping center project at Arden and Watt was approved today by Sacramento County Zoning Administrator. The developer summarized the proposal. Several people from Arden Arcade spoke against the project at the public hearing held by the Zoning Administrator. No one testified in favor of the project. Those who spoke said the shopping center proposal should be revised. Their concerns touched on the County's lack of attention to detail on matters like whether the perimeter fence would respect the adjacent neighborhood, whether any thought had been given to traffic problems and pedestrian safety, and why the project needed to break so many rules in the rulebook. After patiently "listening" to the public, the Zoning Administrator promptly approved the developer's requests. Everyone expected the result. The County values any and all developers. Ordinary constituents do not matter; nor do their homes. The Zoning Administrator is a just another county employee hanging on to his job. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Citizens valiantly explained to the Zoning Administrator (white shirt, green tie) their concerns about the proposed shopping center's many give-aways to the developer and the potential for the proposal to harm the community. Not that it mattered, of course.


Out of sight, out of mind? Easier to approve.

Tomorrow morning at 9am in downtown Sacramento at the County Office of Community Development there will be a pivotal public meeting about the controversial Arden Creek Town Center project, as readers of this blog may know from the several recent posts about the project. The Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC), which is supposed to ascertain citizen opinions about the project, has reported to the County the "vast majority opposed" the project when it was explained to the community at the CPAC's meeting last June. Who might be on the receiving end of that report? Answer: county staff. 

The way Sacramento County has choreographed this project's approval, the go/no-go decision is left to a county staff person, Zoning Administrator Mark Michelini, who handles "final action on minor use permits and variances".  Isn't it interesting that a large project at a major intersection in Arden Arcade, one opposed by a vast majority of residents, is nothing more than a minor one upon which County staff will pass judgement? Other proposals on the staff person's agenda are located in North Highlands and Orangevale. Despite pleas from the impacted community here in the wilds of the UnCity to hold the hearing when and where people could actually attend, Sacramento County has managed to schedule the official decisions on these projects at a time and location convenient to its staff-level decision-maker instead of the public. It is almost like the decision is intended to be made out of view of the public. Is that how to run an open, transparent government? Or is it just a sneaky way to help a developer and keep the public at arm's length?  


Here we go again...another (!) liquor store/convenience market

Do you ever get the feeling that Sacramento County won't be satisfied until every corner in Arden Arcade has at least 4 liquor stores? If so, get ready for more to-go booze and 24-hour junk food. This time it is the SE corner of Arden and Morse that is proposed to be blessed with yet another one of these commercial ventures. Because, heaven knows, we just don't have enough of them, do we? 

It’s like déjà vu all over again.
— Yogi Berra, on Mickey Mantle & Roger Maris hitting several back-to-back home runs in the 1960s

The public process begins, as usual, at the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC), which will hear the item at its meeting at 7pm on August 24, 2017, in the Arden Middle School small gym at 1640 Watt Ave. The applicant wants permission for a Use Permit to operate a 24 hour convenience store on that corner where the green grocery (once a gas station) has been. The CPAC agenda says the applicant is also asking permission for alcohol sales. Normally, the CPAC has a limited role of ascertaining community sentiment about the Use Permit and forwarding said information to the Planning Commission. But the CPAC also has a role in providing liquor license input directly to the Board of Supervisors if there is a liquor license involved, since the Board of Supervisors makes those decisions (freely and without reservations, it seems). Though there is NO information on the CPAC agenda as to whether the applicant already has a liquor license or will need to get one, the agenda shows the "final hearing body" is the Board of Supervisors -- implying a liquor license determination.  According to the downloadable project documents:

  • The Project Description states the plan is to "convert an under-utilized building from a fruit and vegetable sales operation to a full service convenience food market with beer, wine and spirits offerings."
  • The Project Justification says the new-and-improved market will "provide a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly location to serve the neighborhood"  
  • The Site Plan shows a pedestrian ramp and has no indication of parking for bicycles.

In summary, the proposal is that Arden Arcade, which is overrun with convenience stores, may get another one -- open 24 hours a day and selling liquor, of course, given that there is no where else within 50 feet to buy a cold six pack of beer. And it will be "bicycle-friendly" even though there is no place to park your bike. But it's alright because the building will be shiny and new and will be used more, see? Plus the shopping center two doors down with CVS, Dollar Store and Safeway (open 5am-midnight) is just too far away to be, you know, convenient.  Don't even ask about the undiscussed liquor license piece. The BevMo' next door isn't right on the corner and, besides, the Supervisors hand out liquor licenses like they were candy at Halloween.  

Will the Southeast corner of Arden and Morse become Arden Arcade's umpteenth 24-hour convenience mart and liquor store?


Is a Dirty Duck Manipulating Arden Middle School?

Neighbors near Quick Quack Car Wash on Watt learned yesterday that there were children in front of Arden Middle School holding signs that read, "We Support Quick Quack Car Wash, Get Your Car Washed There!" The school Principal's Office told the neighbors that the signs were about a Quick Quack fundraiser with Arden Middle School. It was easy for the neighbors to connect the dots with their campaign urging people to boycott Quick Quack because of noise from the business and its impacts on their daily lives and their homes. They wondered whether Quick Quack was using the students to retaliate against the community.

Are the school administrators unaware that Quick Quack's noise and glaring lights have devalued property in the neighborhood and made it impossible for nearby residents to enjoy their back yards? Whether deliberate or not, it can create ill will in the the community if the school lets students raise money by urging people to go to Quick Quack. Surely there must be other ways to raise funds for the school. The neighbors say they are more than willing to help Arden Middle School with fundraising--just not in partnership with Quick Quack. The community has stood by the San Juan School District in its campaigns for more money. Wouldn't you think the schools would prefer to stand up for the community in return?

Loud noise from car vacuums and loud car audio systems plus annoying glare from parking lot lights and business signs have convinced neighbors that Quick Quack is a Dirty Duck. Quick Quack's cynical school fundraiser that uses Arden Middle School to promote its business is a slap in the face of the neighbors.


Sacramento County Respects Property Values (No...really...they do. Just not here.)

Over on Hazel Avenue Sacramento County is engaged in a multi-year construction project to improve the roadway's vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian mobility and make it look nice. Currently in Phase 2 of the project, Sacramento County has built some significant sound walls. These are the real deal: concrete masonry unit block walls that actually protect adjacent properties from noise. Not the fake kind like you find along the boundary between Quick Quack car wash and Arden Manor residences. Or that the County seems content to let the developer of Arden Creek Town Center (at Arden and Watt) put up along the property lines with Arden Oaks residences.  As the photos below show, the new Hazel walls are big, thick and tall, as befitting a noise-generating project close to people's houses. The County clearly has spent public money -- significant public money -- building those good-looking sound walls. Why? Well, maybe it is because the County actually respects the property values of the adjacent homes there. And that just makes one wonder howcum the County is willing to let private projects that ask for permission to build noise-generating projects next to homes in Arden Arcade use cheap-o walls that, as the Quick Quack project has shown, drive neighbors crazy. Is there a good reason why property values of residences in one part of the UnCity (along Hazel) are respected, while in another part of the UnCity (called Arden Arcade) they are not?

Hazel Avenue Roadway Improvements Phase 2 has massive sound walls -- lots of them.

Hazel Avenue Roadway Improvements Phase 2 has massive sound walls -- lots of them.

Hazel Avenue Roadway Improvements Phase 2 has attractive, yet serious, walls to protect nearby homes from noise

The Hazel sound walls will have landscaping, too




A shopping center with a real wall

The Nugget Plaza shopping center in Roseville has many of the same kinds of stores that Merlone Geier says will be featured in its proposed Arden Creek Town Center project at Arden and Watt. With streets on three sides, Nugget Plaza has a sound wall along its boundary with the property that abuts the shopping center's fourth side. As the photos show, Nugget Plaza has a traditional concrete masonry unit wall. It is very tall and looks nice, too, with a decorative design and some landscape plantings. The center's wall serves to protect and enhance the value of the adjacent property -- which is a public park with an aquatic center. The shopping center's wall has a similar style as the sound wall that borders the subdivision across the street from the center. 

By contrast, here in unincorporated Arden Arcade, it seems shopping centers can get by with cheap-looking fences that don't buffer sound for adjacent houses scant feet away (see this blog's post, "A wall that saves developers money can lead to problems for adjacent neighbors" of 6/24/2017 for an example). But in Roseville, open space and public facilites get protected. To review: In the City of Roseville, a shopping center sound wall shields open space from commercial development. Sacramento County lets shopping centers use walls that don't shield people's houses from commercial development. 

The Nugget Plaza shopping center borders a public park. Except for an entrance to the park from a people-place plaza in the middle of the building complex, there is a tall, decorative masonry wall along the entire length of the boundary between the commercial property and the park.


Nugget Plaza's block wall divides the shopping center from the adjacent public park 

The back side of Nugget Plaza as seen from the park

Nugget Plaza's trash enclosure and the wall that separates the shopping center from the park's aquatic center


CPAC reports "Vast Majority Opposed", yet votes against the "vast majority"

A lot of people went away disappointed on 6/22/2017 after the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC) voted 4-2 to endorse the Merlone-Geier development proposal for some new buildings and some sprucing up at the shopping center at Arden and Watt. As the graphic below shows, the CPAC did demonstrate a little bit of listening behavior by saying that the proposed giant signs should be smaller and by indicating the importance of walling off the retail site from nearby residences. As noted in a post here on 6/24/2017, the developer intends to save money by building a concrete panel fence instead of the traditional concrete block wall like the kind that buffers residences from freeway noise -- even though, as demonstrated by the nearby Quick Quack car wash project, those cheaper panel fences don't work. But that's not what this post is about. Instead, if you look at the graphic again, you will see that even though the CPAC gave thumb's up to the project, the CPAC's summary of the neighborhood response or reaction says, "Vast majority opposed." Vast. Majority. Opposed. Let that sink in.

The CPAC's role in the land use planning approvals process is to ascertain community opinion and advise the Planning Commission and, therefore, the Board of Supervisors about the public comment on a given project. If the public's response to a proposal is, "We don't like it for these reasons...etc.", then it would seem that CPAC ought to convey those sentiments onward. Yet, as the Arden/Watt shopping center proposal demonstrates, it looks like the CPAC has taken upon itself the task of defusing public criticism to help a project gain approval.  Their action gave impacted constituents of the Third District Supervisor the feeling that the County used the CPAC to keep the public at arm's length from the actual decision makers. In this particular case, the actual decision maker is a County staff member, the Zoning Administrator, an unelected servant of the public who ultimately reports to the Board of Supervisors (which routinely defers to the sense of the Supervisor whose District holds the site of a proposed project). The local-community guidance to that decision maker comes from CPAC members, all of whom are appointees of the Third District Supervisor. Obviously, the loyalty of County employees goes to their bosses, as does the loyalty of the appointees.

There are about 4,000,000 of California's 40,000,000 souls who live in unincorporated areas and depend on County Boards of Supervisors to deliver municipal services. Around 15% of those people are residents of Sacramento County's vast, unincorporated UnCity. State law enables Counties to establish Municipal Advisory Councils (MACs, called CPACs by Sacramento County) to better understand the needs of unincorporated communities. The law also allows such bodies to be elected.  As reported in our post of 6/6/2017, about 35% of MACs/CPACs in California are elected to office, though none are elected here in Sacramento County. While there is no guarantee an elected official will pay attention to the will of the voters, the chances are better for an elected official to actually listen to a constituent than for an appointee to do so. Is it possible that the Arden/Watt CPAC action has moved people to wonder whether our local CPAC should be elected?

Pay no attention to that vast majority in the audience? 


Coping with the Decline of Retail

The Local Government Commission (LGC) is a local non-profit organization that, among other things, advises local officials and staff, gives presentations and offers conference planning services that support education on various issues that confront local government in California. This week, LGC Executive Director Kate Meis wrote on the LGC web site about how local governments can deal with the current downward retail business trend. Given the current interest in the Arden Creek Town Center proposal for Watt and Arden, her article provides some timely perspectives. In a nutshell, the article attributes retail decline to 1) e-commerce,   2) consumer spending patterns and 3) too many brick-and-mortar shopping centers. Given that, and especially considering #3, can any commercial project succeed at Watt and Arden? According to the LGC article, the key is ensuring a good customer experience: accessibility, inviting/welcoming spaces, public amenities and the like. The LGC advises local governments to focus on livability, mixed use and local businesses instead of just luring national chain stores. One can only hope that Sacramento County will be open to that message. 

Stores surrounded by higher-density housing, restaurants, bars and other entertainment attractions tend to be more resilient than traditional malls.
— Kate Meis, Local Government Commission ( on 6/26/17)

Østermalms Saluhall in Stockholm --  a very popular indoor farmers' market with sit-down restaurants and bars


Standard Malls vs People Places

In a Los Angeles Times column today, entitled "Dying Malls Offer a Chance to Build Something Better", Steve Lopez spoke of the opportunities presented by repurposed shopping malls that offer more than retail and can attract people who don’t even go there to shop. The traditional approach for retail shopping is focused on attracting and maintaining retail tenants. The Times article noted the importance of getting the property owner AND local elected official to support the alternative concept that is instead about the needs and desires of the customer. As readers of this blog may know, that's not an easy task hereabouts -- developers, seeking profit from retail tenants, tend to get easy approval for whatever quick-and-cheap idea they want, regardless of citizen (customer) input. Still, it is instructive to see how other places are finding success by turning their old shopping centers into "people places."

Anybody who’s smart is looking at reinventing these places
— Tom Safran -- Thomas Safran & Associates, a Southern California developer quoted by Steve Lopez in the LA Times column 6/26/2017

Westfield Topanga in Canoga Park, CA, is but one of many Southern California shopping centers and strip malls intended as a community-friendly retail environment. {photo credit: RSG commercial real estate}


A wall that saves developers money can lead to problems for adjacent neighbors

On 6/22/17 the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC) approved the Merlone Geier proposal to build another set of speculative commercial buildings at Arden and Watt. The meeting was well-attended, with near-unanimous sentiment on the part of the community that, while the proposed shopping center was an improvement over what they had been told at the April CPAC meeting, it needed more changes. In general, the community said it wanted a shopping center that would be an asset to the community, not just a way for the property owner to get money from passing motorists. As usual, the County prevailed, with many in the audience surprised to learn that their input was of little consequence. An example of the way the County coddles developers is the required "sound wall" that's "not a sound wall" (according to County staff) which the developers prefer (Guess what? It's cheaper.) and the County tolerates -- even though the citizens don't want because it isn't even much of a barrier in the first place. When the County let the Quick Quack Car Wash build this type of wall last year, neighbors were told it would be OK. Yet, as the CPAC was informed on June 22nd, the wall has led to a major disruption in the lives of adjacent neighbors.

The mostly-spellbound CPAC listened as the developer's PR guy explained the pretty drawings and extolled the virtues of the proposal

A close up of the Quick Quack Car Wash modular concrete wall that is supposed to shield the business from the adjacent houses on Barrington -- complete with holes that don't block sound or prying eyes.

Another picture of the Quick Quack wall. Posts (on the right) are set in the ground. Panels (left) are placed between the posts. The air spaces are readily apparent. Since the wall is just a bunch of parts, the panels can rattle, too. County staff have signaled a willingness to OK this kind of cheap wall-that-doesn't-do-much at the Arden & Watt site.

1 Comment

"Revised" shopping center still seeks special privileges

On June 22nd at 7:00pm in the Arden Dimick library the Arden Arcade Community Planniing Advisory Council (CPAC) will consider the proposal by the development firm of Merlone Geier to spruce up the Petsmart/Smart&Final/RiteAid shopping center at Arden and Watt. Following a firestorm of public outcry, the proposal has been revised since the CPAC workshop held in April. The changes are not well-aligned with pubic sentiment. The sign heights are a wee bit lower, one of the fast-food drive-throughs has been eliminated, and the wood fence is being replaced with a precast masonry wall like the one at Quick Quack that the neighbors say is worthless. But the developer still wants the County to grant four variances and is seeking drive-through fast-food conditional use permits for the two southernmost parcels that are between Petsmart and Arden Way. Readers of this blog know that variances can only be allowed if a parcel (the land itself) has special circumstances, none of which exist at the site's three parcels. By contrast, a conditional use permit (C.U.P.) is fairly routine. With a C.U.P. a developer can do essentially whatever the County says is OK. For a fast-food drive-through, a C.U.P. usually involves hours of operation and noise levels. So if citizens object to evening disturbances and disruptive noises, the County could limit loudspeaker placement and require drive-through operations to cease at a specific time. ...Good luck with that, by the way.

Documents associated with the proposal are posted on the County's project viewer and can be found by searching for "Arden Creek Town Center -- New pads and parking improvements".






The revised plan puts some trees in the ugly parking lot (County project viewer at Control# PLNP2016-000461, Revised Landscape Plan 06.07.17). The traffic problems, variances and other aspects people have complained about are still in play. It remains a proposal for auto-oriented businesses that the community already has in abundance.


Similar settings, two different concepts

The Sacramento Business Journal today featured an article on the proposal by developer Paul Petrovich for a shopping center at the SW corner of Howe and Fair Oaks Blvd. Petrovich's "The Boulevard" is billed as a site located at the intersection of two major streets -- one of which crosses the American River -- and amidst thousands upon thousands of people and close by many people who are well-off (see Graphic #1). The "Arden Creek Town Center" site by development company Merlone Geier at Watt and Arden is described as essentially the same (see Graphic #2), except: 

  • the number of vehicles passing per hour (an indicator of potential for auto-oriented businesses) is much more at the Petrovich site than it is at the Merlone Geier site
  • the demographics around the Merlone Geier site present higher household incomes (an indicator for potential "upscale" sales) within walking distance than at Petrovich's, which did not cite incomes within 1 mile, perhaps due to the prevalence of close-by senior citizen complexes, college dorms and apartments.
  • at 97,000 s.f., the proposed Merlone Geier center is 3 times bigger than Petrovich's 31,000 s.f. set of buildings and at 9.35 acres, the Merlone Geier site is three times the size of Petrovich's 3.1 acre site. This would seem to imply similar flexibility to place structures on site, however Merlone Geier is seeking permission to build in the set-back areas close to the streets, whereas Petrovich's proposal complies with codes by placing buildings away from the streets.   

The two proposed retail centers are close to each other and both seek to capture sales from the fairly well-off disposable incomes found in their overlapping market areas. There really isn't much difference between the two market areas, yet the proposals have very different perspectives. Merlone Geier's concept is fast-food-auto-oriented and not "upscale", whereas  Petrovich's seeks more "upscale", patio-dining-oriented tenants. 

There IS, though, one major difference between the two sites. Although it is immediately adjacent to Arden Arcade, the Petrovich site is in the City of Sacramento, which is governed by a City Council that has been trying to re-brand Sacramento as a cool, trendy kind of place, i.e. they have "a vision". The Merlone Geier project is in unincorporated Arden Arcade, governed by a Board of Supervisors that seems unable to articulate an inspiration for our community, as demonstrated by the Supervisors' palpable sense of relief whenever a developer offers ANY proposal -- no matter how un-cool or old school, whether constituents want it or not.  

Graphic #1: Petrovich's proposal for Howe and Fair Oaks

Graphic #2: Merlone Geier's proposal for Watt and Arden


Community discussion about Arden Town Center

Cross-posted from "Important Community Meeting About (2) Proposed 24-hour drive-thru restaurants (Arden Way/Watt Ave.) PLEASE COME to learn more about the development proposed for the shopping center at the Arden Way and Watt Avenue intersection across from Arden School. The purpose of this meeting is share information and gain community focus. We will discuss the variances requested by the developer, the potential impacts on the community, and gather feedback and input from the neighborhoods involved. The more people, the better :) Hope to see you there! WHEN: Thursday, May 25th at 7:00 PM WHERE: Arden-Dimick Library, 891 Watt Avenue ***Note: This is not a CPAC meeting held via Sacramento County."

Once the Arden Arcade CPAC cancelled its May meeting, the library meeting space became available. Some of the citizens concerned about the project then reserved the room so the community could discuss it. Apparently the firestorm of public apprehension at the April CPAC workshop took the developer by surprise. At present, the project has not been submitted to Sacramento County for approval. The earliest that would happen would be in conjunction with the June 22nd CPAC meeting. The informal meeting on May 25th is a chance for the community to share ideas about the site and the direction it is going. Nobody is asking that it be torn down and replaced with a wildlife preserve; it is well-understood that it is a commercial facility overdue for improvement. Instead, the question is whether the County can achieve anything there that will serve the purposes identified in the adopted plans for the area -- things like mixed-use commercial development, commercial corridor viability, public safety, and non-degradation of the nearby neighborhoods.  

Traffic is but one of the issues of concern for the proposed development at Watt and Arden 




1 Comment

It's baa...aack..... So please go to the meeting.

The Merlone Geier speculative shopping center project will be presented at the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC) meeting on 4/27 at 6:30pm at the Arden Dimick Library at Watt & Northrup. From the agenda, it appears nothing in the proposal has changed. Was it delayed in the hope that opposition would go away? The proposal was the subject of our 3/26/17 post "Are we guided by lack of vision?" (go here and scroll down to March 26, 2017). In summary, the project seeks to remodel the shopping center and add some new buildings with drive-through windows --on the Watt Avenue side -- which could be rented to businesses. Merlone Geier has not said who the tenants will be, though the County's "coming soon" sign on site implies there will be fast food businesses. The developer calls it a "Town Center". While it might be located more or less in the middle of Arden Arcade, there's nothing about the project that reflects the core of the community. Though the site is close to some nice neighborhoods, the proposed design could work in an industrial area.  There aren't any amenities -- like fountains or sculptures or people-places included in the design. Merlone Geier is a big-deal, S&P500 company that just plunked down $170M on shopping centers in San Rafael CA and Burlington WA. So, as you might expect, Merlone Geier is helpless -- totally, completely, absolutely unable to do the project in compliance with County development standards and needs to avoid regulations for building setbacks, landscaping, sign size, and even the block wall (substituting a cheaper wooden fence) that would protect adjacent houses from the project. Opposition has to do with things like the regulatory give-away process being against state law, the abundance of fast-food and auto-oriented businesses in the vicinity, failure to adhere to the County's economic development strategy (see Key Priority #5: Providing a Full-Range of Lifestyle, Education, Housing & Recreation Amenities for a High-Quality Workforce at page 24 and following and especially Exemplary Action 5.3 on page 26 ), and the project's apparent indifference to pedestrians and community needs. The correct answer would be for the County to instruct the developer to reach out to the community and come back with a project the community wants, not just a project the community has to tolerate. Since other jurisdictions do that, the County can too. HaHaHa. Right. Not a good bet for your life savings. We could be looking at yet another blown opportunity, perpetuating the downward spiral of local land uses. We could be settling for less than half a loaf again, setting the table for generally unwanted and unneeded businesses. Or maybe people will show up at the CPAC meeting such that their opinions will be heard beyond the CPAC. And we might get some listening behavior that could lead to something better.

Proposed Arden Creek Town Center: We know how a developer wants to profit from this site, but what's best for community residents and businesses?


Are we guided by lack of vision?

There has been quite a bit of discussion on Nextdoor recently about a proposal to spiff up the retail shopping center at the NE corner of Watt and Arden. The property is owned by Merlone Geier, a real estate development company HQed in San Francisco, with an office in Rancho Cordova. The firm, which is "focused on the acquisition, development and redevelopment of retail and retail-driven mixed-use properties", has proposed the "Arden Creek Town Center" "adjacent to affluent neighborhoods". That proposal would have new retail spaces along the Arden Way frontage where Lam's restaurant used to be, some cosmetic changes to the main PetsMart/Smart&Final/RiteAid building and the addition of two buildings close to Watt Avenue, each with drive-through window functionality. Buildings on the southern corners of the property (the bank on the SW corner and the chiropractor's office on the SE corner) are not being redesigned. As might be expected, the proposal includes breaking the County's rules about sign height, landscaping and setbacks -- something state law and court decisions stipulate must be done very carefully even though the County routinely pays scant attention to the requirements of the law and the court decisions. The proposal has encountered opposition from area residents who are concerned about fast food restaurants, excessive signage and a sense of general ugliness. It was supposed to be considered at last week's CPAC meeting but was pulled from the agenda at the eleventh hour.  

This is an old land use movie that has been replayed time and again. The script goes something like this: shopping center "declines", developer seeks maximum profit from minimum investment by replicating what the community already has plenty of, County -- desperate for anything "new" -- accepts whatever developer proposes and presents the project to the community as more or less a "done deal", the impacted community objects to lack of prior consultation and demands something "better" i.e. "different".  Wouldn't it be interesting if local economic development was driven by an actual vision of what the community could, and should, become instead of just quiet acquiescence to any proposal that walks up to the building counter? What if the County's own Community Action Plan goals about shade trees, street landscaping, and re-use of vacant/run-down strip malls to allow a mix of residential, retail and commercial development (page 3) or about being responsive to neighborhoods (page 8) mattered? Improving neighborhoods and the community with the property owner's focus on retail-driven mixed use development -- imagine that! But, wait, in that same Community Action Plan the County said it needed to defer action that would, "more actively involve residents in the ongoing shaping of their community" (page 12). Apparently, then, now is not the time for "the vision thing". It never is, is it? These days the County's Neighborhood Livability Initiative has devolved into a residential weed control program. So please just sit there while the old land use movie is re-run. {...sigh...} Oh, well, perhaps there is some solace in this one being a "Town Center", not a "Towne Centre".

Proposed site plan. Building pads for tenants 35-37 and 40 are generic. No specific tenants have been determined as of March 2017. (Source: Merlone Geier)





Is "Something" always "Better than Nothing"?

Next week (3/23/2017) the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC) holds its regular monthly meeting at the Arden Dimick library. One of the projects on its agenda is particularly interesting because it just screams "urban planning failure". The project, on the agenda as "PLNP2016-00454 Pine Time Extension" is a request to extend for 5 years the time for a developer pipe-dream approved back in 2007. The site is still vacant to this day. It is a 1.7 acre triangular parcel that was one of the victims when Caltrans built the Business80 freeway back in the day. Constrained by the freeway sound wall (which delineates the boundary between the City of Sacramento on the freeway side and Arden Arcade on the other) on the hypotenuse, suburban backyards on the east and 1-story apartments on the south, the site was designated for business/professional offices long ago. The business/professional office market ignored it for years. So when a developer proposed cramming 19 houses into the site instead, the County -- driven by its mantra that "something is better than nothing" -- seized the opportunity. The Supervisors made the usual findings about how traffic and other factors would not matter, said it was OK to have two story houses just a few feet from the backyards of the adjacent neighborhood because the builder wasn't going to put windows on the east side of those houses, and never really asked whether it made sense to stuff 19 houses into what is essentially a gated community on a parcel that is, in reality, nearly cut off from the rest of the world. Now, after 10 years have passed without anything being built on the parcel, there is a request to extend the old approval for another 5 years. Once again, whether or not the prior approval mades sense, "something is better than nothing". Really? 

Cleo Way and the freeway sound wall at the west side of the site are the eastern boundary of the City of Sacramento. Howe Avenue is a third of a mile eastward from the project's only entry.