The 9 Principles Guiding The Railyards Specific Plan

Image of the rooftops of the historic buildings at the Railyards. Learn more about the Railyards Specific Plan.

The 9 Principles Guiding The Railyards Specific Plan

September 27, 2017 | By The Railyards

The Railyards is one of the largest urban infill projects in the nation. This major redevelopment project is providing the City of Sacramento with an opportunity to move away from old patterns of decentralization and suburban sprawl which can lead to traffic congestion, deterioration of air quality, and loss of land and open space resources.

Opening up The Railyards area will connect downtown and the River District, doubling the size of downtown Sacramento and providing an important first step as Sacramento focuses on regional growth over the next century.

This project will unfold over many years, and certain planned elements or details may change as The Railyards development marches forward. But nine principles will remain in place to guide the development forward.

These principles provide the broadest and most overarching set of guidance for the development of The Sacramento Railyards.

#1: Develop The Railyards to be a National Leader in Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is crucial to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. This topic is becoming more and more prominent in development as society grows to understand the links between sustainable development and reduced greenhouse emissions and counteracting global warming.

The State of California has established its own metrics for sustainability, which will guide the development in The Railyards.

Some of the principles of sustainable development include:

  • sustainable building sites and land use patterns
  • urban infill
  • resource conservation
  • multi‐modal transportation choices
  • respect for environmental resources
  • reuse of existing buildings and other resources
  • access to open space
  • integration of trees and other vegetation

Development in The Railyards will follow a key principle of sustainability by redeveloping a contaminated site with new uses that promote resource conservation, economic prosperity and social equity.

The Railyards will serve as a major urban infill project for Sacramento, easing encroachment of new development on greenfield sites and minimizing Sacramento’s ecological footprint. The compact pattern of proposed development will also support area transit, minimizing the need for employees, residents and visitors of The Railyards to use automobiles.

The Railyards Specific Plan (RSP) includes policies and regulations to ensure the facilitation of pedestrian and bicycle transportation. The RSP also contains policies to ensure that building sites that are oriented to receive natural sunlight. The Specific Plan promotes a reduction in solid waste, water usage, and energy usage, also promoting a reduction in negative effects on environmental resources through the mitigation of stormwater runoff, air pollution, and wastewater generation.

The first principle guiding development in The Railyards will propel the City of Sacramento toward its goal of becoming a national leader in sustainable development.

#2: Re-establish Downtown as the Region’s Cultural, Commercial and Community Hub

Downtown Sacramento has a long history as the cultural, commercial, and community hub for the region. From the Gold Rush to the development of the Transcontinental Railroad, Sacramento served as the heartbeat of the region. This vitality and sense of strength resulted in Sacramento being chosen as the capitol of California.

However, as years passed and the region expanded and sprawled, the strength and vitality of downtown Sacramento waned.

Today, downtown Sacramento is experiencing a resurgence.

Projects like The Railyards, the Golden 1 Arena, Downtown Commons, redevelopment of the 700 block of K Street, proposed new hotel and office development, new urban mixed‐use housing projects along the 16th Street corridor, and new business start‐ups as well as business moving back to the area are breathing new life into Sacramento.

The redevelopment of The Railyards provides an opportunity for downtown Sacramento to re‐establish itself as the cultural, commercial, and community center of the region. The Railyards project will preserve currently underutilized historic structures and provide urban housing, commercial, and entertainment for the area. It will connect and integrate downtown Sacramento with the Sacramento River, as well as the Richards area and River District to the north. Additionally, The Railyards will make the downtown area more competitive with retail and commercial centers in suburban locations.

By doubling the size of downtown, connecting adjacent districts and areas together, and providing a place where people can live, work, and play, The Railyards is a crucial element in Sacramento’s revival.

#3: Reinforce the Downtown as a Regional Transportation Hub

The Railyards area has played a historic transportation role within the City and region. Once, The Railyards was the epicenter of transportation and innovation in the area. While its function as a railroad yard and fabrication/ maintenance facility has declined, there’s an opportunity for the area to once again be a transportation hub for Sacramento.

The development of viable alternatives to automobile dependency is critical to resolving environmental issues, and California is committed to the creation of a comprehensive statewide intercity and commuter rail network, like the Capitol Corridor service that links Sacramento with the Bay Area.

The Railyards plan calls for the creation of a “state‐of‐the‐art” intermodal transportation facility that will provide a direct transfer between all transit modes, enhancing the viability of commuter and light rail services and promoting transit as a convenient alternative to the automobile.

Beyond its transit function, the facility can also serve as a major catalyst for redevelopment of The Railyards area and become a principal activity center within the Central City.

The Railyards Specific Plan also envisions extensions of 5th Street, 6th Street, and 10th Street as complementary to the downtown street grid system. 7th Street will continue to be a transit‐priority boulevard that will serve as the alignment for the future Sacramento Downtown/Natomas/Airport (DNA) light rail line and provide a transit connection from the northern neighborhoods to downtown.

Pedestrian and bicycle facilities are planned throughout The Railyards area, providing comprehensive non‐motorized access to the Riverfront, the Sacramento Valley Station, and open space amenities.

Whether its by bike, train, light rail, or other alternative mode of transportation, The Railyards plan envisions a city on the move without being automobile dependent.

#4: Reinforce the Downtown as a Major Employment Center

Downtown Sacramento currently only captures one quarter of the regional office market. Increasing employment opportunities in the downtown and Central City, where transit service is most readily available, is a critical component of an overall growth management and smart growth approach for the area.

The Railyards plan aims to reinforce downtown Sacramento as a major employment center by supporting a mix of retail, entertainment, office, and civic uses with a mix of larger floorplate low- and mid-rise mixed use buildings that include both housing and retail, as well as high-density, high-rise office buildings like those currently found downtown.

Projects like the MLS stadium and Kaiser Hospital will bring employment to The Railyards, but that’s not all. In order for the project to truly meet its goals for sustainability and as a mixed-use development, it will provide space for and welcome businesses from private and public sectors, retail, restaurant, creative office space, and a wide variety of industries.

But The Railyards is more than just a place where businesses can flourish. It will also be a place to call home.

#5: Reinforce Downtown as a Place to Live

While the Central City of Sacramento is known for its attractive historic neighborhoods, the Downtown still functions primarily as an employment center, with most people commuting from the outlying suburbs each day.

The Railyards area provides a major opportunity to reinforce the role of the downtown as a place to live, and a place that preserves and builds upon the historic neighborhood fabric of the Central City.

Apart from the River District area to the north, no other site within the Central City offers such a significant land resource for the establishment of new residential uses, nor provides the opportunity to expand the amenities available to residents and visitors of the downtown.

The Specific Plan responds to this principle by providing for the addition of approximately 6,000 to 10,000 new residential units integrated with a diverse range of uses and amenities. Mixed‐use developments of medium to high‐density housing, with retail and commercial uses at street level, will create a neighborhood feel in each of the districts.

In addition, the housing program provides for a wide range of multi‐family housing types, income levels, and densities, creating an array of options for different population segments.

One of the initial projects planned for The Railyards is a mixed-use project featuring ground-floor retail space below residential housing where modern day pioneers can be the first to lease -- and the first to call The Railyards home. Residential housing is expected to be available in 2020.

#6: Complete the Central City's Circulation System

The opening up of The Railyards area offers a major opportunity to improve the distribution of traffic within the downtown.

The Railyards site occupies an area equivalent to 60 downtown blocks with only one public street (7th Street) that extends north‐south through the site to the River District. This has forced the circulation system of the Central City to work its way around the Railyards area -- causing some major congestion points along the corridors leading to downtown.

To alleviate some of the congestion and allow for a freer flow of traffic throughout the Central City, the Railyards plan calls for the extension of key city streets through the plan area.

  • North from the downtown, 5th, and 6th Streets will be extended to North B Street as major connectors between the Central City, The Railyards area, and providing access to Railyards Boulevard and Camille Lane that connects to the newly energized riverfront.
  • Railyards Boulevard will provide a major entry to The Railyards area from 10th and 12th Streets (via an improved North B Street), diverting traffic that currently flows through the Alkali Flat neighborhood.
  • Railyards Boulevard will terminate just before the Sacramento River and connect to Interstate 5, northbound through Bercut Drive and southbound along Jibboom Street pending changes by the proposed I Street Bridge project.

This provides the basic framework that will help improve the circulation system of the City and allow for easier access through the area.

#7: Preserve the Historic and Cultural Resources of the Area

Sacramento’s history is golden. The preservation of historic resources within The Railyards area is particularly important to Sacramento because of their contribution to the evolution and character of both the City and the region.

The Railyards will preserve and embrace its historic legacy.

The Railyards plan responds to this planning principle by identifying two primary areas for preservation: the Depot (Sacramento Valley Station) and the nineteenth century Central Shops immediately to the north.

The historic Southern Pacific Railroad Sacramento Depot (now known as Sacramento Valley Station) building will be renovated and preserved to provide an imposing civic “front” to the Railyards area and probably the most familiar and recognizable feature of the site.

The Depot is being rehabilitated as a prominent central component of the Depot District. Development surrounding the Depot will be scaled to extend the Central City, and stepped back to respect the architectural integrity of the Depot building. The Depot building is a major civic gathering space for the Railyards area and the downtown.

While the Depot building is a well‐known historic landmark, the nineteenth century complex of industrial warehouse structures known as the Central Shops has been largely inaccessible to the public. Few people outside those who worked in the facility have walked the maze of passages and alleys that lace their way through this small city of brick, concrete, and metal buildings, experienced the lofty skylight interior spaces or seen the gantries moving enormous engine parts with grace and ease.

The water tower, located just northeast of the Central Shops, is also a significant landmark.

The Railyards plan calls for these structures to be rehabilitated and adaptively reused, resulting in the creation of a nationally significant historic district of public‐oriented cultural, commercial, entertainment, educational, and recreational uses.

#8: Reconnect Downtown and the Central City with the Rivers

Sacramento enjoys a unique natural setting at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, where gold miners from around the world came up from San Francisco on their way to the gold fields, and where agricultural goods from the rich Central Valley were shipped to the Bay Area and the world beyond.

Today, the rivers are highly valued recreational and habitat resources and the American River Parkway link the downtown with outlying communities through an extensive system of trails and open spaces.

With the construction of the railroad levees, and more recently the Interstate 5 freeway, downtown Sacramento has been cut off from both the Sacramento and American Rivers. The Railyards area is in a pivotal position between the downtown and these rivers; and its redevelopment offers the opportunity to overcome the barrier of these major transportation facilities and to create new linkages that will make the rivers a more integral part of the downtown experience.

The Railyards plan calls for new connections to be forged between downtown and the American River Parkway by way of 5th, 7th, and 10th streets. The plan also calls for connections to be created to the Sacramento River beneath the I5 viaducts, creating direct pedestrian connections between Old Sacramento and the Historic Central Shops District.

With these improvements, the riverfronts will provide a continuous system of pedestrian trails, linking key activity centers and destinations. Sacramento is looking to a future with a revived riverfront, and the Railyards has an important role to play in bringing people back to the water.

#9: Create an Attractive and Distinctive Urban Place

The Railyards will pay homage to the area’s historic significance and will have a distinct sense of place, but it will also seamlessly tie together the surrounding districts, neighborhoods, and areas.

For decades, the Railyards has been removed and isolated from the downtown and Central City. The former industrial rail yard had become a physical barrier around which the rest of downtown grew. By redeveloping the area and connecting it to adjacent neighborhoods, The Railyards area will become an integral part of its surroundings.

In the mid-nineteenth century, John Sutter Jr. laid out a pattern of streets and blocks that created a north-south grid of blocks that give much of downtown Sacramento the character it has today. Although there are several major exceptions, most of the area is laid out in this grid-pattern with blocks measuring approximately 350 square feet. In comparison, the Richards Area north of The Railyards area utilizes a traditional arterial system. The Railyards plan effectively links these two traditional systems together.

The plan calls for the distinctive pattern of blocks and streets within the Central City to be extended into The Railyards and to connect The Railyards to the River District Area.

Within this pattern, the Central Shops complex will provide a strong and meaningful focal point.

In the spirit of downtown Sacramento, all streets within the Railyards planning area will be designed to be extremely pedestrian-friendly, with generous sidewalk widths, active ground floor uses, articulated and transparent facades, quality building materials, street amenities and furnishings, and street trees that provide shade and greenery.

Buildings within The Railyards area will be designed to extend and reinforce downtown Sacramento’s fabric and skyline. Development heights will transition downward to the homes in Alkali Flat and the historic Central Shops. New buildings will be carefully designed to give spatial definition to major corridors through the area, such as Railyards Boulevard, and to frame key open space features like linear parks and the Central Shops District.

Building types will reinforce the active, pedestrian quality of the area by including ground‐level commercial mixed with residential uses along streets.

The Railyards project will not be completed in a matter of days, months, or years. This infill development project will take time as the 244+ acre historic site is transformed into a thriving, mixed-use, urban community. Over time, individual plan components may shift or change along with State development regulations and City of Sacramento policies and guidelines. However, these nine principles will propel The Railyards project forward, guiding the area into an exciting future for Sacramento.

Image of the Railyards courtesy of Juliet Haas.

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