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City takes next step towards development of vacant property at Sylvan Corners

Sylvan Middle School property, sylvan corners
The City of Citrus Heights voted to declare an 11.44-acre vacant parcel at Sylvan Corners to be “surplus property” on Dec. 12, 2019.

Sentinel staff report–
The Citrus Heights City Council earlier this month voted to take the next step towards the long-anticipated development of the former Sylvan Middle School property at Sylvan Corners, and also indicated what kind of development will be likely in the future.

The council voted 4-0 on Dec. 12 to declare the 11.44-acre parcel to be “surplus property,” which is a necessary step towards selling the city-owned property to a private developer. The move was expected, ever since the city opted to purchase the property earlier this year for $3.43 million, as city leaders said their intent was to buy the property in order to have more say over what a future developer will do with the it, and then sell it.

So what kind of development does the city want at the site?

Although no discussion about the item was made during the council meeting, a 30-minute study session was held before the council meeting where staff presented various scenarios for developing the property and sought further direction from the council.

Associate City Planner Alison Bermudez told the council specific uses haven’t been solidified yet, pending the completion of a market study by a consultant, but she laid out general goals city staff have been drafting for the site.

“We want to encourage commercial uses, such as cafe’s that have outdoor dining, offices that incorporate outdoor areas and other similar uses,” she said. “And we really are discouraging auto-intensive uses (like) drive-thru’s, gas stations — activity that would put cars at that roadway.”

“Excessive retail” would also be avoided, as Bermudez said the city already has sufficient existing retail, with plenty of vacancies. A wall separating the development from Auburn Boulevard would also not be desired.

“Housing types could be for sale, they could be for rent, they could be a mixed-use concept,” said Bermudez, mentioning options for commercial on the first floor with residential above. “Nothing real clear saying you can or can’t do this, but really kind of to give some context of what we’re looking for.”

She also cited a goal to create an “active space” at Sylvan Corners with a plaza, where “people can bike or walk or maybe sit out at a cafe or drink some coffee or have lunch.”

Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, who recently concluded her latest one-year term as the city’s mayor, reiterated her support for mixed-use development at the site during the study session.

“I don’t want it to be strictly residential. I think we need to make it a more interesting piece of property than just straight housing,” said Bruins, calling the property a “critical focal point” and the “hub of the community.”

“We have a wonderful opportunity to make it a very attractive offering,” she said, voicing support for outdoor dining and small shops being incorporated at the site, but opposing any large commercial. “I think large commercial would be inappropriate for that site. It’s just too small a site.”

Dining options appeared to have support of most council members, with Councilwoman Porsche Middleton commenting that more food options “would probably encourage students to not cross that busy street,” referring to students at Sylvan Middle School crossing Auburn Boulevard to get to Starbucks and other businesses after school.

Sylvan Cemetery’s interest
Sylvan Cemetery, which is located adjacent to the northern end of the vacant property and is nearing capacity, has expressed interest in purchasing a portion of the property. A representative from the cemetery spoke during the study session and said the cemetery is interested in a 2.33-acre portion of the property in order to extend the cemetery’s capacity for another 10 to 15 years.

Several council members addressed the cemetery’s interest, but both Bruins and Councilman Jeff Slowey said the two-plus acres being sought may be a bit too large.

“If we sold the total 2.33 acres to the cemetery, what will that do to limit any options that we have as far as being attractive to the developer?” said Bruins, noting that doing so would put the property under 10 acres. “That’s a little tight to me.”

The council directed staff to look into options for selling the full 2.33-acres, or a smaller-sized portion, to the cemetery, focusing on what impact doing so would have on development opportunities for the vacant Sylvan parcel.

The school district, who sold the property to the city, carved out a two-acre portion of the property prior to the sale for future use associated with the new Sylvan Middle School next door. According to Slowey, intended use will likely be a gymnasium.

What’s next?
Since voting to purchase the property earlier this year in May, city staff said they concluded a 60-day “due diligence” period to further investigate and inspect the property. A consultant has also been selected to conduct a thorough market analysis of the property and present the findings at the City Council’s Feb. 13 meeting next year.

The analysis is considered a key part of determining feasibility of development at the property and will provide assessment of “market constraints, retail leakage, demographics, construction trends, pricing/rents, and underlying demand of the area,” according to a staff presentation to the council.

Draft planning goals for the property will also be finalized by the Feb. 13 meeting and will be presented to the council for final approval. The property will then be marketed to private developers, with the goal of finding a developer who shares the same vision as the city for the property.

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