I am writing to comment on “North Natomas: Cutting Edge or Only More of the Same?” (CP&DR Local Watch, October 2005), an article that expressed several concerns about development in the North Natomas area of Sacramento.

The article highlights the diligent efforts of collaborative working groups in the 1990s to create the North Natomas Community Plan, “a ‘smart growth’ plan before there was such a term.” The “smart-growth” concept encompasses many amenities, including a transit-oriented system of neighborhoods, with roads and pedestrian and cycling routes, parks, open space, schools, and access to the proposed Downtown-Natomas-Airport (DNA) light rail line. However, the article expresses concerns regarding whether development is following that plan, and, in particular, voices concerns about the proposed Greenbriar project.

Greenbriar, however, is a logical development project that reflects these exact “smart growth” principles and should have been included in the North Natomas Community Plan from the beginning for several reasons. First, the map used in the CP&DR article does not show the Greenbriar project location and thus does not fully reflect that the project is surrounded on three sides by development. Greenbriar is situated adjacent to Metro Air Park between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 and is essentially a “notch” in the existing plan. Greenbriar is designed as a pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented infill project on the proposed DNA line, a perfect opportunity for a creative infill, “smart-growth,” project. In fact, Sacramento Regional Transit (RT) supports the Greenbriar project. At the August 3, 2005, Local Agency Formation Commission meeting, Dr. Beverly Scott, CEO/general manager of Sacramento RT, testified to RT’s “strong support” of the annexation of the Greenbriar project into the City of Sacramento. Dr. Scott testified that the “project is not just an assemblage of a lot of good elements. [RT] think[s] that [the project] . . . really tries to create an overall environment that is transit supportive.”

During the design process of this project, the planners incorporated the seven growth principles established by the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s (SACOG) Blueprint process: transportation choices, mixed-use development, compact development, housing choice/diversity, use of existing assets, quality design, and natural resources conservation. The result of these considerations is a project with many housing options for residents employed in the metro Sacramento area that incorporates easily accessible public transportation with sidewalks and green space for pedestrians and cyclists in a vital, mixed-use neighborhood set in a beautiful tree-lined community. Indeed, SACOG also testified before the Local Agency Formation Commission in support of the Greenbriar project.

Moreover, Greenbriar will significantly enhance the financial viability of the proposed DNA line. The DNA line will expand transit service from downtown Sacramento and the airport and promote patterns of smart growth while minimizing environmental impacts, but the process of obtaining federal funding for light rail transit (LRT) projects is extremely competitive. The higher the ridership, the more cost effective, and therefore competitive, the LRT project. Greenbriar will generate an estimated 1,162 daily riders, thereby making the DNA significantly more viable for federal funding. According to Dr. Beverly Scott, the Greenbriar station’s 1,162 boardings would put the station within RT’s top quarter in terms of transit utilization. Oddly, the Environmental Council of Sacramento and Sierra Club are quoted in the article as opposing the extension of the LRT line to the airport.

Finally, the article's supposition that developers are not willing to build at higher densities is not accurate. The article states, quoting Randy Pestor, a former member of the Natomas Community Association's planning committee, that “[i]t's been a real effort to get developers to build at a higher density. They come in with proposals at densities well below the community plan, and we have had to consistently push for higher densities.” For developers, however, this has not been the case. Several recent projects in the North (and South) Natomas area have attempted to incorporate higher densities, but neighbors have adamantly opposed these developments. In many instances where projects have proposed higher densities, several neighbors and homeowners associations have attended Planning Commission and City Council meetings to voice their opposition to medium or high densities. Developers of these projects, however, steadfastly supported higher densities, and as a result there are several higher density developments in the Natomas area, between 10-20 dwelling units per acre, that are consistent with the North Natomas Community Plan. Greenbriar is proposing higher densities; it is the kind of development that Mr. Pestor wants to see.

Tina A. Thomas, counsel for AKT Development