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An overflow crowd packed Sacramento City Hall Thursday night for a public hearing on the environmental impact report for the proposed Curtis Park Village development.
With a unanimous vote, the City Council certified the report following four hours of testimony, staff reports and council discussion on the expected impact of developer Paul Petrovich's $211 million plan to construct housing and businesses on an old Western Pacific railyard near Sacramento City College.
More than 400 people filled the council chamber and an upstairs overflow room. Saying they don't oppose the infill project, some nearby residents sought to postpone a decision by asking for an environmental impact report (EIR) they consider to be inadequate to be recirculated and revised.
"We've been accused of being emotional about this issue. And we are," said Gary Weinberg, a Sixth Avenue resident. "We are because we live in a neighborhood that we adore, and we want it to stay that way."
Petrovich has proposed turning 72 acres of vacant, toxic land into a development containing 527 homes and apartments, 259,000 square feet of retail and office space, and a 6.8-acre park between the college, Curtis Park and Land Park. On Friday, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control halted Petrovich's remediation efforts at the site until the council's vote.
In an 11th-hour surprise just before the vote, City Council member Lauren Hammond unveiled a five-point compromise she helped hammer out in recent days to address issues raised by neighbors.
"The plan before us tonight reflects a lot of hard work on the part of the residents, as well as the developer," said Hammond, whose district includes the site. "In the end, it will be worth it."
Petrovich said he has spent $25 million cleaning up 150,000 tons of contaminants at the site. He asked the council to certify the EIR so he can take the next step — working with DTSC to determine how to handle the remaining 350,000 tons that has since been discovered. At the meeting, he said he hopes to fit all remaining toxins under a mixed-use commercial area. But some may need to go under hardscape or a containment cell in the park, he added.
Residents who belong to the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association remain opposed to the latter. Hammond identified that as the only sticking point.
"We strongly believe there should be no toxins under the park," said Rosanna Herber, the group's president. Other concerns were submitted to the council in a 28-page letter. She challenged Mayor Kevin Johnson to ask federal and state agencies for funds to remove toxins that would otherwise be encapsulated in the park.
Hammond said the decision about whether the park can be used to contain the contaminants is out of the council's hands.
"That decision rests with the Department of Toxic Substance Control. That is state law," she said.
However, Council Member Bonnie Pannell said she will not support a containment cell in the park. Following applause from residents, Pannell led a discussion with staff until she was assured the council would consider that issue at a later date.
The site is being cleaned to commercial and mixed-use standards in some areas, and residential in others, said Jennifer Hageman, a senior planner.
A majority in the crowd identified themselves as Curtis Park residents. Early in the hearing, about half the people in council chambers stood in support Petrovich. He identified them as people who live or work or want jobs in the neighborhood. Some wore "YIMBY" or "Yes In My Backyard" buttons.
Petrovich also asked the council to consider the project's economic impact via impact and building permit fees, public improvements, property taxes and jobs.
"This will provide $1 billion in stimulus funds to this local economy," he said.
Members of the neighborhood group say the plan is too suburban for the area. They've said they would prefer commercial space being decreased to 150,000 square feet in the hope that would reduce traffic and the possibility of a strip mall being built there.
Petrovich said he now plans to use 10 building styles found in the original Curtis Park blueprint from the 1930s and 1940s, as well as traditional duplexes and four-plexes, to "knit this together" with existing neighborhoods.
The project fits nearby uses and the neighborhood, as well as the city's General Plan for 2030, said Heather Forest, an associate planner with the city's Community Development Department. In a report to the council, staff also said the project is "pedestrian-friendly" and was designed to decrease use of cars through its walkability and its location near public transit.
"We've got a great project before us," said Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Petrovich asked the council to consider adopting CEQA findings and other matters at another meeting. City staff asked the council to postpone a decision on zoning changes.
Despite all the compromises, Hammond said she feared a lawsuit may be filed in the future.
"Somebody is going to sue us: Either the neighbors, or Paul," she said. "But I think this is as close as we're gonna go."