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City approves ‘bold, exciting’ plan to transform Sunrise Mall

An artistic rendering of development envisioned in the city’s Specific Plan for Sunrise Mall.

Sentinel staff report–
Wednesday’s City Council meeting concluded with a cheer, as the city unanimously voted to approve a plan to guide redevelopment of Sunrise Mall and re-zone the nearly 100-acre property to allow for hotels, entertainment, office space, and more than 2,000 residential units.

“This plan — it’s bold, it’s big, but it reflects the dreams of Citrus Heights,” said Vice Mayor Porsche Middleton just prior to the vote, commenting on the plan incorporating input from residents through a series of public workshops and online comments.

The final approval comes more than two years after the city first awarded a $1.2 million contract to a San Francisco-based architectural and planning firm, Gensler, for the creation of a “shovel ready” plan to comprehensively guide future development of the mall property.

The plan envisions creating a walkable “21st Century Main Street,” with five big ideas guiding the plan: creating an economic engine, livable neighborhoods, streets for people, connected green spaces, and making the site a “community and regional destination.”

The approved plan calls for tripling the development allowed at the site, with a maximum of 480 hotel rooms, 2,220 residential units, 320,000-square-feet of retail, 960,000-square-feet of office space, 450,000-square-feet of community/institutional uses, and 6,400 parking spots.

The plan also calls for an “eye-catching and iconic shade structure” of at least 24,000-square-feet in size to greet pedestrians entering a main event plaza off Sunrise Boulevard. Envisioned behind that structure is a large 80,000-square-foot “Sunrise Commons” to serve as a main gathering hub, ideal for events.

The plan, if fully built out, is projected to bring more than 3,400 permanent jobs and $500 million in taxes to the region over the first 20 years in operation, of which Citrus Heights would receive nearly $100 million. A fiscal impact report included in the plan shows a projected $18 million in property tax would be allocated to Citrus Heights along with $30 million in sales tax, and $51 million in hotel occupancy taxes.

Related: What about traffic, parking if Sunrise Mall is redeveloped?

Although the plan lays out general guidelines for development, city leaders emphasized the plan is also flexible to adapt to changing market demands.

“Given what we’re seeing today, we know it’s not going to look exactly like this as it builds out,” said Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins during remarks at the meeting, praising the plan’s flexible framework.

The city has also now completed and approved a required environmental impact report for the project, which will streamline approval for any development activity at the site.

Will the plan actually happen?
Some skepticism about the plan has been heard on the council and in the community over the past few years, but several council members said their perspective has changed.

Councilman Tim Schaefer said he had initial concerns about “hurdles” the plan faced, but has since changed his mind. He said he was especially heartened to see a letter of support for the plan from the mall’s majority owner, Namdar Realty Group, which says in part: “We have been working closely with city staff to discuss redevelopment options for our property, and support the approval of the Sunrise Mall specific plan.”

“I thought I’d never see those words,” said Schaefer after reading a portion of the letter aloud and praising city staff for working with the mall’s private owners. “We’re not done crossing the hurdles yet, but… I think we found our stride. I think we’ll be able to forge forward and overcome some of the funding issues that we’re concerned about, but I think that overall this is very exciting.”

Councilman Bret Daniels also had expressed concern initially about the city developing a “pie-in-the-sky” plan on paper that would never happen in reality, but on Wednesday he said he was “very happy” with the plan for the mall and said “it is something I think we will see at some point in Citrus Heights.”

The next step will be for private developers to come forward with proposals for the site, in line with guidelines spelled out in the plan. City staff have said redevelopment will likely take 20 years and come in four phases, with the first areas of the mall to see development activity likely being the perimeter areas, currently taken up by mostly unused parking spaces around the mall.

Want to share your thoughts about Sunrise Mall?  To submit a letter to the editor online, click here.

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