Mixed-Use Walkable Communities

and other 21st Century Planning Concepts

SACOG Board Study Sessions

I’m honored to represent Yuba County on the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) Board of Directors.  SACOG is designated by the federal government as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Sacramento region, which includes the counties of Yuba, Sutter, Placer, El Dorado, Yolo, and Sacramento.  You can learn more about SACOG at https://www.sacog.org/about-sacog

While land use planning is made at the City and County level, there is a significant link between regional land use patterns and the regional transportation network.  Therefore, SACOG has an interest in local land use planning.  For this reason, SACOG worked with community members and local jurisdictions to adopt a smart growth plan for our region back in 2004.  It was called the 2004 Sacramento Regional Blueprint.  The link between regional planning and regional transportation also drives regular presentations and discussions at SACOG board meetings, as well as board study sessions to learn how other regions are meeting transportation and housing goals through smart growth.  I’ve been fortunate to participate in several board study sessions, including one to the Salt Lake Valley and two to the Washington DC area as part of Cap-to-Cap, one in Maryland, and one in Virginia.

Some of the development concepts we explore during these sessions include housing diversity, mixed-use development, walkable communities, placemaking, and transit-oriented development.  I’m going to share a bit about each one, including my thoughts.

Housing Diversity

Many places across our state and our nation are facing a housing affordability crisis.  Even though Yuba County is “relatively” affordable when compared to many other areas in the Sacramento region, we are not immune to this challenge.  Overall, the nation isn’t building enough housing to keep up with demand, which caused prices to rise significantly.  With over 500 new single-family homes expected to be built this year in Yuba County, I think we are certainly doing our part, at least when it comes to large-single family homes.  We also have multiple “affordable housing “projects underway.  However, like many other areas, we aren’t building a diversity of housing types, so there is a significant “missing middle” when it comes to housing options in Yuba County.  This includes things like apartments, condos, townhomes, zero lot line homes, duplexes, and small lot entry-level single-family homes.

My thoughts…

We shouldn’t stop building single-family homes on large lots, there is a demand for that, and with cheaper land prices than the rest of the region, Yuba County is an ideal location for them.  However, we should be looking for opportunities to encourage a diversity of housing development to meet the needs of all our current and future residents.  One of the biggest challenges I hear from commanders at Beale AFB is that Yuba County has a lack of nice, entry-level, housing options.  Airmen want to live here but can’t find quality housing options in their price range.  What about young adults, single adults, empty nesters, and seniors?  What is being built to meet their housing needs?  The County doesn’t control what is built, but we can help shape it through zoning and planning, and I think we can do better.

Not only does increasing housing diversity and adding some additional density increase options and affordability, but it also helps preserve our agriculture and our open space; two things that are important to our way of life and our quality of life here in Yuba County.  In the last general plan update, Yuba County developed a concept called the Valley Growth Boundry.  This is an area on the valley floor, near existing communities, where growth is occurring or is planned to occur.  At some point in time, the area within the Valley Growth Boundary will be built out.  When that happens, it’s unlikely that development will stop.  Instead, additional farmland and open space will be slated for development and eventually urbanized.  If we increase the density of some of the development that occurs within the Valley Growth Boundary, we extend the time it will take to develop those areas and push additional loss of open space and farmland further out into the future.

We need to ensure our zoning and policies encourage developers to build a variety of housing types in Yuba County.  If the market, and existing neighbors, are supportive, I also think we should welcome a diversity of housing designs.  What do you think?

* These pictures are from the Daybreak community in South Jordan UT.  It’s a greenfield development, much like Plumas Lake, and is located a similar distance from the core of its metro area.  Daybreak embraced a diversity of housing, both in housing type as well as in housing design.  You’ll notice a mix of densities in relative proximity to each other.  You’ll also notice modern architecture on one block with a traditional craftsman design on the next.  I feel like this enhances the look of the community.  What do you think?

Mixed Use Development

Mixed-use development is the combination of residential and non-residential buildings planned and developed within an area.  Starting in the mid-1900s, suburban development focused on separating land uses so that residential and commercial areas were kept separate and district.  This land use pattern encourages driving and often makes walking and biking to stores and services, or work, difficult and undesirable.  In historic downtowns, such as Marysville, mixing residential and commercial businesses in the same area was the norm.  Now, many urban areas are returning to this type of development pattern, and it’s becoming increasingly desirable to live somewhere that allows you to walk or bike to nearby restaurants, entertainment, stores, and other services.  A lot of historical, and current, mixed-use developments are vertical mixed-use, which have commercial businesses on the bottom floor with multiple residential floors on top of that.  Here in the Sacramento region, most mixed-use development is occurring in downtown Sacramento, but it doesn’t have to be limited to the urban core.  In other regions, vertical mixed-use developments are successful in suburban areas, replacing former commercial centers and former industrial sites with walkable mixed-use developments.  There are even examples of mixed-use in brand new suburban developments like Plumas Lake.

My thoughts…

I’d love to see a mixed-use downtown area developed on commercial property in Plumas Lake.  When Plumas Lake was planned in the 1990’s it was expected there would be multiple big box stores, like Target and Home Depot, with large parking lots.  Sufficient commercial land was set aside to support commercial development of that type, but times have changed, thanks to Amazon and online shopping, it’s less likely big box stores will see Plumas Lake as a good investment.  Why not use some of that space to create a walkable downtown area with a few floors of residential development on top of things like bars, restaurants, and other services needed by the community?  Any mixed-use “downtown” in Plumas Lake would likely only have 2 stories of residential on top of a commercial level.  I also think that downtown Marysville is ideal for this kind of development.

*This picture is of The Village at Shirlington in Arlington VA.  This walkable “downtown” mixed-use development sits on the site of a former mid-1900s suburban shopping center.  Now, it’s a thriving area with residents, entertainment, restaurants, and bars.

*This is a mixed-use redevelopment project on Columbia Pike in Arlington VA.  Think of a street like Watt Ave in Sacramento, Sunrise Blvd in Citrus Heights, or even North Beale Rd in Linda; a typical late 1900’s commercial corridor with gas stations and strip malls along a major street with single-family homes back behind the commercial.  What I liked best about this area is that we were able to see the redevelopment in progress.  While some properties were modern mixed-use developments, they sat adjacent to gas stations and strip malls; it’s an area in transition.  The mixed-use development we visited had a courtyard, parking, residential, a Starbucks, and a grocery store, and was open to the traditional single-family development back behind it.  It supported both walkability and driving.  It supported choice and flexability.

Walkable Communities & Place Making

Neighborhood walkability is a measure of how well a neighborhood promotes active forms of transportation, such as walking, biking, and scootering. A highly walkable neighborhood has a variety of destinations within walking distance, well-connected streets and a mix of land uses.  Placemaking is a people-centered approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces.

When combined, placemaking and walkability create vibrant community spaces where people want to be and where they engage with their friends and neighbors.  There is a new planning concept called the “15 Minute City” where communities are designed so that no resident is more than a 15-minute walk from services they might use on a regular basis (such as a market, restaurant, coffee house, parks, etc.)

My thoughts…

Having services and amazing spaces within a 15-minute walk sounds like a great place to live to me.  What do you think?  Would you want to live in a place where desirable spaces and services were less than a 15-minute walk from your house?  Being a small town, many Wheatland residents are within a 15-minute walk from parks and services.  Most Plumas Lake residents are within 15-minutes of a park and many are also within 15-minutes of future commercial development.  However, that isn’t the case for everyone, and if the Plumas Lake Specific Plan is updated, this is a concept I’d love to see included as part of an update.  I’m excited about the trail network planned for Plumas Lake as it will make the community even more walkable.  Hopefully, future development in Wheatland will also take walkability and placemaking into account as future neighborhoods are designed.

*Shown here are two north/south bike paths planned for Plumas Lake.  This is in addition to the existing Bear River Habitat Trail that runs along the railroad tracks from Algodon Rd to the Bear River on the east side of Highway 70.  Also, there is a proposed Three Rivers Trail Parkway network that would add trails along the Yuba River, Feather River, and Bear River in south Yuba County; and would connect Plumas Lake & Wheatland along the Bear River.  Explore the Sacramento Region Six-County Trail Network plan, including Yuba County, here.

* Shown here is a mixed-used walkable redevelopment project in Fairfax VA called Mosaic.  It’s about 15 miles from downtown DC on a former industrial site.  This is of course much more dense and urban than anything that would work for Yuba County, but I share it to illustrate the concepts of mixed-use, walkability, and placemaking.  Not only can people, live, shop, and dine within walking distance, there is an amazing common space where people gather and movies and entertainment can be shown on a large screen.  Do you think these concepts could be customized and scaled down to work in a place like south Yuba County?  Would you want to live in/near a place like this?

* This set of pictures is from a new suburban greenfield development in South Jordan UT called Daybreak.  This development is about 25 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, close to the distance that Plumas Lake is from downtown Sacramento.  The Daybreak community illustrates the concepts of mixed-use, walkability, placemaking, and housing diversity.  This little lake looks inviting and is surrounded by walking trails, commercial, office space, multi-family residential, and single-family residential.  While not visible in these pictures, as you continue outward from this lake area, which serves as a downtown of sorts, the concepts of walkability, mixed-use, and housing diversity continue.  There is also a light rail station in the community.  Would you want to live in a place like Daybreak?

Transit Oriented Development

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a planning and design strategy that consists of promoting urban development that is compact, mixed-use, pedestrian and bicycle friendly, and closely integrated with mass transit by clustering jobs, housing, services, and amenities around public transit stations.

TOD is most successful around rail-based transit and often results in increased property values and rental rates in the vicinity, due to the desirability of such developments.  There is often a reduction in vehicle ownership and vehicle trips, thus contributing to decreased traffic congestion.

My thoughts…

In the Sacramento region, the best place for TOD developments are near light-rail stations as well as near Amtrak Capitol Corridor stations and planned ACE Train stations.  The opportunity for TOD in Yuba County is almost non-existent, but there is some potential near proposed commuter rail stations in Marysville and Plumas Lake.  However, transit frequency is a critical component of the success and desirability of any TOD, and transit frequency on the North Valley Rail line may not be frequent enough to drive successful TOD.

*Here is a picture of some transit-oriented development along a light-rail line in Sandy UT, about 15 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City.

* Here is a map and some information about the proposed commuter rail extension from Sacramento to Butte County, with potential stations in Plumas Lake and Marysville.  For more information, see the Butte County Association of Governments (BCAG) webpage.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to read about planning concepts such as housing diversity, mixed-use development, walkable communities, placemaking, and transit-oriented development, as well as my thoughts about them, and their potential place in Yuba County.

Planning is about laying the groundwork to create the kind of community that WE want for ourselves and our families as Yuba County continues to grow.  When the Yuba County General Plan and/or the Plumas Lake Specific Plan are updated, it’s important that the public is involved in that process and that staff and elected officials receive input from our residents.

What do you think about these planning concepts?  Do you think they have a place in Yuba County?

  • Housing Diversity
  • Mixed-Use Development
  • Walkable Communities
  • Placemaking
  • Transit Oriented Development

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