The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Let's Make A Deal

Developer. As in property developer. Usually when I hear that word, the person saying it makes it clear that such a person ranks somewhere underneath used car salesman in the list of professions. I’ve never really understood why.

Anyone who has built their own house knows that such an undertaking is very, very difficult, full of unanticipated pitfalls and risks. That a person would undertake such a project with the added risk of trying to guess what is marketable, without a known buyer, is gutsy indeed.

Many homes in Rancho Santa Fe have been built by developers as “spec homes” without a specific buyer in hand. My own house was such a home before we bought it. While nothing is perfect, the house has a lot going for it in terms of rational layout and avoidance of weird things that owner builders tend to saddle their creations with.

Through an unlikely sequence of events, I almost became a developer myself, looking to turn an ugly abandoned-looking 12-acre lot into a couple of beautiful marketable properties. If you’ve ever driven down Via de Santa Fe, you know the lot I’m talking about, with the shack of a house on top of a hill, barn with half a roof, and huge SDG&E transmission line bisecting the property. The transmission line makes the property challenging to develop, to put it mildly.

The lot is surrounded by horse properties, so my thought was to split the 12-acre parcel into two lots and develop each lot as a high-end custom horse property with stables, riding rings, and space for a custom house. While in escrow, I approached the CDRC with my plans. Before committing the millions of dollars to purchase the property, I wanted to know if my plans were in any way acceptable.

Unfortunately, I ran into a brick wall of inscrutability. No amount of questions, prodding, discussions, or back-channel communications could unravel what the heck the CDRC thought.

One of the frequent complaints I hear is that the RSFA Board should Do Something about the Village. Some sort of revitalization plan. That’s great in principle, but it takes, you guessed it, property developers to commit the time, money and energy to create great projects.

As an example, we’ve had two such developers recently willing to brave the odds and build Village buildings recently – the Gateway project and the new Pharmacy building.

Why stop there? We could get a lot more people involved if the Board and CDRC were simply more accommodating to the needs of property developers. And one of those needs is to have productive conversations about the scope and possibility of projects up front. A less opaque CDRC process. A CDRC that sees itself as part of a revitalization solution instead of performing a legalistic process.

Or, in other words, a group that can work WITH property developers, and, dare I say it, make deals that benefit everyone.

Oh, and the property I was going to buy? I backed out and the quaint barn with half the roof missing still stands, and is likely to do so for many more years to come.