Long Languishing Rancho Las Flores Project In Summit Valley Resurrected

(February 18)  HESPERIA—The defunct Rancho Las Flores project, which was originally projected to result in the construction of 9,100 residential units in Summit Valley, has been resurrected by its current corporate successor as a three-phase 19,396 home development.
Shortly after the city of Hesperia’s 1987 incorporation, the Dana Point-based ARC Las Flores Corporation sought city approval of the 10,000-acre property at the city’s extreme south end that consisted of the 490-acre Las Flores Ranch and several adjacent parcels, including Bureau of Land Management property obtained through a series of land swaps.
Hesperia’s first city manager, Robert Rizzo, convinced members of the city’s maiden city council – Percy Bakker, George Beardsley and Bruce Kitchen, among them – that the project would generate economic development and create neighborhoods to rival those in upscale Orange County. Within two years, under Rizzo’s guidance as well as that of Hesperia Planning Director Rob Zuel, the scope of the project grew and in 1990, the city approved the Rancho Las Flores specific plan, which called for development of 15,540 housing units in eight phases.
The project never got off the drawing boards, however, and suffered setbacks after Zuel left the city in 1991, followed by Rizzo’s demise as city manager in 1992 following revelations about his illicit efforts to filter money from Orange County development interests into the campaign coffers of council member candidates amenable to the aggressive development proposals that would have doubled the city’s population.
The proposal remained active under succeeding city managers and the guidance of community development director Tom Harp and principal planner Dave Reno, but encountered significant challenges that retarded its progression, such as the economic downturn of 1991 and 1992, the listing of three species that inhabited the property – the  arroyo toad, the Least Bell’s Vireo and the willow flycatcher – as endangered.
In 1993, the project encountered a significant roadblock when the city of Barstow filed a lawsuit against upstream water users along the Mojave River, resulting in protracted litigation over water rights. The lawsuit led to a stipulated settlement in 2000 among the municipal and other water rights holders within the Mojave River Basin and a water allotment to Hesperia that brought into question whether Hesperia would have access to enough water to allow the project to proceed. The city subsequently sought to secure the project’s viability through the purchase of $30 million in water rights, deemed sufficient for ARC Las Flores’ purposes. The developers also obtained from the federal government clearance to proceed with the project subject to certain habitat protections for the endangered species living upon the property.
That ten year delay, however, resulted in the expiration of the project’s specific plan and its environmental impact report, requiring ARC Las Flores to reformulate those documents, which were not finalized until 2008. By that point, the economic downturn of 2007 inhibited progress on the project and in 2012 ARC Las Flores declared bankruptcy. Texas-based Terra Verde Group last year purchased the 10,000 acres for roughly $45 million.
The company has since rechristened the Rancho Las Flores project as the Tapestry Project, by which it intends to maintain the eight-phase nature of the undertaking.
Last month, Terra Verde’s director of development, John Ohanian, gave indication to the Hesperia City Council his company is now purposed to proceed with the project.  Without defining the terms he was using, Ohanian said the density of the residential units would fall in the “low-to-medium” range. The currently applicable specific plan calls for the construction of 11 schools on 207 acres,  372 acres of recreation facilities, two mixed-use town centers on 137 acres, public and civic buildings and a wastewater facility.
The project would retain an element of the historical nature of the property, with a portion of the residential neighborhoods being reserved for equestrian use and a 114-acre trail system built into the overall project as open space.
The massive subdivision would have three major points of access, including Ranchero Road and  State Routes 138 and 173, together with four lesser methods of ingress and egress, including the extensions of Summit Valley Road and Maple and Santa Fe avenues.

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