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South O.C.’s last major home development under construction

Rancho Mission Viejo, 20 years in planning, is now in early development

By Steve ChurmPublished: March 21, 2012 03:25 PM

Rancho Mission Viejo president and CEO
Tony Moiso
In another significant signal that the regional economy is strengthening, construction is underway on the first of what may ultimately be 14,000 new homes and apartments east of San Juan Capistrano on one of the last and largest parcels of undeveloped land in Orange County.

Long-planned but delayed in recent years by the sour economy and even worse home buying market, the build-out of Rancho Mission Viejo marks a historic moment in the development story of Orange County, known worldwide for its master-planned communities and innovative home building. Today’s announcement breathed new life into the project. In a series of private briefings, Tony Moiso, Rancho Mission Viejo president and CEO, articulated the strategy for transforming the final 23,000 acres of open space and ranchlands into a series of residential villages, commercial space and parks.

Energetic and excited, Moiso called the new project along Ortega Highway east of Antonio Parkway and bordering on the Cleveland National Forest his “last go-around.”

“This isn’t going to be done for the next 20 or 30 years,” said Moiso, a homebuilding icon who was a driving force behind his company’s development of Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Las Flores and Ladera Ranch. “For me and my wife, this is the beginning of what we’ve done and worked toward for the last 50 years. It is the culmination of our dreams, and we are very blessed to be here to realize it.”

Visible from the back porch of the company’s knoll-top headquarters, bulldozers and other heavy equipment are already clearing land in the project’s first community, Sendero, a mix of 940 attached and detached homes and 200 apartments, as well as a 10-acre retail plaza. With the grand opening set for summer 2013, Sendero will also feature the first of several active adult “enclaves” that will ultimately be built throughout Rancho Mission Viejo. The Sendero adult project is comprised of 285 single-level residences adjacent to a private clubhouse and recreational facilities and targeting the 55-plus market of aging and active Baby Boomers. Many of the homes in Sendero are slated to be priced between $330,000 and $700,000.

At completion, about 6,000 acres, or 25 percent of Rancho Mission Viejo, will be developed with 14,000 homes and up to 5 million square feet for nonresidential use, including retail, office, schools and parks. The majority of land, almost 17,000 acres, will eventually be combined with county-owned lands to form the 33,000-acre Southern Subregion Habitat Reserve, one of California’s largest and most diverse habitats. Moiso and his family will contribute more than 21,000 acres of that open space in what they call The Reserve. The residential villages are not contiguous but will be connected by a network of roads, and even hiking and recreational trails, through the protected wilderness.

“Since 1882, our family has understood that the blessings of land ownership are matched by our obligation to be a good neighbor and a responsible contributor to the community,” said Moiso, whose family once owned more than 200,000 acres in central and southern Orange County. “This culture of care has been at the heart of every community we’ve created. It is the foundation of the ongoing development of Rancho Mission Viejo.”

The project was initially approved by local and regional planning officials in 2004, and by the end of 2005 disputes with environmentalists about the scope and impact of the development were settled. But when the housing market collapsed, Moiso and his team put Rancho Mission Viejo on hold. An improving economy and the success of the Irvine Company over the past two and a half years selling homes in Irvine – particularly those priced under $1 million – has now buoyed Moiso’s belief that the time is right to jump-start his biggest and final development. The company has been working for more than 20 years on the blueprint for this project.

“You never know, but all the signs are telling us that now is the time to get back into the market,” Moiso said. “The demand is building, and we believe we have a unique offering.”

Wednesday’s announcement means that Orange County’s three largest residential developers are now churning dirt and either selling or will be offering homes for sale by the middle of next year. Besides the Irvine Company and Rancho Mission Viejo, there is Five Point Communities, which broke ground last month on the first of 5,000 new homes at the former El Toro Marine Base in Irvine. Ultimately, Five Point Communities hopes to build up to 10,000 homes on the former military base.

“If you had to pick one place to be in the whole world ... we are here,” Moiso said. “Truly, there is no better place to do this for the next 25 to 30 years. Orange County has a global reputation, and we are right in the middle of it. We are lucky and blessed.”

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