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1st River Island home in 2013?

Housing market improvements encourage Cambay Group

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1st River Island home in 2013?

River islands will offer eight major public access points to the San Joaquin River.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED March 7, 2012 12:39 a.m.

LATHROP — River Islands weathered a monsoon of legal challenges including charges the 11,000-home planned community on Stewart Tract would contribute significantly to global warming.

They  solved flood control issues that have plagued Stewart Tract for years by investing more than $70 million to create super 300-foot-wide levees virtually bullet proof against storms short of  an incident of biblical proportions.

And now it appears they have also survived The Great Recession.

River Islands at Lathrop Project Manager Susan Dell’Osso confirmed Tuesday that Cambay Group has started talking to interested builders with a target of having the first family moving in when the new state-of-the-art $25 million elementary school now under construction is finished in mid-2013.

“We are optimistic at the strength the housing market has been showing,” Dell’Osso said.

She pointed to the surprisingly strong sales of homes in the $400,000-plus range at nearby Oakwood Shores.

River Islands originally targeted the start of new home construction in 2006 when levee work was finished. But then the housing bubble burst. Cambay Group – which has a history with long-range developments spanning 20-plus years – opted not to proceed to avoid diluting the value of the lots they were creating.

Working in their favor for 2013 is the fact Cambay Group is investing $5 million in street construction plus sewer and water lines to reach the elementary school campus that is a mile inside the project.

“That (having the infrastructure in) brings down the cost tremendously of getting the first homes started,” Dell’Osso said.

Dell’Osso noted that due to changes in development rules, the odds are great that River Islands at Lathrop will be the last development of its kind with sweeping views of the river from over 900 prime home sites atop the super levees.

That - coupled with the fact money spent up front means future costs for lots will drop significantly in terms of future dollars - makes a 30-year build-out work out financially well for the investment Cambay Group already has in place.

Dell’Osso declined to indicate how much money the firm has spent so far but based on levee work, the school construction, the cost of a $17 million bridge across the San Joaquin River going in and other costs such as environmental studies and footing the bill to secure water rights there has been somewhere around $200 million already invested.

The super levees are by far the biggest in California and takes Stewart Tract not just out of the 100-year flood plain but the 200-year flood plain as well. The $70 million investment also allowed them to forgo the drawn-out levee enhancement application process with the Army Corps of Engineers that was going nowhere fast.

River Islands also solved another major issue that has stymied state government and environmentalists - river habitat restoration as well as universal river access.

The project is designed to restore riverside vegetation as much as possible to its natural state while allowing universal access to the river and Paradise Cut around the entry perimeter of River Islands.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District worked with River Islands to set up the Lathrop Irrigation District as a retail provider that is expected to have rates as much as 25 percent lower than PG&E’s when it comes online.

River Islands planning includes details such as strict requirements for builders to provide moisture sensors in front yards and common landscaping to reduce the consumption of water.

This isn’t Cambay Group’s first rodeo in California. The England-based investment company spent 18 years bringing the 10,000-home Dougherty Valley project in Contra Costa County to fruition.

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