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River Islands: Game changer for regional housing market

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POSTED August 30, 2012 9:04 p.m.

River Islands at Lathrop with its approval to build 10,800 homes with much of the key infrastructure in place is more than just the proverbial 900-pound gorilla.

It represents a sharp shift in community building in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. And given how it has been designed to emulate a number of the lifestyle points that are favored by young upwardly mobile Bay Area families, River Islands could become the golden egg that lures paycheck-rich homebuyers from west of the Altamont Pass. That’s critical given there are signs the development model that attracted tens of thousands of Bay Area immigrants before the housing bubble burst is losing some of its luster.

This is not Somerston Group’s first rodeo when it comes to building a massive planned community in red tape ridden California. They tackled equally daunting challenges in the Contra Costa countryside with the 11,000-home Dougherty Valley project that took the firm 20 years to complete.

Doughtery Valley though is so passé. It has nice neighborhoods but it’s simply a refinement of the development pattern in the Bay Area since the 1960s.

River Islands is something much different.

It’s “town square” complete with residences envisioned above cafes, stores, and entertainment venues is a legitimate valley version of San Jose’s wildly popular Santana Row. And while you can see all of the attraction of Santana Row right down to live music serenading shoppers and diners alike, River Islands has one thing they don’t - a town square designed with open space and access to the edge of the San Joaquin River.

You could also take a paddle boat from your neighborhood to reach the River Islands town square. Try to do that at Santana Row.

River Islands is more of a lifestyle than a housing development. And while streets are still very much a part of the landscape, their use has been toned down to place more emphasis on walking, bicycling, and even paddling in a boat to get around.

River Islands is perhaps the first project in California history that will have a school up and running before the first house is completed. It’s not your typical school either. It is designed as a high tech learning center from the ground up. Books will give way to iPads.

Then there is the unparalleled river access.

Making the deal sweeter are incentives being financed by those who purchase homes designed to lure employers to River Islands. The prohibition is against distribution  and operations that sour truck traffic.

The thinking is that if you attract the people who are apt to start or relocate businesses with the lifestyle River Islands offer it will make the employment center that’s part of the 4,800-acre project too appealing to resist.

River Islands has also scored electricity 15 to 25 percent below what PG&E charges and is instituting a list of cutting edge measures designed to reduce water waste and the  carbon footprint.

What would serve as the finishing touch is if River Islands is successful in getting the future realignment of the Altamont Commuter Express line to Stockton to swing by the project and allow a station to locate on the development’s edge and within an easy walking distance from the town square. That would allow an easy commute to the job rich Silicon Valley. It would also open the door for a reverse commute tied into the River Islands employment center.

There is one other huge advantage. By being self-contained on what is essentially a Delta tract island, River Islands will be putting in place one of the best crime fighting devices known to man - limited access.

There are essentially only three ways into the development. Two are via the road that will cross a new bridge and tie into Louise Avenue and later a road that skirts Tracy on the north. The other is via Stewart Road that is now being extended into River Islands.

It is almost like Palm Beach in Florida where there are only two entrances via bridges that allows for tight policing.

River Islands could add things such as license plate scanners and cameras at the projects’ entrances. By doing so, technology that allows the scanning of 500 license plates a minute would be able to identify those vehicles that have been reported stolen.

That’s a critical tidbit of information as most crime - and especially burglaries and robberies - are done by criminals using stolen vehicles.

River Islands has the potential to be a major game changer.

And it all gets under way in earnest when the first foundation is poured in May.

 

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