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High-profile senior housing plan
Hat mansion focal point of age-restricted community?
The Hat mansion could be annexed to the City of Manteca and surrounding 184 acres developed as age-restricted housing. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The most opulent home ever built in Manteca - the 30,000-square-foot Michael Hat mansion - could become the cornerstone of an age-restricted community.

It is visible from Highway 99 between Manteca and Ripon. The mansion lines up with a quarter mile of palm trees that border the aptly named Palm Avenue that runs from near the freeway to Austin Road

Richland Communities is working with the city to possibly annex the 184-acre site that borders Sedan Avenue on the south and east, and the Woodward Park neighborhoods near where Pillsbury Avenue dead-ends to the north. Community Development Director Frederic Clark confirmed that Richland is considering developing the site as an age-restricted community similar to Del Webb at Woodbridge.

Such a move could fast track sewer allocation under a council policy adopted nearly 10 years ago that exempted age-restricted housing and affordable housing from Manteca’s 3.9 percent annual sewer allocation cap for residential projects.

The age-restricted market is also a much hotter segment. During the past four years when Manteca was the clear new home leader in the Northern San Joaquin Valley in terms of housing starts, almost 3 out of every 10 new homes built and sold in Manteca were in Del Webb at Woodbridge.

No details of Richland’s precise plans for the property are available.

The mansion, however, would make one impressive clubhouse.

The three-story home has a wine cellar, elevator, a 25-seat theater, tennis court and 20- by-80 foot swimming pool. Completed in 1995, the home also has a 36-car parking garage underneath it. Material used in the interior design includes Brazilian cherry wood, Douglas fir, limestone, granite, marble and custom made stainless steel doors. It has six bedrooms and seven bathrooms.

Hat, a 1972 Ripon High graduate, is a grape grower and broker. Just as the house was completed the wine market went into a nosedive. Hat at the time was considered to rank among the top five grape growers in California.

Hat filed for bankruptcy in 2001. The home was put up for sale and was listed for $12.2 million in 2003.

When the home didn’t sell, it went the way of other foreclosures - an auction on the courthouse steps in Stockton.

There were two serious bidders - AKF Development and Richland Communities. AKF was toying with the idea of building an 18-hole golf course around the mansion and converting it into a clubhouse and events center. The rest of the land was envisioned for single family homes.

A bidding war ensued with Richland prevailing at $8 million.

After discovering sewer allocations were years away and the housing market cooling, Richland tried to sell the home and 184 acres for $9.9 million in 2009.

Among those considering buying the Hat property at one point was the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

The SSJID was looking at options for a new headquarters but that didn’t necessarily mean keeping the mansion. The district viewed the fertile farmland as an investment that could be later sold. There are 147 acres of producing chardonnay grapes in the land package. The tentative plan was to carve out a 20-acre piece for new headquarters to consolidate retail electricity operations and water divisions into one central location between Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon. Whether the mansion was remodeled as offices or razed would have been based on cost factors.

Ultimately, the district passed after securing what they viewed as a better location on the northeast corner of Louise Avenue and Austin Road some 2.5 miles north of the Hat mansion.

Developers expressed interest since the 184 acres was zoned for homes

Future road alignments have a four-lane road cutting close to the 30,000-square-foot house and tying into Manteca and Ripon streets. That would have made it a central location for SSJID and the bulk of its future and current customers.