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Ready to build on the Island
Work on first of 10,800 homes may start by years end
Crews work on improvements for River Islands first subdivision. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

After 24 years of planning and investing more than $250 million to create super levees, building a state-of-the-art school, securing water and sewer, establishing a government-owned low-cost electricity service, constructing the first river crossing in more than 50 years River Islands at Lathrop will finally see the first of 10,800 homes  built.

Escrow is expected to close at mid-month on a deal that will allow builders to construct 239 homes.

And when the transactions are completed, the builders won’t have to go another six months or so before they can start pouring foundations. That’s because Cambay Group has done something fairly unusual in the development world. They aren’t selling paper lots. Instead when the land deal is finished it will provide builders with development ready lots complete with all services extended through the subdivision and stubbed off at lots including electricity, natural gas, and cable TV. Streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and street lights are in place as well.

Making such improvements typically run $30,000 per buildable lot. Instead of making who buys the subdivisions to build homes make the improvements Cambay Group spent the $10 million upfront.

The result was heavy interest by builders trying to be picked by River Islands to be allowed to buy lots to build the first homes.

Construction loans for infrastructure can be dicey especially with the housing market still on the mend. The Cambay business model takes away that risk.

River Islands Project Manager Susan Dell’Osso said the first home designs are already being reviewed by the architectural review committee composed of two River Islands representatives and a City of Lathrop staff member.

Altogether the first phase will consist of 500 homes. Dell’Osso noted that the builders moving the lot deal through escrow also are under contract to eventually purchase the other 261 home lots.

“We have home builders lined up to bring really innovative and appealing new home designs to the South River Band areas of the master plan,” Dell’Osso said. “Depending on winter’s effects on the building cycle, we should have homes in the spring of 2014”.

The privately held firm of Somerston Group of Companies headquartered in England oversees the subsidiary Cambay Group. River Islands is the biggest planned community ever envisioned for the Great Central Valley.

The 4,800 acre project that includes 10,800 homes, a town square, and an employment center plus numerous touches such as internal manmade lakes has been in the making since 1989.

The development is broken into two overall phases. The first overall phase consists of 4,300 homes.

The firm has secured water, solved flooding concerns by creating a unique 300-foot wide super levees, beaten back a global warming lawsuit, won environmental critics on to their side through a series of innovative river restoration plans, and has even put in place its own irrigation district to provide those who live and work in River Islands with electricity substantially lower than the going rate PG&E charges.

To describe River Islands as a large challenge is a major understatement. Developers in California for years have avoided pushing forward projects of 500 homes or more. Under state law, they are required to come up with adequate water plus they also attract plenty of attention from anti-growth critics and environmentalists.

Cambay Group met those challenges head on essentially writing a check in advance to help pay for its share of Lathrop’s treated water from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District surface water treatment plant even though they have yet to use a drop. They also found ways to meet or exceed the goals of environmentalists by devising plans to essentially restore 14 miles of river and delta habitat that had been wiped out by the original building of levees. That will involve creating “lips” or large swaths on land on the river side of the levees and to plant appropriate vegetation. It is believed to be the most effective project yet to address the needs of the endangered Riparian Rabbit that wasn’t even known to exist on Stewart Tract until Cambay Group undertook an exhaustive environmental study.

Cambay Group has worked overtime to make sure River Islands isn’t just another gigantic California subdivision.

They will require moisture sensors in all landscaping to reduce water consumption and are exploring requiring all homes to have gray water so bath and shower water can be used to water grass.

They are exploring putting in place small solar farms that can power clusters of 100 homes.

The project creates unprecedented river access to 14 linear miles.

They have completed a $17 million project thAT put in place twin 300-foot-long bridge decks to ultimately connect the heart of the proposed 10,800-home River Islands planned community with the neighborhoods in the Mossdale Landing community of west Lathrop.

What makes the bridge unique is the fact it will not only stand unused for at least three years but that there isn’t a roadway connecting to it on either side nor is there a dirt embankment in place for the approach roads.

The Cambay Group also picked up half of the $25 million cost of an elementary school that opened in August.