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Reworked development deal clears way for 11,000 homes
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LATHROP — It’s been considered one of the biggest signs that the economic future of Lathrop is on the mend.

And after the City Council gave its blessing last week, a rehashed development agreement for River Islands – the massive, master-planned community with 11,000 homes that is nearly a decade in the making – means less red tape for those holding the purse strings that control the future of residential construction in the community.

Anchored by a privately-funded bridge across the San Joaquin River, massive levee reinforcements that will protect property that would have otherwise been within a major flood plain and the deep pockets of foreign investors who have been willing to wait until the markets showed signs of a rebound instead of unloading during the housing panic, River Islands is still moving forward.

Earlier this year representatives took local officials on a tour of the bridge to show exactly how much progress has been made on that front. It was a $17 million undertaking that took the blessing of more than a dozen regulatory agencies and years of waiting to pull off.

The first 200 homes of the project are targeted to break ground in 2013. It is expected to provide a boost to the stagnant housing construction market and adding jobs for local skilled tradesman hit hard by the recession.

And the decision by the City Council restructured several pieces of the development agreement – including extending the term for owned land through 2042 and optioned land through 2030.

The agreement also clearly states that the Delta Reform Act of 2009 – which created a Delta Conservancy to acquire lands and facilitate ecosystem restoration – does not apply to the project and the land will not be affected.

Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal commended the consortium of owners and overseers of the project that have persisted through a grueling process of government permitting and legal wrangling.

Longtime resident and former mayor Bennie Gatto also spoke in favor of the project.

“They need all of the kudos they can get for sticking it out as long as they did. Anybody else would have walked,” Gatto said. “This is an upper class development that will forever be a part of Lathrop, and with that I say wholeheartedly approve it.”

Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos agreed.

“They stuck it out and now they’re going to reap the benefits,” Santos said. “And now they’re going to enjoy being able to build.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

While there are portions of the western part of the city that have large amounts of infrastructure already built – roads, conduit, street lights and even water mains – connecting those sections to the rest of the community has proved to be a tricky proposition.

With the council’s approval of the second amendment to the development agreement, representatives from Califia and the Cambay Group will now have an updated version of the original 2003 document that was intended to guide development in the area.

The staff report called the construction “imminent” and noted that the update target areas will protect the city’s interests while at the same time ensuring that River Islands develops efficiently and fairly.