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River Islands eyes 2011 start date
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• What: River Islands at Lathrop
• Start date: 2011
• Number of homes: 11,000
• Job potential: 16,800
• Acres involved: 4,800
• Enhanced eco-systems being created for Riparian rabbit, Swainson’s hawk
• Eight major public river access points with “bays” that will have peninsulas with enhanced natural landscaping

LATHROP — River Islands at Lathrop – the biggest housing development ever envisioned for the Northern San Joaquin Valley – won’t probably be building its first home until 2011.

“We’re looking at least late 2010 but more than likely 2011,” noted Susan Dell’Osso who serves as project manager for the 4,800-acre project that includes 11,000 homes, a town center, 3 million square feet of commercial, and 4 million square feet of business parks.

Dell’Osso said while the economy can be frustrating, Cambay Group is in no hurry to dilute its investment and instead is confident of River Island’s success over the long haul.

“We have everything in place that if the market warranted it we could build 2,800 homes in a year,” Dell’Osso said.

Dell’Osso noted River Islands controls all aspects of the  community infrastructure including building the schools which means there will be no extra fees tacked on to homes after they are built but instead it will all be collapsed into the price of land.

Cambay Group – the American real estate subsidiary of the British Isles-based Somerston Holdings Limited – has sunk more than $180 million into the project so far. That includes land purchase, securing water and sewer plus building the super wide 300-foot levees that effectively gives the planned community the best flood protection along the San Joaquin River.

Somerston Holdings is a 155-year-old company that has built a reputation since its early days in the maritime shipping business of long-term investments. They were the driving force behind the 10,000-home Dougherty Valley project in Contra Costa County that took 18 years from start to finish.

They’ve been working in earnest on River Islands for nearly a decade. Unlike Dougherty Valley, Cambay Group controls all of the land plus is self-contained within Stewart Tract recreating a unique planning opportunity that includes 18 miles on unparalleled river frontage.

Cambay Group is using the lull in the housing market to prepare the foundation for the twin bridges dubbed Bradshaw Crossing that will connect River Islands with Lathrop on the Southside of the San Joaquin River west of Mossdale Crossing.

Back in 2008, the build-out value of River Islands was estimated at $11 billion in constant dollars.

Cambay Group hasn’t simply been biding its time while waiting for the housing market to turn. They have made numerous improvements and secured various permits critical for development of the project.

• The state has given its final blessing to the design of two schools — a primary school for 750 students and a middle school for 750 students.

• The Department of Water Resources gave the levees Cambay Group built to protect the initial 2,800 home sites, town square, and employment center a 200-year flood protection rating.

• Secured all of the required permits — about a dozen in all — for the twin two-lane bridges.

• Created the 300-foot wide super levees which are arguably the biggest and widest of their kind in California or anywhere else in the country that substantially surpass federal standards for 100-year flood protection standards.

• Met 100-year flood protection requirements

• Advanced money to secure treated surface water as well as wastewater capacity.

• Worked with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District that acted as a consultant to make it possible for Lathrop Irrigation District to provide retail electrical rates at 28 percent of what PG&E charges.

• Put in place design standards that are flexible yet protect the “ambiance” that River Islands is creating. Included is a trendsetting moisture sensor system required of all landscaping — including residential — to conserve water.

• Created the interior manmade lake system.

• Completed plans for restoration of riverside eco-systems to allow unparalleled public access to the San Joaquin River.

Although River Islands can trace some of its lineage back to the first proposed Gold Rush City in the early 1990s, River Islands at Lathrop was born in 2001 as a planned community with steps to put the entire infrastructure in place by the developer and not the city.