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Coming to a Manteca neighborhood near you: 4 homes on a motor court
motor court homes
This is a sample of how “motor courts” are used to cluster four or more detached single family homes to minimize land use and reduce housing costs.

There was a time when “motor court” in California referred to a cluster of small cabins rented to travelers in the 1930s thru the 1960s.

They were the bridge between the old-style downtown hotels and independent motels that eventually morphed into lodging chains as we know them today.

In some quarters — such as Beverly Hills — motor courts are design statements that provides an area for vehicles to park while connecting house with garbage. Usually pavers in decorative designs and colors are the focal point while landscaping as we know it — front lawns and such next to the front of a home — is replaced by well-placed shrubs and ivy.

In the coming months when you hear the term “motor court” in connection with Manteca, it will mean something entirely different.

It is the first serious run in Manteca at attainable at-market owner occupied housing in 25 years for those with fairly robust household paychecks by Northern San Joaquin Valley standards without simply shrinking both a lot and a house.

They are not a new invention but in Manteca, the Promised Land of Single Family Homes on 6,000 Square-Foot Lots & Higher, it is a radical departure.

Not since the late Antone Raymus rolled out the Z-lots behind Walmart on Mission Ridge Drive in the mid-1990s has there been a break from the basic tract home mold.

The zero lot line homes reduced land needed which in turn reduced the price of the home. Those that had bought the traditional single family homes in Raymus Development’s Vintage Estates neighborhood along Mission Ridge Drive were none too happy.

Raymus met with those that bought homes from him surrounding Cotta Park to quell fears. He assured neighbors he was planning a quality product that was simply less expensive. The design and placement of windows allowed for privacy. What the homes were missing besides setbacks from property lines was large water-consuming front yards and large backyards.

He also wanted to build a child care facility that would serve the growing number of Manteca homebuyers where both parents worked and often commuted to the Bay Area.

Even after his personal assurances, neighbors were less than thrilled. They believed Z-lot line homes would attract rift raft and ultimately all become rentals.

But when the homes were built, a funny thing happened. Relatives of several families from the neighborhood bought homes. And the homes sold fairlyfast drawing mostly first-time home buyers. The only difference between others living in traditional homes on large lots and those living in the Z-lot homes was the monthly house payments.

Go by the Z-lot homes today. They have not turned into a ghetto as some claimed they would back in 1995.

There should be nobody up in arms this time around as the motor courts are planned on land on the southwest corner of Airport Way and Woodward Avenue that does not border developed neighborhoods save for a new one under construction on the western flank. And the motor courts are in the interior of the neighborhood dubbed the Lumina Project that is now going through the environmental vetting process.

So what is a motor court?

It is basically a common “driveway” usually concrete but they can be pavers shared by four to six homes on significantly smaller lots. The court has a bulb at the end. Each home has short driveways.

There are variations with four lots where one home faces the street where garage driveway access is as well, another home faces the street but has the driveway off the court and the other two are at the end of the motor court.

The homes are almost always two stories with small front yards and small backyards. The side lot line setbacks in a planned development are often less than for a standard lot as mechanical equipment and such are carefully placed.

The placement of the homes remind you of the old Grey Poupon Dijon mustard TV commercials where the two Rolls Royce pull up and passengers roll down the windows and pass a jar between them. The houses seem that close.

But here’s the catch: The smaller lot and the ability to shorten the distance between utility connections provides for a noticeable drop in per square foot pricing.

In such motor courts in the Sacramento Area and Salinas Valley people actually park vehicles in their garages. That’s because the design forces it to a large degree. And when they have more than two cars, they are parked in their driveway and not on the “court” or even nearby street.

Yes, when they have company they do park on nearby streets but that is what street parking is intended to accommodate.

People I know who live in such motor courts in Lincoln in Placer County love it. They say it brings them closer to their neighbors and has virtually eliminated them being victims of property crime. They also indicate the court is a safe area for their children to play.

Motor courts are an effective way of making it possible for more people to buy detached homes that are attainable in pricing

The Lumina Project calls for four homes per motor court with a total of 87 as one will have one less home.

The proposed 827 home project also has another first for Manteca. Almost 80 percent of the proposed lots are less than 6,000 square feet. Besides the motor court lots there are 22 lots that are 2,746 square feet, 208 lots that are 4,000 square feet, 67 lots that are 4,500 square feet, and 191 lots that are 5,000 square feet. There are also 120 lots that are 6,000 square feet and 32 lots that are 10,000 square feet.

Those that argue the market in this area is not ready for smaller lots all they have to do is look next door at River Islands at Lathrop.

There are few lots approaching 6,000 square feet yet there were just over 600 new homes sold on River Islands last year. That compares to 660 new home sales in all of Manteca of which almost all were on lots in of 6,000 square feet or more.

One of the most popular neighborhoods — and the most attainable — is the Hideaway at River Islands. It features a cluster of three homes. Two front the street or shared commons and the third — accessible from the street or a shared walkway by a path between the two homes — is set behind. The two homes in front have courtyards between their garages and house.

The third home has an entry on the ground floor but its living space is all on the second floor above garages for all three homes.  The third home also has a large deck.

It is even more of a radical departure than the motor court concept but still retains detached housing. They are the most attainable housing on River Islands.

Motor courts and smaller lots clearly aren’t the end all answer but they are a good start at developing more affordable housing for Manteca.


  This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at