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Turning footprint of mega-McMansion into new homes with 25th the floor size
hat mansion
The 30,000-square-foot Hat Mansion

The dream grape broker Michael Hat came close to nearly completing 25 years ago holds two Manteca records — one for the largest home ever built and one for the largest foreclosure.

The finishing touches on the 30,000-square-foot multi-story home overlooking fast growing South Manteca was halted by a 2001 bankruptcy. By then the first McMansions that doubled as the first tract homes built south of the 120 Bypass started popping up. Today if you could look out from a westward facing window on the third floor of the house that redefined the concept of high ceilings you would see a sea of homes ranging from 2,200 to 4,800 square feet.

With each passing year more than 400 homes a year of similar size are being built on lots that rarely drop below 7,000 square feet.

Manteca has created — not by design as much as by complacency — an exclusive socio-economic enclave. In order to buy or rent one of the roof tops you can see from your third floor perch framed by soaring Greek columns you must make more than the median Manteca household income of $68,019 or be in a position to have parlayed previous home ownership into enough equity to be able to buy in the expansive neighborhoods.

In short these are family friendly neighborhoods if you can afford to live there.

As irony would have it the man that bought the mansion and the accompanying 184 acres in 2004 at a bankruptcy auction on the Stockton courthouse steps for $9.5 million now wants to turn the property into the most robust and mixed neighborhood in terms of housing sizes and in turn price points ever advanced in Manteca.

Batted down in three previous tries, Jack Bray’s Richland Communities has cued up a project that addresses many concerns previous development plans have created.

The 739 housing units now being proposed no longer include apartments nor do small lots back up to existing large lots. Instead 7,000 square foot lots on the Hat Ranch will back up to similar sized lots with homes already on them.

There are 30 lots of 7,000 square feet, 135 lots of 6,000 square feet, 98 lots of 5,500 square feet, 197 lots of 5,000 square feet, 167 lots of 4,500 square feet, 167 halfplex units, and 64 halfplex “court” units.

Rest assured not all will like what is being proposed.

There will be those that say Manteca does not need any more homes. The problem is there are at least 8,000 more housing units that will be built if Richland’s property remains as is. There is nothing that will stop that from happening due to approvals in place. The problem is most are more of the same — homes on lots of 7,000 square feet or more that today the most affordable floorplan sells for $416,000. The next biggest category is apartment units. Based on what new complexes are fetching today in Manteca those units — even the single bedrooms — will not be renting for less than $2,100 a month.

The Richland project will offer a mixture of housing sizes that in reality won’t be “affordable” as many people define such housing as either barebones, unattractive, or subsidized which is really a different cat. As you can tell from Richland homes built in Lathrop, Roseville and Sacramento over the past 30 years, they are at-market homes.

The best way to understand what smaller lots means today for an at-market builder is to drive through River Islands at Lathrop. A lot as large as 7,000 square feet is an aberration. You also would be hard pressed to argue the houses are not appealing and their close proximity on smaller lots is somehow a magnet for crime and rundown neighborhoods.

In a way, the Hat Ranch project is Manteca’s Rorschach test when it comes to housing development. A lot of people look at it and see completely different things.

What many don’t see are families that are no different than their families because the norm for decades has been building bigger houses on bigger lots. There is still a market for such homes.

The new reality are smaller lots and smaller homes jammed with upgrades and accented with architectural niceties on the exterior are being purchased by 2020 buyers that for all practical purposes are no different than the people that started populating the first tract homes built around Woodward Park in 1999.

It is what they can manage even with solid incomes.

This is why Mayor Ben Cantu is right to describe the Hat Ranch plan as attainable housing and not affordable housing. The buyers are cut in many ways from the same cloth economically as the buyers of the first McMansions to join the Hat Mansion south of the 120 Bypass as well as buyers of homes today in the same area.

Cantu is also right that developers need to be given incentives and easy ways to modify what has already been approved to create additional housing opportunities on those lots. That may not get much traction because this area is one of the few left close enough to the southern Bay Area that can still supply the demand for larger homes on larger lots for those with bigger paychecks than you will find in a typical Northern San Joaquin Valley household who are being squeezed out of living in the stratosphere of high housing costs west of the Altamont Pass.

If the Hat Ranch as it is now envisioned runs into troubled waters the effort to bring somewhat of a balance to the Manteca housing market is a lost cause.

Cantu, who lives in a 1,600 square foot house, not only has a planning background including 30 years with the City of Manteca, but he has been a walking, talking advocate for “attainable housing” for decades.

Councilman Jose Nuño, who was able to buy a new home built on one of the rare smaller lots in Manteca to move his family to Manteca, is also employed by a non-profit that develops and managers affordable housing.

Councilman Gary Singh as a Realtor knows full well the challenges of families making a decent income being able to afford to live in Manteca.

In a way it’s ironic that the Richland plan calls for where the current footprint of the 30,000-square foot mansion now sits to build homes perhaps a 25th  the mega-home’s size on 4,500-square-foot lots.