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The ultimate McMansion could become ultimate flop house or homeless haven
aerial mansion
An aerial view of the 30,000-square-foot Hat Mansion that was taken in 2009.

The Hat Mansion is turning into a Rorschach test for Manteca.

People are seeing possibilities for it that just are not there.

The Mansion so-named as it was the dream creation of grape broker Michael Hat is a community issue today because Richland Communities wants to develop the184-acre vineyard “estate” into housing.

Well, that isn’t exactly the entire reason. Richland Communities apparently has a potential buyer for the 30,000-square-foot King of the McMansions. If not they certainly wouldn’t want to entertain the thought of leaving it standing and becoming an expensive white elephant on their corporate ledger if no one steps up to buy it.

That is the reason the environmental vetting for the subdivision project includes examining the endeavor with the mansion staying in place with a much smaller estate footing or being torn down and tract houses built on the land where it stands today.

The community has until Feb. 23 to get their two cents worth in as to whether it stays or is razed.

This is really a bizarre question on a number of levels.

The city is basically being asked to annex 184 acres and zone it for a residential neighborhood where the homes to be built can’t be higher than 30 feet under city development standards.

Such a limit is in place for a number of reasons. They range from privacy issues and conformity to design standards to fire concerns.

The mansion, of course, is a pre-existing structure that kind of makes the design standards moot. However there are all sorts of ways it could become a future issue if those that eventually reside in the lower homes planned to be built around it one day detect nuisance issues streaming from being neighbors with a house almost 15 times larger than  their own. Think of a future owner renting it on Airbnb as a one night party house to social media influencers as one possibility.

There is a real danger if there isn’t some kind of performance bond or legal document in place that requires Richland Communities to assure that if someone doesn’t buy the mansion that they will maintain the property to specific standards.

But the real question may be what happens if someone buys the mansion, the homes are all built, Richland walks away, and then whoever owns it goes belly up and the mansion goes into foreclosure.

Contrary to popular belief, most people that can afford a 30,000-square-foot house want to either be isolated from tract developments or have neighbors of their own kind meaning people that can afford 30,000-square-foot homes.

If you doubt that recall the viscous howling by those owning nearby 2,800-square-foot homes on 7,000 plus square foot lots when Richland proposed placing more affordable housing next door that was half the size of theirs on lots that were half the size as well.

The bottom line is 1313 Overbuilt Way in a Manteca subdivision tract is not where people that can handle mortgage payments 10 times the size of a typical McMansion will consider when they are looking for a home.

So what happens if the mansion five years after everything is built goes into foreclosure? If you recall the salad days of the mortgage crisis/Great Recession foreclosed houses in Manteca became party houses for teens, flophouses for druggies, havens for the homeless, and were trashed to the point they looked like inner city drug houses.

For those who live in nearby neighborhood and are pulling to keep the mansion in place, remember those squatters will have to pass through your neighborhoods to get there.

If you believe that the worst case scenario is some developer will buy the foreclosed mansion, tear it down, and build homes you are quite frankly being delusional.

Tearing down the mansion before any home in the subdivision is built costs progressively less than doing so after it is cut down to a smaller estate that might accommodate 20 or 30 typical sized tract homes. No future developer in his right mind is going to spend what is easily $500,000 plus to tear the mansion down, haul the debris away and pay to have it landfilled.

Once the city gives its blessing for the mansion to stay it will either be owned and occupied by whoever Richland has waiting in the wings to buy it or it is going to end up being a massive headache for the neighborhood and the city.

Those that think it will have public use of any kind such as some of the fantasy uses that have been expressed haven’t addressed the fact it would need to be rezoned. Not only would future neighbors be up in arms, but how would issues such as traffic and noise be addressed for a public use off the beaten track in the middle of a sea of subdivision homes.

The chatter on social media about the fate of the mansion falls into two basic categories. There are those that don’t want anything built on the 184 acres yet aren’t offering to buy the land.

The other primary grouping is people who believe Manteca is somehow missing out on the opportunity of the century not to have it converted into an events center, bed and breakfast, performing arts venue, or a recreation center of some sorts.

First of all, somebody has to pay for it.

There are real expensive issues that can’t be ignored. The building was not built for assemblies or public use. There are not only Americans with Disabilities Act standards to consider but issues with earthquake safety, load bearing floors, robust fire construction, and other structural concerns.

None of that includes remodeling for whatever intended use. It is why experts hired years ago to assess retrofit options when Richland floated the idea of converting it into a clubhouse, adding a golf course, and then age restricted housing in a gated community setting emphatically warned it would be much more expensive to go that way instead of tearing it down and starting from scratch.

The best thing that can happen for future residents of the homes Richland wants to build and all taxpayers in the city that will be on the hook for costs dealing with issues when the property goes south at some point in the future is for the mansion to be torn down as a condition of the project approval and for Richland to be allowed to build additional homes.



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