The race is on in San Clemente to develop the 3,000-acre Forster Ranch.
That's the way Ted Schade of the city's engineering department describes the development activity that is going on there now.
"I guess they figure that the first to get some units up will sell them," Schade said of the developers who purchased land from Estrella Properties Ltd.
Biggest Property Owner The latest project is Tocayo Ridge, 150 single-family detached homes being built by Stearns Development Co.
"Stearns is the biggest property owner" of the land being developed, Schade said. "They bought 6 1/2 (land) tracts. Bird Development bought five tracts. Estrella still has 2 1/2 tracts. And 888 Development has four tracts." The tracts vary in size but average about 30 acres or 70 housing units each, he estimated.
"So about a third of the ranch is being developed," he said, and the rest, still owned by Estrella, is subject to city approval.
"Until a specific plan for the land that is in a planning area is adopted, that land can't be developed," Jim Barnes, a senior city planner, said. The plan is still being reviewed, and public hearings are expected to be held on it within the next three months.
It's not the first time Estrella has faced a hurdle. In 1981, the Orange County development firm filed a $203.7-million lawsuit against the city, claiming that delays and excessive fees involving annexation and sewer hook-ups brought its project to a standstill.
"The suit was settled," Barnes said, "and an original settlement agreement was executed in 1981, with an amendment executed in 1983."
Development activity started about a year ago, and since then Tocayo Ridge ($120,995 to $133,995), the Glenfed and Bird joint venture of The Colony patio homes ($129,900 to $154,900), and Stearns' Tocayo Canyon garden homes ($99,995 to $116,995) have begun to take form.
When completed, Stearns' neighborhoods will encompass more than 500 acres of prime coastal property--formerly pristine rolling hills--but at least one part of the ranch will remain undisturbed.
Earlier this month, Estrella gave the La Cristianita Pageant 60 acres for a permanent home for its annual outdoor passion play, "The Cross and the Arrow." And in presenting the land, Darrel Spence of Estrella said:
"By giving the La Cristianita Pageant Assn. land for a permanent home, we are doing all we can to ensure that we don't forget our cultural heritage."
The 1769 Spanish expedition of Don Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra began the era of development in California with missions and great ranches, and the Forster Ranch is descended from one of those original ranches, he explained.