Tell the average city official that you'd like to build a townhouse project with 260 units on 11 acres and chances are good you'll be run out of town.
In Irvine's new Westpark Village, RecreActions Group of California Inc., Newport Beach, is getting ready to break ground on just such a project, Corta Bella, an extremely high-density (23.2 dwelling units an acre) project that could set the tone for future attached developments in the Southland.
The Irvine Co., developer of Westpark and the original owner of the site near the new Irvine Civic Center on Culver Drive, selected the design by McLarand Vasquez & Partners Inc., Costa Mesa, in a competition that attracted four other builders. The city's master plan calls for a maximum of 24 dwelling units per acre at the site, according to project architect Ernie Vasquez, who said the extremely high density relates to the proximity of the Corta Bella site to parks and commercial uses.
"In our courtyard development, we have the nation's first 'Euro-Villa' community--a concept that we think will be widely imitated," according to Harold Lynch Jr., president of RecreActions.
In addition to its home office, RecreActions has regional offices in Bedminster, N.J., where the 18-year-old firm is developing The Hills, a 1,600-acre planned community in that state's Somerset County, and Del Mar, where the company oversees its projects in northern San Diego County.
E. James (Jim) Murar, the firm's chairman, said in an interview that RecreActions is a design-driven company, one that has found Southland architects--most of them based in Orange County--to be on the cutting edge of planning and design.
"Ernie Vasquez, the architect in charge of the design of Corta Bella, worked with our marketing people and economic consultants to produce a development that sets a new standard for high-density design," Murar said.
Instead of the ubiquitous and often ugly carports that are common to high-density projects, the units at Corta Bella will have tuck-under garages, with direct access to the living area of the townhouse.
"Californians love their cars, so we started our design concept with a two-car-garage footprint," Vasquez said, adding that Corta Bella is the highest density project he knows of that has individual garages rather than carports or a large underground garage.
The tuck-under garage allows for excavation of 15 inches of material from the courtyard--earth which is massed in the center of the 22 courtyards that make up the development. Each courtyard will serve 10 or 15 townhouses, and the cars--for the most part, will use the courtyard to gain access to individual units.
Vasquez said that he and members of the RecreActions firm learned a great deal about Italian design from a 10-day trip through Italy, including Rome and Florence and small Etruscan villages that have densities of 60 to 70 units per acre.
"The architecture of Italy is fairly uniform within the village or district, but the color palette is wider than that of planned communities like Irvine, with white, ocher, blue, terra cotta and other colors commonly used," he added.
"We're going to stretch the limits of planned communities when we choose the colors for Corta Bella," Vasquez said.
There will be six 2- and 3-bedroom floor plans, ranging from 1,030 to 1,670 square feet, with prices in the $160,000 to $250,000 range when sales start this summer, according to Susan Shook, the firm's vice president of marketing.
"We have an unusually large number of guest parking spaces--192--for a development of this type," she said, adding that most of the guest spaces will be outside the courtyards.
What kind of buyers are expected? Shook said that Corta Bella, with its architecture inspired by an Italian village, will appeal to Orange County's typical fast-paced yuppies, aged 28 to 45. Most likely, there will be two breadwinners per townhouse.
"The typical buyer probably won't have any children living at home," she added. Orange County residents with school-age children--like Californians in general--will travel great distances for an affordable detached house.