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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

Landing a spot where Marines once took off

July 23, 2006|Talya Meyers | Special to The Times

First, it was home to observational blimps during World War II. Next, Marine helicopters. And most recently, a portion of the former Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County became home to families who wanted their children to attend the highly touted Irvine schools without paying Irvine housing prices.

Beginnings

Tustin Field is the first installment of the John Laing Homes' Tustin Legacy project planned for the former Marine base, which closed in 1999. It was built in two phases beginning in 2004. Phase I is made up of 376 town houses and clustered homes; Phase II contains 189 larger single-family houses. There are seven distinct "neighborhoods" that offer a variety of floor plans and design features.

Signs of Tustin Legacy's aeronautical past are seen in neighborhood names, such as "Wright's Landing" and "Amelia." "These aviators were pioneers, people who wanted to get a lot out of life," said Linda Mamet, vice president of sales and marketing for the developer. "We wanted the community to reflect that history."

What it's about

Tustin Field was designed with wide sidewalks to encourage residents to walk places. Convenient shopping is a short stroll away.

For all the attention paid to design, most residents were drawn here by something else: Tustin home prices -- at least during the first round of sales -- with an Irvine education.

The project, which included 118 city-subsidized affordable- housing units that were indistinguishable from their market- price counterparts, sold out before it was completed.

The secret's out, though, and the low price tag that appealed to so many residents has disappeared.

Insiders' view

Tustin Field's two phases straddle Edinger Avenue. Each is walled and has its own playgrounds and community pools.

"It's very clean," said resident and elementary school teacher Cory Day. Homes don't have views, and there is no ready proximity to the wild, but a bike path runs along the railroad tracks behind the homes, and the developer has plans to link it to trails that run through Irvine.

The neighborhood has an active social life. "Every weekend the clubhouse is full of parties," said developer spokeswoman Mamet, who lives in a three-story town house in the first phase. "Two soccer games are always going, people are out walking their dogs, talking to the neighbors. You go out of your home and you're a part of a community."

Good news, bad news

Tustin Field, as befits its own youth, is home to young couples, families with small children and first-time homeowners. "It's very rare that you see older people," said Laura Uribe, a Tarbell Realtors agent and Phase I resident. "It's more of a young neighborhood."

This translates to an emphasis on physical activity. "You can use all the trails that people in Irvine use," Uribe said, adding that from early morning to midday, a sizable portion of the population is out running and biking.

It's an ideal situation for some but not all. The homeowners association is actively involved in keeping Tustin Field shiny and bright, in ways that may feel invasive to some residents.

For example, street parking is a problem in Phase I, the town-house area. Much of what appears to be open, awaiting curb turns out to be marked with fire-lane signs, with enforcement provided not by the Tustin Police Department but by the homeowners association's privately contracted towing company. And the association also conducts mandatory checks to ensure that residents have cars, not storage boxes, parked in their garages.

Houses coming on the market today are priced as high or higher than many similar houses in Irvine -- homes that often have more of their own land.

Housing stock

Tustin Field homeowners are restricted from reselling their homes within the first year after the close of escrow to discourage speculators. To sell sooner, homeowners have to demonstrate financial hardship. After a year, the "for sale" signs started sprouting. Realtors are listing houses for considerably higher prices than John Laing sold them; town homes that sold in the $500,000s are now on the market in the $700,000s.

In Tustin Field's first phase, a three-bedroom, 3 1/2 -bathroom Craftsman-style town house with a loft in 1,600 square feet is listed for $750,000.

The larger, more elaborate houses in Tustin Field's second phase go for considerably more. A five-bedroom, four-bathroom house in more than 3,400 square feet, with gourmet kitchen, granite counter tops, fireplace and a balcony, is a resale listed at $1,419,000. The 118 affordable homes can only be resold through the city of Tustin.

Report card

Children from Tustin Field attend schools in the Irvine Unified School District. College Park Elementary scored an 887 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2005 Academic Performance Index Base Report, and Lakeside Middle School and Irvine High School earned 880 and 829, respectively.

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; api.cde.ca.gov; www.johnlainghomes.com; www.tustinfield.com;

www.tustinlegacy.com; www.bracpmo.navy.mil; www.realtor.com; Christine Shingleton, Tustin assistant city manager.

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