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Expat villages spring up as construction booms

October 22, 2006|Ann Brenoff | Times Staff Writer

Once would-be buyers grasp the "how" of buying in Baja, the next question is "where"?

If you plan to drive to your Mexican property for long weekends and vacations, it may be better to stick to the northern Baja area. Those who have bought in southern Baja, the state of Baja California Sur, generally take two days to drive there from San Diego. But if a short airplane flight fits your budget, choices abound. Nonstop flights to Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and Loreto are readily available from LAX and San Diego.

In northern Baja, the stretch between the border and Ensenada has seen a burst of development in the last few years. High-rise condo complexes have sprouted up, and more are planned. Golf courses have been built, and the principal road from Tijuana has been widened and repaved.

Development has been so rampant that some realty firms in northern Baja offer bus tours of the various complexes for potential buyers from San Diego.

Popular consensus deems Baja California Sur as the prettier of the two regions, and those who favor the south say it retains a more authentic Mexican cultural flavor. Prices in the south, with the exception of Cabo San Lucas, tend to be lower.

Here are some projects in popular areas:

Cabo San Lucas

or Cabo San Loco?

There is no gray area in public opinion about Cabo San Lucas. People love it or hate it. Critics say Cabo has lost its Mexican soul and recall with fondness the days three decades ago when Cabo was home to 900 people, a cannery and three hotels.

Back then, a businessman and architect named Manuel Diaz Rivera brought his family here to escape the hustle of Mexico City and bought the 360 acres of barren mountain land just above the recognizable Land's End rock. He named his community Pedregal. Over the years, his investment paid handsomely as he sold off individual lots -- some of which now sport homes worth $10 million. Properties at Pedregal have been featured in Architectural Digest, Forbes, Distinctive Homes and on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." But Rivera saved the best for last.

Under the watchful eye of his grandson, Juan Diaz Rivera, the final 24 acres -- known as Capella Pedregal (www.capellacabo.com) -- are now being developed into a resort with a 66-room boutique hotel; 31 fractional-ownership units, where a one-eighth ownership costs $460,000 for a three-bedroom; and 20 single-family homes that are selling for $2.8 million to $5.6 million. All buyers will share common ownership of a fleet of 61-foot premiere Viking yachts. The units each have two private plunge pools -- one off the living-room terrace and the second off the master-suite terrace. And all units include the full-time services of a "major-domo" -- a butler, child-care provider and sous-chef combination.

New approach

to development

Thirty years ago, Fonatour -- the arm of the Mexican government responsible for tourism -- picked five areas to be developed. Loreto Bay is the final one and, after a few false starts, seems to be gaining momentum.

But unlike the other four -- Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Ixtapa and Huatulco -- different things are planned for Loreto. The principals of the Loreto Bay Development Co. say they adhere to the philosophy of sustainable development. They believe development can occur in a way that doesn't intrude and actually improves the area.

The 6,000-unit project is being built of adobe block -- earth bricks, manufactured just a mile from the site. It takes 10 times the energy to produce one concrete block as it does one adobe brick.

The landscaping is restricted to native plants that will live on brackish water.

The development is the brainchild of Vancouver-based real estate mogul David Butterfield, who sees it as a social engineering project as much as a housing development.

"We're not just building houses, we're changing the way people live," he says.

The company donates 1% of its gross sales -- $3 million so far has been pledged -- to a foundation that tackles social issues in Loreto, including a substance-abuse program, a domestic-violence program and even a shade-providing palapa that buyers in the development rolled up their sleeves to build in an otherwise shadeless playground in town.

The company also provided $150,000 in seed money for a hospital built to U.S. standards now under construction.

When done, the Villages of Loreto Bay (www.loretobay.com) will be a self-contained community with shops and services within walking distance. Some units will be on the water, and many will have views.

The project's chief executive, Jim Grogan, envisions an active-lifestyle community -- a good thing, since there will be no cars allowed within the gates.

Swept up in the sustainable-development theme, it would be easy enough to ignore the homes themselves. The rooms in each hacienda open to courtyards with water features and gardens for indoor-outdoor living. There are hand-painted tile sinks and hand-crafted brick cupolas in each kitchen.

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