D.R. Horton's Northern California region prides itself on the ability to leap into action at a moment's notice. So when an opportunity arose nearly two years ago to land what is perhaps the last piece of waterfront property of any magnitude in Oxnard, Calif., the company didn't hesitate.
By today's standards, a 135-acre former strawberry field is not large enough to be terribly significant in and of itself, at least not as master planned communities go. But its location in Oxnard's Channel Islands Harbor made it highly prized and justified the strong interest of builders, even if it did come with more than the usual legendary California development baggage.
Narrowed down to one of two finalists, Horton held out hope, then responded immediately after learning its competitor “kind of blinked” a year or so into negotiations with the sellers, Bill Wynne of the Rancho Santa Margarita Co. and Craig Hillgren of Calvest Realty Advisors. When the would-be buyer started talking about different terms as the closing deadline approached, the seller decided to court past suitors. “We jumped in with both feet,” says Horton's division executive vice president, Chris Chambers. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is being able to act and react quickly when we see an opportunity.”
Chambers says Horton won the deal because it was able to “do a very quick due diligence, and we closed within a time frame the seller was anxious to achieve. Normally, on a project this complex, we like 90 or 120 days, but we did this one in 60.” Chambers declined to reveal the final selling price, saying only that it was “fair” to both parties.
By the time Horton came on the scene, the entitlement process had reached its final stages and was awaiting definitive clearance from the always unpredictable coastal commission. But because the land was within the Oxnard city limits and, therefore, perpetually excluded from the county's SOAR (Save Our Agricultural Resources) requirements, Chambers and Nick Arenson, vice president of land acquisition, thought it was worth the gamble.
“The uniqueness of the location is important. To our knowledge, there's nothing even on the horizon that can approach the scale and uniqueness” of what is now known as Seabridge. “We think of it as the flagship for D.R. Horton in the area,” says Chambers. “But just the fact that we didn't come under SOAR, which says that any and all agricultural land up for rezoning as a different use has to go before a vote of the citizens, presented us with a rare development opportunity. I don't have to tell you [that] not a lot of ag land gets rezoned in Ventura County.”
Not that the site didn't present some unusual development challenges over and above the approval process itself. In fact, Horton hired the Keith Cos., an outside civil engineering firm, to consult on the due diligence and verify maritime calculations. Also, Glen Gibson Jr., a maritime engineer, came on board to oversee the challenging development work, like removing the top 2 feet of soil and trucking it to a nearby degraded agricultural site. Another challenge was a huge de-watering operation that was necessary to keep the man-made waterways from filling before they were ready.
All told, Chambers estimates that some 400,000 cubic yards of earth were removed during the grading period. Even with a continuous line of trucks being filled from dawn to dusk by a trio of loaders, it took nearly four months to strip the site of its top 2 feet. It was a good thing the long-ago flooded farm that was being refurbished was just two miles away. Otherwise, the effort would have taken far longer.
In addition, because the site was at the exact point where subterranean water running along what is essentially a 10-mile flat plain wants to enter the Pacific Ocean, 40-foot piles—1,790 in all—had to be driven into the earth to act as footings for the 1.5 miles of sea-walls that would be built. “We had never built waterways like this before,” says Chambers. “At the height of our de-watering operation, we were pumping 2 million gallons a day.”