BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer email@example.com
Tejon Ranch Co. has launched plans to build 12,000 homes, condos and apartment units at the foot of the Grapevine as part of a phased, master-planned community that would house what the company expects will be a large influx of industrial and retail workers in coming years.
Executives with the Lebec agribusiness and real estate development company said this week the proposal fits into its long-term development plan, laid out in a landmark 2008 agreement with five environmental groups, to conserve 90 percent of Tejon Ranch’s 270,000 acres in southwestern Kern County.
Separate, but related to the company’s existing commerce center and outlet mall proposed nearby, the new 8,000-acre project was the subject of an August application by the company to amend Kern County’s General Plan and change the area’s zoning, much of which calls for exclusively agricultural uses. The application is pending.
Timing remains a question. After a years-long environmental review expected to get under way by early next year, the project won’t begin construction until market conditions are right. A full build-out could be years away.
Known simply as Grapevine, the project would be built in accordance with the sustainable development principles of locating homes within walking distance of employment centers, parks, entertainment and schools — including proposed elementary, middle and high schools, Tejon Ranch spokesman Barry Zoeller said.
He said the idea is to build a community where the roughly 2,500 employees of Tejon’s industrial and retail developments — plus another 5,000 workers at commercial projects still on the drawing board — would live, work and play.
Zoeller added that the project has long existed in concept, but that only recently has the company decided to move forward with it.
“Once we saw the job growth that was taking place and accelerating at the (Tejon Ranch Commerce Center on both sides of Laval Road), that made (the Grapevine project) appropriate,” Zoeller said.
District Four’s David Couch, who represents the area on the Board of Supervisors, said Tuesday he was unprepared to take a position on the project because he hadn’t seen its details.
“In general terms, you need to have housing as close to jobs as you can,” Couch said.
He added that Grapevine would likely require measures to soften the project’s environmental impact.
Tejon’s vice president of community development and resource planning, Derek Abbott, said the company aims to work with county staff to begin an environmental review later this year or early 2014 that would take two to three years to complete.
DETAILS TO COME
Among the many details to be addressed in the environmental review are where Grapevine’s water would come from and who would run the proposed schools.
Abbott and Zoeller said the company has identified a water source for the project, but would not disclose it or say whether they have secured access to it.
They also declined to say which agency would oversee Grapevine’s proposed schools.
A spokesman for Christine Lizardi Frazier, Kern County superintendent of schools, said she is aware of the project but there have been no “meaningful discussions” about proposed campuses in the area.
County school officials said any new elementary or middle schools in that area, depending on location, would be part of the General Shafter School District or the Arvin Union School District.
They also said any new high school would be part of the Kern High School District, though district spokesman John Teves said he is not aware of plans for a new campus in that area.
“It’s so far south, I just can’t imagine we would locate a school there,” he said.
Tejon’s plan is to build the project in phases over many years, depending on market conditions.
“We’ll analyze it and make a business decision on when will be the appropriate time” to begin construction, Zoeller said.
“I don’t think we have a clear idea on (the timing) at this point,” Abbott added.
He said an initial “village” would be built, and that as it fills out, additional housing and commercial construction would follow.
The project would be located in what is now an isolated area nine miles from the relatively nearby community of Lebec, 15 miles from Frazier Park, 24 miles from Arvin and 38 miles from Taft.
Currently, workers at the Tejon commerce center — a retail, hospitality and industrial park — can take a Golden Empire Transit District bus from Bakersfield. Additionally, Kern Regional Transit operates a shuttle that drops off people from Bakersfield and Frazier Park at the center’s retail hub.
Some of Grapevine’s residents would likely work at The Outlets at Tejon Ranch, a 500,000-square-foot shopping center located at the community’s northern edge. Zoeller said that project, projected to employ about 1,000 people, is on track to open in August.
Farther south, in Lebec, Tejon is preparing to begin construction “sooner rather than later,” Zoeller said, on Tejon Mountain Village, a 3,450-home, 25,000-acre resort community. The company has estimated that the project, already fully approved to begin construction, will provide about 1,500 permanent jobs.