A step closer to a foothill city

By Reggie Ellis

The J.G. Boswell Company submitted a preliminary application last week to build a master planned community in Yokohl Valley east of Exeter.

Called "Yokohl Ranch" by the Boswell Company, the mini-city would be built on the 36,000-acre Boston Ranch, the largest private landholding in the foothills. The Boswell family has owned the land for more than 40 years and it is currently used for cattle grazing by Boswell's Yokohl Valley Cattle Company, located at 24876 Yokohl Dr. The project will be unique to Tulare County.

"This is a different approach than your piecemeal approach where subdivisions are built independently of one another," said Bill Ostrem, a vice president on Boswell's board of directors.

Plans for the community were fist announced by the company in November when Boswell's public relations firm, Roni Hicks & Associates, began doing one-on-one interviews and focus groups asking Exeter and Lindsay residents what they thought about the development in the foothills. But, according to Diane Gaynor, executive vice president of Hicks & Associates, a team of experts - including biologists, geologists, engineers and hydrologists - have been conducting research for the past 18 months.

Gaynor said the company has adopted a theme of the four P's - preserving the legacy of cattle ranching and farming, perpetuate the character of neighboring communities, protect natural resources and pay its own way. According to Ostrem, about 60% of the land will remain active ranch land or open space.

"We don't want big houses on hilltops," he said. "We want to preserve the hilltops and natural beauty by keeping some ranching."

As part of keeping the rural character of the area, historic homes around Exeter's City Park and ranch houses throughout eastern Tulare County were photographed to give designers a frame of reference. There will be tree-lined streets with homes of different sizes and prices, although the company would not commit to either or exactly how many homes would be built. There were also amenities for the "active adult" lifestyle, such as a recreation building, community pools, golf course, tennis courts and walking trails along Yokohl Creek.

"This is front porch living out in the country," Ostrem said. "All of the things that make up small town life."

Water is one of the largest concerns many area residents have voiced about the project. However, Boswell owns enough water to supply the community, as District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida pointed out last year. However, setting up a water delivery system to get the water from Boswell operations up the foothills is expected to be a challenge for developers.

According to Ostrem, resident of Yokohl Ranch will pay property taxes at higher assessed values than many older homes in Tulare County. The increase will support the construction and support of a police and fire station, ambulance services and fund improvements to county parks, schools, streets, landscaping and other public services and facilities. Ostrem said Boswell will also pay to expand Yokohl Drive as the only access in and out of the Valley between Springville and Lindcove.

"We will not be a burden on county services," Ostrem said. "If anything, we want to provide a benefit to the county."

Boswell Co. also claims that the residents will become new customers for existing businesses in Exeter, Lindsay and Three Rivers. However, Yokohl Ranch will also includes in-town service and businesses such as attorneys, notarys, physicians, dentists, barbershops, etc.

Ostrem said the community would be built in phases over the next 20 to 30 years. The Board of Supervisors must vote to approve the initiation of a General Plan Amendment to allow for a planned community in the foothills. The project will then be required to do an Environmental Impact Report for the first phases. Each additional phase would require a separate EIR. The county does not currently have a Planning Community Zone ordinance, which would be needed for the type of project proposed by Boswell. Once that happened, the General Plan and Foothill Management Plan would need to be amended and the property would need to be rezoned.

"We probably wouldn't break ground for another couple of years," Ostrem said.

Ag land is protected under a variety of state and county policies, most specifically the Rural Valley Lands Plan, which evaluates each parcel on its agricultural merits through a point system. Growth in the foothills is guided by the Foothill Growth Management Plan. Adopted in 1981, the plan designates corridors acceptable to growth, based on studies conducted under the oversight of a 14-member committee of citizens. Much of Yokohl Valley falls under the development corridor for a mile to a mile-and-a-half on either side of Yokohl Valley Drive.

As one of the largest private landowners in the United States, Boswell has dabbled in real estate investment and development since 1960s. Del Webb began construction of Sun City, Ariz. on Boswell-owned property in 1960. According to Del Webb, the original Sun City was an upscale retirement community that has since incorporated and has its own fire service. However, it contracts with police service through nearby Peoria, Ariz. According to the 2000 US Census, Sun City has ballooned to a population of 38,000. Peoria, Ariz. has grown large enough to absorb the public safety needs of nearby communities. Del Webb has since created similar communities in 10 states.

"These communities are designed with an active adult concept," Ostrem said. "We want a community where people can live, work and play."

According to Ostrem, who is also president of the Eastlake Company, a master planned community near San Diego, was formed in 1979 when Boswell wanted to develop 3,200 acres of land. The first resident moved into the community of Eastlake in 1986. According to the Eastlake Visitor/Information Center, there are currently about 6,000 homes. At build-out, estimated in 2010, Eastlake is planned to have approximately 8,900 homes and a population of about 26,000. Its police and fire services are provided by the nearby city of Chula Vista, which has a population of 173,000, nearly double the size of Visalia. Like Eastlake, Yokohl Ranch will be operated by a homeowners association once all of the lots have been developed. This gives the residents decision making control over their community.

"This isn't a farmer trying his hand at developing for the first time," Ostrem said. "We have been doing this as part of business for decades."

Boswell has also developed Inerlocken, a 963-acre, full service business park just outside Denver, Colo. The facility includes a 390-room resort complete with a 28,000-square-foot conference room and a 27-hole championship golf course, parks and trails.

"Boswell is a farmer and has come at this with a farmer's mentality," Ostrem said. "Come rain or shine, through the good and the bad we are in this for the long haul."

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