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Innovation in Land Planning

Location San Diego County, California

Client DMB Development; Taylor Woodrow Homes

Scope Planning, Landscape Architecture

Size 3,800 acres - 15.38 km2

Innovative and original are terms that best describe Santaluz, a planned community 30 minutes north of San Diego. The project is a testament to the collaborative efforts of a visionary client, talented land planner, and team of creative designers and marketers. Set gracefully on its rolling site and preserving over half its acreage as open space, Santaluz is both a model of environmental planning and a financial success, out-performing all its local competitors. When the partnership of DMB Associates and Taylor Woodrow Homes acquired the 3,800-acre Santaluz property, the previous owner had already received entitlements. The approved plan was a standard suburban golf course development that totally re-graded the site into flat, engineered pads with rows of houses. Recognizing the site’s untapped potential for greater value, the owner assembled a team to reevaluate the approach. SWA, who was already working with Taylor Woodrow, was selected from among several planning firms. What followed was a highly interactive process among the client and members of the planning team to reinvent the plan within the constraints set by the city, including the total number of units, major road alignments, and the boundary of development. The vision for the plan grew out of the land, itself. With its gently rolling, grass-covered hills and subtle textures and colors, the site recalled the open, rural landscapes depicted in early twentieth-century California plein air paintings. Although inland, the site provides views along the valleys to the ocean, mountains, and city lights. Keeping the site open, and letting the qualities of the land come through, formed the underlying premise of the plan. Natural landmarks—the ridges, knolls, valleys, and meadow¾identified in an early site analysis drawing, established the basic framework. Another important decision was to draw on the rural ranch tradition of the estate communities of Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch to the north and more closely approximate their values, rather than those of the more conventional subdivisions to the south. The idea was to capture the dignity of Rancho Santa Fe, but to keep Santaluz more open and closely tied to the land. With the basic framework in place, SWA spent the next several months working with the owner, architect, golf course architect, and market consultant in an iterative process to advance the plan, develop architectural themes and prototypes, and determine through focus groups the feeling and lifestyle sought by potential homebuyers. The team tested the program to get an increasingly refined understanding of what could be done on the site, examining a number of options—for example, having all custom homes versus a mix of smaller and larger units. Each scenario was evaluated from the multiple perspectives of marketability, financial return, and match to the land. Out of this process came the decision to make the golf course a secondary, rather than primary, feature of the development—one of many recreational choices. Grading was absolutely critical to the vision of Santaluz. SWA took a highly innovative approach, using circular pads for the homesites that blended into the natural terrain and saved half the earthwork of conventional grading. The circular pads also allowed homes to be turned in any direction to capture views and to spread out in long, low wings, taking advantage of San Diego’s mild climate. With an overall density of one home per four acres, the plan provides a broad mix of housing types and densities, with homes clustered to preserve more than half the land as open space. Natural landmarks are preserved and undistrubed natural drainage courses minimize the need for storm drains. Unlike more typical residential developments, here for both aesthetic and practical reasons, the dry California landscape with its native grassland and clumps of oaks dominates, providing extensive water conservation. Transitional landscaping, with broad 50- to 200-foot setbacks between homes and clusters, blurs the line between private property and open space. An 11-acre village green and 19,000-square-foot recreation center serve as the physical and social center of the community. A café overlooking the village green provides a long view down the valley to the ocean. The golf course is nestled into the valleys, with a 35,000-square-foot clubhouse set back from the central green to reduce the building’s apparent scale. Forty-four miles of pathways and trails, which are open to the public as well as members of the community, cross the hills and valleys. SWA also produced the master landscape plan and design guidelines that detail the treatment of all public and community open space, including streetscape, parks, and the transitional landscape between private homes and clusters. With the architect, SWA produced detailed design guidelines for all housing types¾builder and custom homes¾and participated in the selection of builders, who competed to win the right to build production homes in Santaluz. In its originality and sensitivity to the land, Santaluz represents a different way of approaching the traditional master-planned community. The project clearly illustrates that an innovative plan working with the natural terrain, native landscape, architectural creativity, and attention to detail can outperform the standard heavily graded, high-density projects. The new plan has created significantly higher values than could have been achieved under the old concept, even with fewer total units.