Betsy Blanchard Chess

Source: The Santa Paula Times

By Betsy Blanchard Chess
Special to the Santa Paula Times

On March 20, Santa Paula City Council voted unanimously to allow an additional 550 homes to be built at Limoneira’s Harvest development. While this move is important because it adds much-needed housing stock to Ventura County’s struggling housing market, it is even more significant because of the positive impact it will have on the Santa Paula community.

In addition to the valuable amenities provided by Limoneira/Lewis Homebuilders LLC in the original agreement, the expansion of Harvest will bring more than $16 million from Limoneira for enhancements to the city’s parks, streets, police, community buildings, sanitation system, and low-income housing.

Limoneira’s roots

This isn’t the first time that Limoneira, a company whose roots go back to Santa Paula’s founding, has joined forces with the city to grow the community.

In 1873, Nathan Weston Blanchard, failed ’49er, successful Gold Country entrepreneur, single-term California state assemblyman, and my great-grandfather, came to the Santa Clara Valley.

He was struck by the area’s scenic beauty, mild weather and the richness of the land. He bought 2,700 acres of the former Santa Paula y Saticoy Mexican land grant and set about building a citrus empire and creating a city. In 1874, he partnered with nurseryman Dana B. Clark who had just planted an experimental orange orchard on 100 acres.

This 100 acres, of which Blanchard later budded 40 acres to lemons, was the beginning of his ascendancy as a citrus grower. In 1875, Great-Grandfather surveyed the land east of Fagan Barranca and recorded the plat map for Santa Paula.

In 1873, there were estimated to be 60 families, or about 210 to 250 people, living in Santa Paula. Two decades later, that number had grown to 1,000 people, proving the land was as good for growing people as it was for growing oranges and lemons.

In 1893, Blanchard — along with Wallace Libby Hardison, who had co-founded the Union Oil Company in 1890 — founded the Limoneira Company.

Upon the retirement of Blanchard in 1896, the company was helmed by Hardison’s nephew, Charles Collins Teague, who was to hold the job until 1947.

Another city father, Charles McKevett, was on the original Limoneira Board of Directors.

Family ties

The reason I go into the above details is because the story of Santa Paula’s growth is inextricably bound up with these families.

The McKevett Heights neighborhood was laid out in the 1920s; the Blanchard Ranch east of Santa Paula Street to the Fagan Barranca (site of the original 100-acre orchard and where I grew up) was developed in the 1960s; and, beginning in the 1970s, the development of the hillside above the city, including the hospital property, began because of land donations from the Hardison and Teague families.

SOAR vote

In 2005, the city of Santa Paula came to Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira, with a desire to add much-needed housing to the city’s supply. Just east of the city limits was a 550-acre ranch owned by Limoneira. The property was under the jurisdiction of SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources,) meaning it would require a vote of Santa Paula’s citizens to approve the annexation of the property into the city of Santa Paula and convert the ranch from an agricultural use to an urban-development use.

In 2008, after extensive community interaction and input, the citizens voted to approve the annexation of the Teague-McKevett Ranch into the city of Santa Paula and to allow it to be developed for residential and commercial uses.

Thus was born the Harvest at Limoneira.

Houses built

The original Development Agreement for the Harvest was for Limoneira and its development partner, The Lewis Group, to develop 1,500 single-family home lots to sell to home builders on the property that had since been annexed into the city.

The first phase of the development — The Haun Creek Neighborhood, consisting of 586 single-family homes — sold out quickly, and an 8-acre parcel that had been designated as a K-8 school was reabsorbed due to the city’s falling enrollment numbers, allowing another 121 homes to be added to Phase 1.

The 707 single-family home lots that were part of Phase 1 of the project have now been sold to home builders, Lennar, KB Home, K. Hovnanian, Richmond American Homes.

The final homes of Phase 1 are being constructed currently.

Parks, trails, open space, ag preserve

The original Development Agreement for East Area 1, now called Harvest at Limoneira, called for Limoneira/Lewis Community Builders LLC to contribute land for a 35-acre sports park; 14 acres of land for soccer fields at McKevett park; 79 acres of open-space preserve, which includes hiking and biking trails; 55 acres of onsite agricultural preserve; and 34 acres of off-site agricultural preserve.

Additional parkland given includes 17.1 acres of Haun and Santa Paula Creek linear parks with hiking and biking trails.

All told, the Harvest at Limoneira project has more than quadrupled the amount of parkland in the city of Santa Paula.

The city also gained additional water rights to accommodate the new housing. A $5.5 million contribution to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and sewer impact fees of $1.23 million were also part of the original agreement, as was a contribution to pay for improvements to traffic throughout the city and build new flood-control improvements on Haun Creek to eliminate flooding on Highway 126.

Finally, the project provided for an elementary school, which still is reserved for the Santa Paula Unified School District, on 8.2 acres in Harvest, even though a similar parcel was reabsorbed in the newly approved development.

Expanded development
As a result of Santa Paula’s desire to increase its housing supply for both single-family homes and multi-family for rent apartments, the Limoneira/ Lewis Community Builders LLC and the city of Santa Paula negotiated an expanded Development Agreement for the recently approved expansion to the number of dwelling units in Harvest at Limoneira to now include 250 additional single-family homes and 300
for-rent apartments.

To that was added an additional 17-acre parcel of adjacent land, thus offering the potential to add more homes.

As a result, Limoneira/ Lewis proposed amending the Development Agreement to build an additional 550 homes, consisting of 300 for-rent duplexes and 250 single-family homes, on the property.

Community investments

An all-important bridge across Santa Paula Creek also will soon be built, thus bringing the Harvest closer to old Santa Paula and its shops and restaurants, and further the new development’s sense of community belonging.

The project, in providing a mix of new housing, followed the 2040 General Plan, which called for a balance of land uses, a diverse housing supply, and quality development.

In addition to housing, the expanded Harvest will bring nearly $16.5 million additional dollars from Limoneira to further benefit the community.

These amenities include:

— $5.5 million to go to the new Redtail project west of Harvest, which will include 166 affordable homes.

— $5 million toward the Sports Park, which will serve all the city and greatly increase Santa Paula’s existing park space.

— $990,000 to improve existing police facilities.

— $349,000 toward design and engineering of City Hall and Corporate Yard.

— $1,199,000 to Blanchard Community Library for improvements and expansion of facilities.

— $670,000 toward Traffic and Circulation, including extension of the Bike Trail to the Sports Park and circulation improvements and beautification of Telegraph Road.

Nathan W. Blanchard

— $1,460,835 toward infrastructure improvements in wastewater facilities and sewage treatment and

— $275,000 to help fund a low-income down-payment assistance program.

I’m proud Limoneira is continuing the community building begun by Nathan W. Blanchard more than 150 years ago.

I think I can say that Great-Grandpa would be very proud as well!

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