Vista Valencia with Jim Backer 2/6/2015

Rendering of Vista Canyon project overview. Courtesy of JSB Development

Rendering of Vista Canyon project overview. Courtesy of JSB Development

Jim Backer
Principal of JSB Development
Developer of the Vista Canyon project located in Canyon Country nearby Sand Canyon and Fair Oaks Ranch

SCVBJ: Describe the project at Vista Canyon.

Backer: It’s a multi-use residential, commercial office and retail, recreational, and transportation hub community.

There is approval for 1,100 homes, and almost one million square feet of commercial building to include office and retail space.

It will become a kind of a town center with a place for people to gather; there will be a significant amount of retail; and we hope the office space is able to employ up to 5,000 people. So there’s an opportunity to create a lot of energy in one place.

We also have plans to put a movie theater there. While that’s subject to the market, there has been some preliminary interest from theaters. And we’re looking at attracting a couple flagship hotels to build out 200-room hotel for that end of town as the project fills out.

Because it will also have a new Metrolink station, and bus transit facility like the one on McBean Parkway, this is a transit-oriented development.

SCVBJ: Will the new Metrolink station replace the one at Via Princessa?

Backer: The city could decide to keep Via Princessa, but it isn’t accessible to pedestrians and parking is limited.

We’ll have almost twice as much parking. The original idea was to relocate Via Princessa, but if the city council decides to keep it there would be four stations in Santa Clarita with the Vista Canyon project. However, that’s up to the city and Metrolink.

SCVBJ: How long did it take to pull this project together?

Backer: It was years in the making. We first looked at the property in 2004 and actually had part of it tied up until 2005. Then we canceled THE contract because it looked like I would need more property and there wasn’t agreement with multiple sellers, but we continued the discussions.

In March 2006, we bought about 103 or 105 acres, and later took an option on A western piece of property. It was the last continuous piece (of land) to connect Jakes Way and Lost Canyon Road. We optioned it in 2007 and bought it in 2012.

Of the 185 acres, we actually own 135 acres now which we bought in multiple parcels.

SCVBJ: How will the community be accessed?

Backer: We’re building a bridge across the river to connect to Soledad Canyon Road, and there’s another eastward connection to Sand Canyon.

SCVBJ: How is the project financed?

Backer: JSB owns it and we are the managers, but we have investors from all over the U.S. and one family friend from Asia, who has been an investor in many of my projects, is involved in this as well. We don’t have a big institutionally named investor that put in half-of the money; these are a series of individual investors who have been with me for the last 30 years.

SCVBJ: When do you plan to break ground?

Backer: We’re making plans to break ground this spring if all permitting is complete and financing finalized. So far all indications are that “it’s a go.”

SCVBJ: What are the stages of building that is planned?

Backer: First there are critical issues like grading the property and creating an embankment protection on both sides of river. Then we’ll be extending utilities to the property; building main streets, and doing the landscaping; adjusting intersections where needed and addressing everything outlined in the Environmental Impact Report. We expect to start from west end and move to the east. We’re hoping to have the first apartment homes, commercial projects and parking structures built first and then build the rest in phased sequences.

We won’t build homes ourselves; other home builders will do that once we develop the finished lots. We might develop some of the apartment projects ourselves and sell some to others.

SCVBJ: What are the plans for providing water to this development?

Backer: We’re building a water reclamation plant onsite that will create more water than project uses on an annual basis. We’re going to be treating water from sewer by taking existing sewer lines into the plant.

We’ll be installing a full purple pipe system at Vista Canyon for water recycling. We’ll only use about 20 to 35 percent of that water onsite and the balance will go to Castaic Lake Water Agency. We’ll be the source of all recycled water on the east side.

SCVBJ: Describe the architectural look of Vista Canyon.

Backer: We had at least 100 community meetings and went back to many of the groups multiple times, sometimes to address concerns.

We always heard from people that they “didn’t want to be like Valencia.” It took a while to uncover what that meant. As it turned out, they didn’t want to have a Mediterranean look, but a “rustic California” approach to the architecture using more natural stones and wood.

We have some significant oak trees there will be part of the park, and expand the oak tree population out there to make them part of project.

SCVBJ: Much of Santa Clarita’s terrain prevents it from being a very walkable community. How will Vista Canyon fare?

Backer: There’s less variation in the land; it’s pretty flat making it a lot more walkable because of the mixed use.

The Town Center is pretty much in the middle of town and the farthest point to it is only about ¼ to ½ mile. We expect people will want to walk there to grab a cup of coffee or shop. You’ll actually be able to walk to a movie or the train station giving people more freedom to do things in their community without a car.

SCVBJ: When do you expect people to start populating the space?

Backer: The ETA is in late 2016 and the first half of 2017.

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