Business & Real Estate

Patience pays off for Sunrise Douglas residents as houses, businesses emerge

For the residents of the Sunrise Douglas development in southeast Rancho Cordova, a new concrete bike trail that winds through the surrounding wetland preserve offers more than a chance to enjoy the still-wild grasslands in this corner of Sacramento County. It also brings hope that long-neglected promises of more development and services for this burgeoning but isolated community may finally be fulfilled.

Signs advertising homes and land for sale still dot the empty spaces surrounding the properties and manicured lawns, aiming to draw buyers to an area once expected to house more than 50,000 people with plenty of shopping and dining. When the Sunrise Douglas development’s plan was approved by the county 14 years ago, the project was thought to be the largest ever approved.

Now, the community has been watching amenities pop up in the several-thousand-strong communities of Kavala Ranch, Anatolia and Sunridge Park. In recent weeks, the Cordova Community Council celebrated the opening of the Anatolia-Kavala Ranch Bike Trail.

“That’s another item that’s been long looked for,” said Philip Latenser, president of the Anatolia Homeowners Association.

Other signs of hope have come with a retail center going up on the southeast corner of Sunrise Boulevard and Douglas Road and a Raley’s supermarket slated to open across the street.

“We have had several thousand people living out there for almost a decade now with nothing but a Walgreens,” said Rancho Cordova City Councilwoman Linda Budge. “It’s really a thrill to be able to provide them with the grocery store.”

After seven months of hearings in 2002, the county approved what was supposed to be a project with 22,000 homes, several shopping centers, schools and parks on 6,000 acres between Sunrise Boulevard, Douglas Road, Grant Line Road and Highway 50. The original project was spearheaded by longtime Sacramento area developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos of AKT Development.

Building began in the first Anatolia subdivision in 2005, but obstacles, both economic and environmental, hampered the project.

In 2007, a Sacramento judge found the community’s plan didn’t sufficiently mitigate the loss of the area’s vernal pools, which fill only for a short time during the rainy season but are important for the mating and feeding habits of dozens of species. The plan had called for the builders to move a small tributary of the Sacramento River, which caused an uproar among environmentalists. The pools are protected by a web of state and federal regulations, which put the future of the development in question. The current plan leaves the creek in place.

The next year, the courts ordered the city to redo parts of the plan’s environmental review after the state Supreme Court ruled the county hadn’t properly outlined a water source for the development and failed to evaluate the impact of pumping groundwater on a nearby river.

The recession and ensuing collapse of the housing market also hit the project hard. Development stopped in its tracks, homes stood empty and homeowners went underwater as the value of their homes plummeted. Between 2008 and 2012, more than a quarter of the homes in the area had changed hands due to foreclosures or short sales.

The businesses, schools and parks that homeowners had expected never materialized. Residents had to drive miles away to older Rancho Cordova neighborhoods or Folsom to get a meal or pick up their dry cleaning.

The community grew concerned about vacant properties as banks foreclosed on homes. Latenser, who arrived in early 2009, said some Anatolia homeowners took care of abandoned properties.

As economic conditions changed over the years, the estimated number of homes fluctuated between 18,000 and upward of 30,000. About 15,000 home are currently in some stage of the approval process for the original 6,000-acre site.

Three of the four Anatolia sections of the development have been built out and a fourth is approved. About 3,600 homes have been built of the about 7,600 currently planned in Sunridge, and about 4,900 homes are planned for Suncreek. Another 1,757 homes are planned for The Ranch part of the project and an additional 4,700 are set for the Arboretum.

“Almost everyone has revised their numbers because (the plans were made) right before it became very obvious the recession was shutting down so much,” Budge said.

So many subdivisions, commercial centers and parks have been proposed for the area that it’s difficult to sort out what was built as promised and what wasn’t, and what will and won’t be built. The Sunrise Elementary School opened in 2007. Another elementary school is expected to open for the 2017-18 school year. The Elk Grove Unified School District estimated in a February facilities master plan that 12 additional schools will be needed if all the developments are completed as planned.

Home prices have also grown in the development, which has spurred renewed interest in Sunrise Douglas. The people moving in now seem like they’re planning to stay a while and start families, Latenser said.

“The community is maturing,” he said. “It’s finally starting to get its legs under it.”

On a recent weekday morning, Christy Moore was relaxing on a bench in a new park in the Kavala Ranch development while her daughter played nearby in a sandbox. Moore, 37, said she and her husband moved to Kavala Ranch three years ago to escape the noise and crowds of Sacramento.

Since her family moved, the park was created and more houses have been built. Moore also enjoys the wetlands and open space around her house. In the Sunridge area, 482 acres were set aside for a wetland preserve that runs between the Anatolia and Kavala Ranch communities. The Ranch at Sunridge has 174 acres of wetlands set aside.

“It’s a better place to raise a family,” Moore said.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison