The most common question developer Jim Backer receives from local residents is: “When will the Vista Canyon project be done?”
And like his 185-acre property between Soledad Canyon, Lost Canyon and Sand Canyon roads, Backer’s answer is anything but short and sweet. But he’s happy with the progress, and he feels the market is receptive to the types of amenities Vista Canyon is bringing to Canyon Country. Those include 1,100 residential units, nearly 1,000,000 square feet of commercial space, a new Metrolink station and more than 21 acres of recreational areas.
To begin with, much of the base utilities – sewer, water, storm drain, etc. – are getting completed on the west side.
“It’s really looking good over there,” Backer said. “They have the underground parts done, mostly. It’s coming along, making good progress.”
The first project completed will be the water reclamation plant, which should be finished in October or November of this year.
“It’s required to be operational before we start,” Backer said. “SCV Water is eventually going to have a pipeline for the excess water and they’ll build a tank.”
There’s a ramping up phase, Backer said, because there are a number of people who have to sign off on the plant.
“A lot of good things happened at Metrolink this month,” Backer said in mid-July. “Ninety-five percent of the drawings are completed.”
Money from the California gas tax has been allocated to construct a new Metrolink train station at Vista Canyon – $9 million, actually. Of course, that money could be jeopardized if the ballot initiative to repeal the 12-cent gas tax increase passes in November. City of Santa Clarita leaders have been working to acquire grants for the station’s construction, and part of its financing is on the shoulders of Backer’s company.
“They’ve never had another developer contribute to a train station like we have,” Backer said. “None of the other three train stations ever had significant developer contributions like ours has. The city is working on getting it funded and we’re optimistic it will be in the next two years.”
A bus transfer station that’s a part of the Vista Canyon project is scheduled to commence construction later this year, he said.
One of the earliest aspects of the Vista Canyon project is construction of office space, which will be operational by the end of the year, Backer said. And apartments should be available a year later.
“When people see activity there, and Metrolink starts to be a reality, it’ll excite the office crowd,” the developer said.
There will be 650,000 square feet of office space and 165,000 square feet of retail stores. And with another 130,000 square feet for a hotel, Vista Canyon is almost 1 million square feet.
Most of the retail store space is on Lincoln Place, which starts at the river and goes to the train station. The development will be a mix of professional tenants and possibly big tenants who relocate here.
This fall, the project will encompass a structure where apartment dwellers and office space employees can park.
“That’s going to happen,” Backer said. “We’ve done the conceptual design which is leading to permanent design, which is in process. It gets a lot of scrutiny … making sure the radius is correct, and making sure they can get horse trailers through there.”
The testing process for the size of the roundabout involves constructing it larger than the actual size of a horse trailer, he said. JSB Development expects it to be completed next summer, but it’s based on the approval process. Of course, it will be easier to build when kids are on a break from school.
Jefferson Vista Canyon is the name of the 480-unit luxury apartments being constructed on the west side of the property by JPI, a company specializing in multi-family residences. The east side of the property is being sold by JSB to a builder who will move forward with the sale of new single-family homes. “That’s moving along; they’re in escrow,” Backer said. “We have roads with curbs on them now, and eventually they’ll have pavement and landscaping.”
“Assuming the deal closes in fall, we’re probably starting construction on the park late this year or early next year,” Backer said. “The park takes about six months or a little bit more.”
The bridge over the Santa Clara River bed is a few years away. “We’ve designed the bridge and submitted it to the city for review check,” Backer explained. “We will build that sometime between now and April of 2020. And it’ll take about a year to build.”
Most residents are aware of other Canyon Country building projects, as well. JSB Development sees them as fellow contributors to the improvement of the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley.
Sand Canyon Resort Hotel & Spa
Jim Backer shared his thoughts on other projects, such as the former Robinson Ranch Golf Club, now Sand Canyon Country Club. Owner Steve Kim is in the planning stages of an expansion into a resort hotel and spa.
“I applaud some of the vision for what’s going on there to make it more accessible to people, to build on what’s there,” Backer said. “It’s a great property, the topography and everything else.”
What Jim Backer and his associates have learned in the years leading up to Vista Canyon’s fruition is that the community matters.
“Mr. Kim (owner of the Sand Canyon Country Club) is in a neighborhood that wants to have input,” Backer explained. “His success here is going to be dependent on his ability to have community support. … The key is it’s taking into consideration good ideas and the needs of the community and the needs of the project.”
The developer said he disagrees with some residents who are concerned with further construction. “I don’t see it as the traffic generator that some people think, if it’s designed sensitively and there’s appropriate parking and access,” Backer said. “You have to see how the plan comes out in the end.
He doesn’t see the planned resort as a competitor to Vista Canyon. “I think it can be very complementary to what we’re doing,” Backer said. “It’s positive for that side of town. If Mr. Kim builds on what he has in a positive way, we would certainly support that.”
Sand Canyon Plaza
Tom Clark, the developer of Sand Canyon Plaza, is in regular communication with the JSB Development team.
“I think he’s getting pretty close to starting,” Backer said. “He’ll have some services there on his side of the freeway, and we have a pretty easy connection to him, so people living either place who want to go to the other – there’s some real opportunities over there for being really eco-sensitive.”
Backer has seen a lot of changes in Canyon Country in the nearly 15 years since Vista Canyon was in the idea phase. “Fair Oaks, Skyline – it’s creating energy and I think it’s turning out well,” he said. “With quality projects you get services and people have places to live and recreation and retail.”
So, how does Jim Backer answer the question, “How long will Vista Canyon take?”
He says: “People will be amazed from now to about 30 months from now, that 80 percent is built in the next three years.”