Kaid Benfield Archive


Deconstructing sprawl (literally)

Kaid Benfield

Posted May 21, 2009 at 3:25PM

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Last week, Emanuel Satingin wrote on the blog of Americana Development:

"A Texas bank is about done demolishing 16 new and partially built houses acquired in Southern California through foreclosure, figuring it was better to knock them down than to try selling them in the depressed housing market.  Guaranty Bank of Austin is wrecking the structures to provide a "safe environment" for neighbors of the abandoned housing tract in Victorville, a high-desert city about 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles, a bank spokesman said.

"Victorville city officials said the bank told them the cost of finishing the development would exceed what they could sell the homes for. . . Home prices in San Bernardino County, where Victorville is located, have fallen 60% from the housing peak in 2006, according to DataQuick, a research firm . . ."

The narrator in the short video above says that the demo company was headed to another new suburb to demolish an additional 20 houses after it finished the Victorville job.  Here's an aerial photo of the Victorville area by Joe Behr:

    sprawling Victorville, CA (by: Joe Behr, creative commons license) 

Similarly, this satellite image from Google Earth reveals the patchwork pattern of new housing and new construction sites around Victorville:

    Victorville, CA area (by: Google Earth) 

The saga was also reported in the Los Angeles Times, in a story by Peter Y. Hong:

"The Victorville demolition is one of the most dramatic ends to a bad bet made during the housing boom, but abandoned developments have become an all-too-common sight in California. Nearly 250 residential developments totaling 9,389 homes have been halted across the state, according to one research firm . . .

"The development was in a part of town remote even for Victorville, a wind-swept high desert city of about 100,000 residents. A dozen of the homes were in various stages of construction. Some had frames erected, and a few others had drywall hung, said Jorge Duran, Victorville's code enforcement manager.

"The four finished homes, however, were richly appointed with granite countertops, whirlpool bathtubs and dual-pane window . . .. 

"Construction halted in the summer of 2008, and the homes became a nuisance, attracting vandals and squatters, [city spokeswoman Yvonne] Hester said. The city first cited the developer for failing to maintain the property in July."

development site, El Rancho San Benito (by: Maria Avila)In related news, plans to build over 6,000 homes on just under 6,000 acres of farmland at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay Area have been abandoned, also because of the market crunch.  "Located on a panoramic expanse of meadows and ranchlands between Gilroy and Hollister just east of Highway 101, El Rancho San Benito [named, naturally, for the actual ranch the development would replace] was believed to be larger than any pending development proposal in the Bay Area," reports Paul Rogers in the San Jose Mercury News.  At least for now, the land will remain in agriculture.

Across the country, Richard Fausset reported in the LA Times that a 160-acre 1960s apartment complex in Tampa, Florida, may be torn down for restoration of native vegetation and wildlife habitat, under the supervision of the Trust for Public Land.  Fausset's article says that, as recently as a few months ago, the property "was slated to be covered with luxury condominiums, 'mansion' town houses and single-family homes."  But those plans, too, fell victim to the market collapse.