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Baltimore Ravine: Can Auburn market support another new subdivision?

Officials say current real estate slump not an accurate barometer of housing needs
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Neighbors who live close to the potential Baltimore Ravine subdivision in Auburn are sharing concerns about future foreclosed homes in the area. But local housing officials are saying today’s market is not necessarily a sign of whether or not future developments would be successful. “I don’t think that what is available today has anything to do with whether or not Baltimore Ravine should be built,” said Sue Thompson, owner of HomeTown Realtors in Auburn. According to Thompson, there are 255 active home listings and 54 pending sales in the city of Auburn. In the month of June in the Auburn-Newcastle area 39 homes were sold and 29 homes were pending sale. The median home price was $255,000, according to the Placer County Association of Realtors website. This is an improvement over last June’s 20 homes sold and 17 pending sales, according to the association’s website. Thompson said the housing market always turns, so there’s no way to predict what the demand for houses would be by the time Baltimore Ravine is ready. Baltimore Ravine consists of two planning areas. Plan area 1 is currently proposed for development. This area calls for 270 housing units and 54.5 acres of open space. The total Baltimore Ravine project would include 725 houses, 90,000 square feet of commercial space and 143 acres of open space, but there is no timeframe for when Plan area 2 would be developed. The Auburn City Council has to approve the project before any development could begin. Thompson said she doubts such a subdivision could be funded currently. “I think financing has a lot to do with it,” she said. “It’s very difficult to get financing right now.” Thompson said there would be no reason to build homes in Baltimore Ravine if no one was interested in buying them. “I don’t believe they would build homes they couldn’t sell, so what would happen is they would have to wait until our existing inventory was absorbed,” she said. Stephen Des Jardins, owner of Baltimore Ravine, LLC, the developer for the infrastructure of the project and landowner, said he hopes, if the project is approved, development would begin in 2012. He would like to see housing construction start in less than five years. Des Jardins said neighbors shouldn’t expect to see any houses right away. “There is years of work to do before any homes are seen,” Des Jardins said. “It’s anything but (a) fast (process).” The current market shouldn’t be considered in Baltimore Ravine’s case, because it could change drastically by the time home building starts, Des Jardins said. “Things take many years, so you’re never ever planning a project, on developing a project, for the market you are in,” he said. Jan Haldeman, owner of Haldeman Homes, an Auburn-based development company, said he thinks it’s going to be many more years before someone can develop a successful subdivision. “Somebody would be nuts to develop a subdivision right now,” Haldeman said. “There is no market. I think it’s going to be 10 years (from now before the market picks up) is my opinion. This is a long-term deal. We are in trouble.” Haldeman said he thinks it’s ideal for Des Jardins to get the approvals on the project now and wait for development. Auburn resident JoAnn Martinelli, who lives on Norman Lane near Baltimore Ravine, said neighbors are concerned about owners in the new development losing their homes. “If these homes are foreclosed upon you will have empty lots … where fires could start because nobody’s living there,” Martinelli said. “It could be so disastrous in so many ways.” Heather Watkins-Koolhof, who also lives on Norman Lane, said neighbors are also worried the development would somehow lose its financing. “One of our biggest concerns is this whole project is going to get started, and the whole ball is going to get dropped, and we will have this huge eyesore,” Watkins-Koolhof said. Watkins-Koolhof said several people she goes to church with in Lincoln have told her it’s their goal to move to Auburn, but the market makes it difficult for them to do that. “If they can’t sell their house … they can’t really afford to buy a house in Auburn,” she said. Mark Lund, chief executive officer for Community 1st Bank in Auburn, said he thinks financing for the housing development would be more likely after several years. “If (the developer) is looking out three to five years, it may not be as easy as it was three years ago, but it will be a lot easier than it is right now,” Lund said. Dalles Hill, who has been renting in Auburn for 10 years and is now buying a home off Auburn-Folsom Road, said Auburn is a very attractive community for new homebuyers because it offers a lot of recreational opportunities, events and scenery. “We absolutely love Auburn,” Hill said. “Work is there for me and school for our youngest (child). All our friends are here.” Hill said while she thinks neighbors near Baltimore Ravine have legitimate concerns, she hopes by the time homes are developed, the market will have picked up. “I am trying to be hopeful about it,” she said. “At any moment we don’t know exactly what the future is going to hold.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com