Brent McCaffrey, president of Tesoro Viejo and McCaffrey Homes, shows visitors from the real estate industry and local governments a model of the town center at Tesoro Viejo, a large, mixed-use community being built in southeast Madera County. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
It’s been about three years since the groundbreaking ceremony for Riverstone, one of two massive planned housing developments being built off Highway 41 in southeast Madera County.
Considering the estimated scope of the project — 6,578 homes on about 2,000 acres — it may not be completed for 30 years or more.
But Riverstone and the other big Madera County development to the north along 41, Tesoro Viejo, aren’t just about home building.
In the mix
Both are mixed-use developments with plans to include commercial, comprised of spaces for office, retail and light industrial businesses alongside stylish homes and recreation options that include parks, community centers and trails that will allow residents to walk, jog or bicycle to the nearby San Joaquin River.
In fact, development groups involved with the 1,600-acre Tesoro Viejo development have erected a little more than 70 of the 5,190 homes planned to be built there, and they’ve already built a Madera County fire station and a county sheriff’s sub station on site, as well as “The Hub,” a welcome center for potential homebuyers, along with a restaurant and a brew house planned for the future.
Tesoro Viejo has also completed a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade elementary school, and even though only about 20 homes have been occupied, the school is fully operational with children from outside the development bussed in.
Eventually, the plan is for the elementary school to mostly serve children living in Tesoro Viejo, said Brent McCaffrey, president of Tesoro Viejo and McCaffrey Homes, the lead developer on the project.
As for Riverstone, the developers there held a second groundbreaking off 41 and Avenue 12 Thursday afternoon for Riverwalk, the first commercial portion of that project.
The plan is for Riverstone to have 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, with Riverwalk comprising about two-thirds of that, said Timothy Jones, a developer and principal in the company that oversees the development, Riverstone Development LLC.
“We have 95 acres along 41,” for Riverwalk, he said.
Multi-family in the works
And the commercial area — which unlike Tesoro Viejo will have no industrial businesses — will be mixed use, meaning that some residential and office spaces will be available above some retail and office spaces, Jones said.
In addition, beyond building the single-family homes in the residential portions of Riverstone, “We anticipate having some apartments, definitely some [condominiums] in the mix,” he added.
Riverstone began construction before Tesoro Viejo, and homes started selling there in 2017. So far, about 400 completed, single-family homes have been occupied, with at least 50 more under construction, Jones said.
As for the demand among homebuyers, he said, “We’ve got six builders in there now. We’ve got a couple more trying to get in, and we are building ahead of our expected absorption.”
Some experts have said Madera is in the midst of a building boom, in part because spaces for developments with natural areas have become scarce in the Fresno area.
“Years ago, you had to live on a golf course. New people are requiring outdoor living and trails as the No. 1 thing they’re looking for. In all our entire master-planned communities here in Madera County, that is a big emphasis,” Madera County Supervisor Brett Frazier said.
At Tesoro Viejo, McCaffrey said the home building will be divided into nine “villages” — essentially neighborhoods — each with its own park, while Jones said 20-23 small parks are planned to be built throughout Riverstone.
Both also are planning to build multiple community centers, while Riverstone’s plans also include the construction of three elementary schools, along with a junior high school and high school.
“The first elementary school is set to break ground in January of 2020” and open in August of 2021, said Jones, adding that even after Riverstone is more fully developed, the schools likely will serve not only students there but also those in nearby areas, including The Ranchos and Rolling Hills.
Among the selling points at Tesoro Viejo — where three million square feet of commercial space is planned to be built — and Riverstone is residents who may start up or work at businesses in the developments will be able to avoid the traffic and time involved in commuting to and from Fresno, Madera and other nearby areas.
And with the addition of restaurants and possible places for entertainment and shopping, “When people come into the town center, they will hear about the lifestyle, not just a home to live in or a school to go to, but also the social infrastructure where you can live, work, play,” McCaffrey said last month to a group of real estate brokers, local government officials — Frazier among them — and others brought in to hear about the development on a bus tour put on by Fresno State’s Gazarian Real Estate Center.
Way of life
In fact, he said his family has donated land to build a Catholic church in the town center.
“So we’re trying to create not just a development, but also the social fabric of the community.”
If this all sounds like a couple of cities in the works, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
In 1995, Madera County supervisors adopted the Rio Mesa Area Plan, which included supporting residential and commercial development along 15,000 acres of then mostly farmland bordered by Highway 41 to the west, the San Joaquin River to the south, east toward Millerton Lake and Highway 145 to the north.
The plan was to merge those developments into a city, which would be the third in Madera County, after Madera and Chowchilla.
Tesoro Viejo sits in those boundaries, and McCaffrey said he expects his development and possibly some proposed to the south of his could be incorporated someday into a single city.
Town of its own
For his part, Jones said his development is far enough south of the Rio Mesa area that it’s unlikely Riverstone is unlikely to be rolled into a city with Tesoro Viejo.
But Riverstone already is a larger development in terms of acreage and number of homes, and on top of that, the developers own about 5,000 adjoining acres they want to get zoned for housing and eventually build an additional 20,000 residential units and dedicate about 600 acres of that for additional commercial development.
“That whole area out there could be another city,” Jones said of Riverstone, but he shied away from saying whether he would support that happening. “You know, we are so far away from that. We’re talking 20 to 40 years before that’s in contemplation realistically. So I can’t tell you the answer to that. I don’t know.”
He added, “I think the issues of becoming a city are complicated.”