Curt Noland, vice president and general manager of Carlsbad-based residential real estate developer HomeFed Corp. (OTC: HOFD), began creating master-planned communities when he was 5 years old.
"I used to go in the front yard and build houses out of sticks and roads, and bigger buildings that were meeting houses, and put a little stream through it," said Noland. "I'd drive my little cars through the streets."
Now 51, Noland manages the entitlement, design, development and sale of HomeFed's projects: the 1,980-acre San Elijo Hills master-planned community in the southwestern hills of San Marcos; approximately 2,800 acres within Chula Vista's 23,899-acre Otay Ranch; and a 1,600-acre vineyard in Madera County, northeast of Fresno.
A two-time graduate of San Diego State University, Noland holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a master's in business. He's been a design consultant, merchant builder and master developer in San Diego County since the 1980s. For eight years he was director of development for Aviara Land Associates, developer of Carlsbad's 1,000-acre master-planned community. After the sale of that project's final phase, Noland identified San Elijo Hills as one of the most interesting master-planned communities in the county, and joined the company in 1997.
Noland represents HomeFed Corp.'s interests in negotiations with government agencies and in discussions with concerned citizens. Beyond his ability to envision the existence of a new community and how it complements surrounding communities, he's also called upon to distill complicated issues and interrelated factors for the company's decision-makers, and create solutions from often-disparate agendas.
He admitted his most difficult task is influencing his superiors when his conclusions are not the result of an orderly progression, but rather an organic process that comes from absorbing a thousand points of data.
The company is nearing the end of negotiations with Chula Vista on its plans to develop 600 homes and 1.6 million square feet of commercial space in Otay Ranch.
"We've developed plans for the property we think make sense and are synergistic with the surrounding land uses and plans. We're working with the city to understand what they want to accomplish, to weave that all together with a cohesive plan," Noland said.
In San Elijo Hills, where the population hovers around 7,600, roughly 2,900 of 3,463 planned units are occupied. Awarded Master Planned Community of the Year by the National Association of Home Builders in 2002, the development is comprised of 28 neighborhoods, 26 with ocean views. Eleven hundred acres are preserved for open space, including a 19-acre park and an extensive trail network, most of which leads to the towncenter. Blending commercial, residential, educational and recreational elements, the heart of the community takes its design cues from pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods of the 1920s and '30s.
An Internet network links residents and business owners and is also accessible at the visitors' center's coffee and sandwich shop. Across the street, a school serving K-8 grades opened in 2004, and changed to a middle school when the elementary school opened in 2006. A fire station is slated to come on line in March, and a nondenominational congregation that meets at the middle school closed escrow on its church site in mid-February.
HomeFed Corp.'s 10-K dated Feb. 22 states that as of Dec. 31, 2007, 2,982 of the project's 3,463 allowable units had been sold. The company has not sold any residential lots since June 2006, nor is it actively soliciting bids, preferring instead to exercise patience until market conditions improve. According to Noland, six of the remaining neighborhoods, including half-acre estate lots in the northeastern portion of the development, are view oriented.
During the fiscal quarter ended Dec. 31, 2007, revenues fell for the fifth consecutive quarter, down 80 percent to $4.38 million. For all of 2007, revenues fell 66 percent to $23.67 million.
Home sales have slowed, forcing the community's builders to reduce prices and offer concessions. In a departure from its core business, HomeFed will build the towncenter's 40-unit mixed-use component, which consists of two-story townhouses above ground-floor retail space.
"It's such an important part of the community, we want to do it to make sure it gets done right," Noland said.
A building permit for the first phase was issued in December and the company is negotiationg with contractors, but Noland is noncommittal about a completion date.
"It's tricky when you're building a vertical mixed-use project," he said. "You want it to be financially successful. You don't want to build stores and have them go dark. You don't want to build residential units and have them sit there empty. You want it to be vibrant, viable and full of energy."
Residents, frustrated by the delays in developing the towncenter, particularly the long-awaited Albertson's grocery store, have publicly criticized Noland and the company. Construction on the Albertson's, contingent upon the completion of the road connecting Twin Oaks Valley and San Elijo roads that opened last summer, is underway with a projected June 2008 completion date.
"Things aren't what they used to be -- regardless of what emotional sentiments might get expressed, it's our obligation to our constituencies to be responsible with what we do and how we do it," Noland said. "You don't keep putting product on the market when the market isn't ready to receive it."
James is a Carlsbad-based freelance writer.