The largest development project along the newly extended 210 freeway at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains is finally proceeding after years of planning and financial difficulty. However, all is not smooth sailing for the Colonies Crossroads project, as a November appellate court order halted grading on a portion of the site because of a fight over flood control facilities.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal halted the grading after the San Bernardino County Flood Control District appealed a lower court decision in favor of Colonies Crossroads developers. A trial court ruled that the county no longer controlled easements on the property in Upland, which has been a gravel quarry, flood control basin and groundwater recharge site for decades.

After the lower court issued its ruling in August, developers began recontouring flood control facilities and grading for a 1.1-million-square-foot shopping center. The court order halted any work on permanent flood control facilities, but not on interim facilities or the commercial development. However, the extensive grading has all been part of one construction project.

The controversy over the flood basin threatens to overshadow the entirety of the development. As approved by the City of Upland, Colonies Crossroads will contain 1.1 million square feet of commercial space and 1,150 residential units, mostly single-family houses, on about 440 acres. Smack in the middle of the project are about 65 acres dedicated to flood control that are also intended to serve as open space for recreation and wildlife habitat. Included are about 25 acres of riparian habitat, a plan that pleased environmentalists. A hotel and several automobile dealerships could also be built, although that portion of the project remains uncertain. City officials favor the project because it will bring sales tax revenue and large new homes to town.

During the late 1980s, developer William Lyon won approval for a mostly residential development on the site. The project, known as San Antonio Lakes, proposed nearly 1,500 housing units and a lake. At that time, an extension of the 210 freeway, although long proposed, was seen as a distant possibility, recalled Upland Community Development Director Jeff Bloom.

Like many real estate interests, Lyon went bankrupt during the early 1990s and it lost the property. A group of investors calling themselves Colonies Crossroads, Inc., acquired the property about six years ago. By that time, the 20-mile extension of the 210 freeway from its transition to a boulevard in San Dimas to Interstate 15 in Rancho Cucamonga and beyond was becoming a reality. The freeway extension opened in late 2002 (see CP&DR Local Watch, January 2003).

The freeway made the site more appealing for commercial uses, especially because the site includes a freeway interchange, say the developers and city officials.

"We’re trying to get uses and qualities of development that are appropriate to the city," Bloom said. "We’ve lost over the years a lot of shopping to surrounding areas." Plus, he said, the state’s tenuous fiscal condition makes sales tax generation look more appealing than new housing.

The new investors broke the project into two phases — a first phase of 305 single-family houses and a second phase of everything else. The first round of homes were intended to generate cash for the next round of development. Standard Pacific and KB Homes have actually built the houses, about 80% of which are complete. Most are 2,700 to 3,500 square feet and carry prices in the $400,000s and $500,000s. Sales have been brisk.

The first part of the 105-acre commercial component is intended to be a big-box-style power center, with The Home Depot, Target and Kohl’s as major tenants. Some office space is also included. A "lifestyle center" with restaurants, possibly a movie theater and other features is proposed for the second round of commercial development.

The remaining residential portion of the project is divided into 11 tracts, including one devoted to 350 high-end condominiums. Taylor Woodrow Homes has purchased all of the remaining single-family home entitlements.

Since the 1980s, the project has drawn consistent opposition from residents of Rancho Cucamonga east of the site and residents of the unincorporated community of San Antonio Heights to the west. Residents in general have complained about the loss of views and open space, and the intrusion of a busy commercial district into a quiet residential area.

More recently, litigation has been an obstacle to development. The Cucamonga County Water District and San Antonio Water Company sued over groundwater recharge. Those lawsuits were settled in August when developers and the water companies agreed on the design of new groundwater recharge pits. Earlier this year, Caltrans paid $8 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the developers, who complained that the design of the 210 freeway channeled more floodwater onto the Colonies Crossroad site. The controversy over flood control, however, did not end with the Caltrans’ payment.

The county Flood Control District has owned easements on the property since the 1930s and over the years built a series of levies and basins. In 2001, the Colonies Crossroads developers argued that the district had abandoned those easements and that the district must pay for flood control facilities constructed as part of the development. The county contended the easements were still in place and pointed to a 1999 contract it signed with the developers in which the county abandoned its easements in Phase 1 of the project in exchange for certain flood control improvements. In August, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Peter Norell ruled for the developers.

The cost of the new flood control basin and habitat area is estimated at about $25 million, while the land involved could be worth as much as $1 million an acre. Colonies managing co-partner Jeff Burum has threatened in the press to sue the county for $200 million for the improvements, the land and project delay. Burum did not returnCP&DR messages.

"We believe the district has no obligation [to fund the improvements]," said Deputy County Counsel Mitchell Norton. "We believe what the Colonies should do is abide by the contract."

Providing for flood control has always been part of the project’s conditions, Upland’s Bloom said. "The debate is less about what is going to be done than about who will pay for it and how much land will be dedicated to it," he said.

Overall, though, Bloom said it has been exciting to see the project move into actual construction after so many years of speculation.

Jeff Bloom, City of Upland Community Development Department, (909) 931-4130.
Mitchell Norton, San Bernardino County Counsel’s Office, (909) 387-5444.
Colonies Crossroads website:Colonies Crossroads