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Equine Complex
Complex sign

"Everybody thinks we're going to come in and bulldoze this thing and put houses up. That's not the case. ... We're going to redo the equestrian center and make it 10 times better than what it is."

-- Developer Dan Chartraw,
part of a group that has bought the business and taken an option on 300 acres of land -- the equine complex and an adjoining agriculture reserve

Developers purchase Equine Complex business and get option to buy 300 acres

Published Monday, March 29, 2004

After months of rumors about the transaction, the Murieta Equine Complex business has changed hands, but the participants say it will continue as an equestrian center and any changes will be for the better. They don't rule out the possibility that homes would be built on some of the property involved in the deal.

Carol Anderson Ward, the owner of the property through the trust established by her late father, Fred Anderson, described the purchase agreement that was reached in February as "a great step in the right direction."

Three partners -- Dan Chartraw, Bob Cook and Larry John, of Cook, Chartraw and John Development -- purchased the business under a limited-liability company called CCJ and secured a two-year option to purchase 300 acres of land. The equine complex is situated on 100 acres of the optioned property. The other 200 acres adjoin the complex and are designated as agricultural reserve land. The acreage is outside the gates but within the boundaries of the Rancho Murieta planned unit development.

Ward, a dedicated equestrian whose phone machine message tells callers she's probably out riding, was delighted that the complex will continue as a center for equestrian events with the existing staff, headed by general manager Kelly Bess.

"Everybody kept their jobs. ... I'm not going anywhere," she said in a phone interview in February. "The horse shows will continue, and that operation will improve." She added that she will be "working very closely" with the new owners over the next few years.

Ward, a Rancho Murieta resident, is in the process of building a home on nearby acreage that is not included in the transaction. She retains ownership of about 400 acres in the vicinity of the complex. The landmark Gazebo Hill is not part of the transaction.

Speaking of Ward, Chartraw said, "The only reason we were able to buy this place is we have the same goals for the future. ... She'll always be a part of this place." He added that her "hard work and admiration for horses" make the equestrian complex work and "it's the same for Kelly."

"Normally, our company wouldn't buy something like this, but we did this for personal reasons. ... This is more of a hobby, you might say," he explained. "This is something we enjoy. It's not something we're looking to make money off of. ... My wife is into horses. One of my partners' daughters is into horses a lot." Chartraw said his 4-year-old son is learning to ride and his partner's daughter trains horses and competes.

"We're keeping this thing forever. ... We're not going to do anything to it. I never knew horse shows could be this much fun," he said during a recent visit to the complex.

Chartraw described himself and his partners as developers who "do all of our development projects together. ... My partner, Bob Cook, and his family have known Carol's family for over 50 years." Both Cook and the estate of the late Fred Anderson are minority shareholders in the Sacramento Kings basketball franchise. Cook was part of the private-public partnership that brought the Hyatt Regency Hotel to Sacramento in 1988.

Chartraw is a former resident of Rancho Murieta. After living here about two years, Chartraw, his wife and their two sons moved to Folsom last year. They recently acquired property to build a home in El Dorado Hills. They couldn't find a large enough lot in Rancho Murieta, said Chartraw, who said he plans to build a basketball court at his new home.

Through another company, BLAS-B Corp., he has been involved in an effort to develop 200 units of affordable housing on 32 acres in Folsom, a community that faces pressure to build affordable housing.

Chartraw declined to reveal what price was agreed upon for the equine complex land and the business, or to discuss the option to buy the property.

"We're purchasing 300 acres and the equestrian center, which is a business," he said in one of several interviews. "We put up large amounts of money. Right now we're the owners and operators of this place. This is 100 percent ours. ... We've purchased everything. Whether it's an option or a purchase for sale, you still own the property," he said.

An option is a contract to buy property at an agreed-upon price within a certain time period. Options can be used by developers to buy time to pursue a development plan and see it through the approval process. If they're successful or it looks as if they will be successful in obtaining approvals, they can complete the purchase. If not, they can walk away. An option can also be resold.

"Everybody thinks we're going to come in and bulldoze this thing and put houses up," Chartraw said, laughing. "That's not the case. ... We're going to redo the equestrian center and make it 10 times better than what it is. That's what we're doing right now."

He said there are no plans to build homes on the adjoining agricultural reserve acreage at this time. Some of the land lies within the floodplain of the Cosumnes River.

Ward said, "We've pretty much got our final agreement, but they've got two years to make sure they can do what needs to be done for the whole package. So they're going to be looking at their options."

She expects some housing to be part of the eventual plan -- probably fewer than a hundred homes. "I don't know how many houses. I don't think they know at this point," she remarked. She envisions "a lot of green space and riding trails."

Ward said a planner who "does intricate developments" is involved and there are some "really great ideas" coming out of the process. "As long as they can move forward, everybody's happy."

The complex, which dates to the early years of the Rancho Murieta development, hosts dozens of events a year. Its promotional material lists amenities like two indoor arenas, three outdoor arenas, 3,000 bleacher seats and more than 500 stalls.

Chartraw said the partnership's present plans include adding more stalls and possibly another indoor arena, fencing off the front of the property "so no one can get in at will any more," redoing the landscaping, adding a second-floor VIP lounge enclosed in glass, improving the food facilities, paving roads and parking areas, and redoing the vendor area in an "old western town" theme.

Some of the changes, like the fencing, have already begun. Others he hopes to complete by August, when the complex hosts its own yearly event, the Spectacular. His goal is to bring in bigger shows and grand prix events. "The better we can make this place, the better it will be for the kids, the community," he said.

The deal was put together over about six months by Rancho Murieta commercial real estate broker Julie Koslov, who knows both Ward and Chartraw. "He's been a good client," she said of Chartraw. Although the property was not on the market, Ward agreed to meet with Chartraw. The two were already acquainted, Chartraw said. He described to her what he and his partners wanted to do with the property. "They started talking," said Koslov. "The rest is history."

Rumors of the purchase have sparked speculation about how many homes it may eventually add to the community. The reduction in density on the North that's part of the Mutual Benefit Agreement lowered the final build-out figure for the community by about a thousand units. However, it's becoming apparent that other projects could bring the number back up to the original figure approved for the PUD.

Community officials are now taking this into account in planning for the future. This month, Community Services District General Manager Ed Crouse told the CSD Improvements Committee that the district will base planning for the community's water needs on scenarios that cover a range of needs -- the original total build-out number of 5,189 units, the reduced density figure of about 4,100, and some points in between.

He offered some examples of projects that are challenging the reduced density number already, including the 216 homes now proposed for part of the commercial acreage behind the Country Store and the apartment site at the North Gate, which seems headed for inclusion in a county inventory of multifamily affordable housing building sites. It was hoped that the site could be swapped for park acreage at Murieta Parkway and Camino Del Lago and become the location for a community center and pool, but that now appears unlikely.

At the committee meeting, Crouse speculated that 500 homes could be built on the agricultural reserve land next to the equine complex. He later characterized that number as a guess based on typical housing densities.

"Reduced density on the North frees up a thousand units," he said at the committee meeting. That attracts developers because there is a shortage of available land to develop in Sacramento County and "it's harder to get projects approved," he said. Because development has already been approved for Rancho Murieta, "that shortens the process dramatically. ... Areas that we would never have envisioned as being appropriate for development in the past ... are looking more attractive," he said.

According to Crouse, if the open space issue now before county planning results in more land being subtracted from what's available to develop, it could have an unintended side effect.

"On the remaining properties it could increase densities," he said. "Instead of having bigger lots, you could force more units on a smaller piece of property or build condos or apartments or whatever so that (the developer) can get the density that's appropriate."