Douglas Wiele

Douglas Wiele, president of Foothill Partners, acknowledged the rumors circulating about the airport's sale, but said he isn't free to discuss what he knows.

Airport sale is in talks, but developer of adjacent land won't offer details

Published Saturday, April 9, 2005

Anyone who attended the Kiwanis Club's meeting Thursday in hopes of verifying widespread rumors about the sale of the Rancho Murieta Airport was disappointed.

In response to a question from one of the pilots in the audience of about 40 members and guests, Douglas Wiele, president of Foothill Partners, the lead developer of 52 acres located next to the airport, replied, "There are lots of rumors out there that my company or US Home is buying the airport. … I can tell you I have a pretty good idea what is going on. I understand there is a buyer at the table, and because I signed this confidentiality agreement I am not at liberty to tell you what I know. I know they have somebody."

Wiele said the airport owners require a confidentiality agreement "between them and anybody that takes a look at their property to buy it."

Wiele said he was approached about six months ago by the same commercial realtor who introduced him to the 52-acre commercial property. He downplayed his interest in the airport, saying he brought in a few pilots he knows from the Bay Area who are real estate investors to meet with the owners and look at the property and, because of this, ended up signing the confidentiality agreement.

When the rumors were brought to his attention last month, Wiele told RanchoMurieta.com he was not aware that a homebuilder was interested in buying the airport and remarked that houses couldn't be built on the land because it is in the flood plain of the Cosumnes River.

Legal counsel for the airport has not returned calls about the possible sale. Dave Lucchetti, trustee for the Anderson family trust, owner of the airport, recently said he would not confirm or deny the rumors of a sale at this time.

At the Community Services District Improvements Committee meeting Wednesday, General Manager Ed Crouse said no one has approached the district to discuss the airport property. "Usually we're the first ones to be contacted," Crouse said. The CSD provides water, sewer and drainage services for the community.

The airport recently won a legal battle in its fight with the county over trimming trees on adjacent county-owned parkland. The trees were deemed a safety hazard and caused the airport to close its night operations in 2001. When the airport was on the market in 2002, it apparently lost a potential buyer over the lack of night operations.

US Home Inc., a national homebuilder, plans to build 207 homes on part of the 52-acre commercial site located next to the airport. This area is protected by the community's levee system, according to Wiele. He described US Home as a partner, but said the builder has not yet purchased the property.

Financial partner Regency Centers bought the site in late 2003, a year after Wiele outlined plans for a supermarket, drug center, homes, office space and self-storage at a December 2002 "town hall" meeting held by developer Murieta Holdings, which has no involvement in the project.

In the plan, about two acres are set aside for the Rancho Murieta Community Church to build its church. An easement agreement covering the use of parking areas will save the church from having to purchase land for parking, said Wiele.

At Thursday's meeting, Wiele covered much of the same ground he did at the 2002 meeting.

He said the site became too large for strictly commercial development after the county adopted the urban services boundary in the 1983 general plan. "Rancho Murieta became an island" because the property around it was designated as being outside the boundary for development, he explained.

He said the siting of the proposed housing complies with "the most stringent" Federal Aviation Administration guidelines for safety and noise. The one- and two-story detached, single-family homes will be designed for small families and empty-nesters, and range in size from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet.

The county's new affordable housing ordinance requires that 15 percent of the homes be made available to low-income families. Wiele said the plan that's been submitted to the county for approval meets the requirement by pricing that percentage of the production homes at the low-income level. He characterized the "low-income" designation as relative to the escalating cost of housing, and mentioned that in some Bay Area communities low-income is defined as $100,000 a year.

Housing was one of the possible uses for the surplus commercial area permitted under the commercial land-use designation and the housing density of over six units per acre came out of talks with the county, Wiele said.

The project is now going through the county planning approval process and the Rancho Murieta Association is on record as opposing the housing portion for a number of reasons, including density, proximity to the airport and the narrowness of the streets. The project is located outside the RMA's area of authority.

Wiele dismissed a rumor that the housing element was added to the shopping center project because more rooftops are needed to support the supermarket.

"We're confident there will be more houses built in and around Rancho Murieta, and, while we're not there today, we'll be there tomorrow," he said. "The day we're ready to build, we believe there will be enough people here to justify that project. … If people spend $35 per person per week in buying groceries, the requirement in weekly sales at a grocery store per week is about $350,000 in order to get a return on investment to justify the $10 million to build a new grocery store. We're right on the bubble."

Wiele said he saw an opportunity for his company to develop a supermarket-anchored shopping center in Rancho Murieta because research showed Murietans were doing the bulk of their grocery shopping in Gold River, 22 miles away.

He said having the shopping center in Rancho Murieta is expected to cut down on driving and reduce traffic congestion, although the 200 new households will offset that reduction by adding vehicles.

He expects "the first pieces of the project" to open in the summer of 2007 or 2008, depending on how long the planning approval process takes.

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