It's been two years since City Lights at Town Center opened its doors high in the hills of Aliso Viejo, Calif. And in ever-trendy, ever-changing Orange County, two years might as well be an eternity. But this luxury apartment property, which still catches the eye of discerning developers across the country, is far from yesterday's news. All for good reason: The project revolutionized the prototypical apartment property in southern Orange County.
"When City Lights was conceived, people were building primarily three-story, garden-style walk-up projects with a density of 26 dwelling units per acre," says R.C. Alley, a partner at Orange, Calif.-based Architects Orange, which designed the project.
City Lights defied that garden-variety standard, with a density of 50 units to the acre and a unique wrap product, a design that allows residents to access their units from all levels of the parking garage.
But innovation represents standard practice for the project's developer, Shea Properties, a Southern California real estate firm with a small but well-funded apartment division known for its creative apartment projects and award-winning mixed-use communities.
Unreal—and unfair—as this may sound, money is not usually an object for Shea Properties, thanks to the backing from its parent company, J.F. Shea Co., one of the largest privately held companies in the country with a 125-year track record. (For more information on J.F. Shea, see "Golden Family," page 58.)
"We have had fun because of the family backing and the fact that we have never been capital-constrained anytime throughout our existence," says William Gaboury, who has served as Shea Properties' president for 21 years. In 2002, he became CEO as well.
This tremendous financial support allows Shea Properties to quickly and effectively execute large, complex projects that would otherwise be prohibitive to a company of its size. "They have the horse power to go after things that some of the smaller groups can't touch," says Aram Chahbazian, a principal at Thomas P. Cox: Architects, which designs many of Shea's high-density projects.