Credit: Courtesy of Sudberry Properties

San Diego’s housing market, one of the hardest hit during the recession, could be on a path to recovery. Its apartment market is now recognized as one of the strongest in the country in terms of low vacancy rates. And a local developer has recently started construction on a 231-acre mixed-use project that will be the first master-planned community in San Diego County since the economic downturn began. That $2 billion project, called Civita, broke ground in Mission Valley, Calif., about a year ago and will include 4,780 housing units when its five phases are completed during the next 12 to 15 years.

Civita's first 30-acre phase will feature a neighborhood with two home styles that Shea Homes will build: Skyloft, with 73 condos and townhouses ranging from 1,400 to 1,900 square feet; and Social Garden, whose 127 attached homes will range from 1,200 to 1,800 square feet. The buildings for these homes will be three to four stories, with attached garages on slab. Their prices will range from the low $400s to the mid $500s, says Paul Barnes, Shea’s division president in San Diego.

What also makes Civita stand out is its mix of housing. The community's first phase will include a 306-unit apartment complex expected to open in a year; 150 units of affordable housing; and 175 units of senior housing.

Marco Sessa, senior vice president for Sudberry Properties, the developer on this project, told BUILDER last week that he anticipated the rentals going for between $1,400 to $2,000 per month, and the affordable component renting for between $600 and $700 per month. He added that there would be a total of 500 affordable units—some of which could be sold, not rented—when Civita is finished.

Credit: Courtesy of Sudberry Properties

The project will be noteworthy for its walkability. Opposition to this project had centered around vehicular traffic, and Sessa says Civita underwent “one of the most extensive traffic studies I’ve ever been involved with.” But the final version of the community offers a number of pedestrian-friendly features. For example, Civita's one-million-square-foot commercial center (which got pared down by approximately 300,000 square feet during the approval process) will be connected by a bridge that’s a five-minute walk from San Diego’s green trolley line. And, within walking distance of Civita's homes will also be 67 acres of parks and open spaces, and perhaps a charter or private school, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The city announced plans for Civita in 2002, and two years later, Sudberry had completed workshops with various stakeholder groups and got its environmental inpact report started. According to Sessa, that process “brought to light” some questions about densities and open space that have since been altered in the plan, which the city approved last year. Sudberry is also committed to infrastructure improvements that are expected to total $150 million and will include new traffic signals and road widening.

Sudberry is developing this project as a joint venture with the Grant family, which Sessa says has owned this land for the past seven years. “The Grants have challenged us to leave a legacy behind,” says Sessa, noting that his company has a reputation for its attention to architectural detail.

When Sudberry put the first phase’s residential component up for bid, Sessa says the developer received interest from eight builders. Barnes, Shea's division president, speculates that Shea won out because “the San Diego [division] has a reputation for delivery and for building with aesthetics for lasting value.” He says that elements of Shea’s new Spaces interior design would be evident at Civita.

Shea is also serving as this project’s general contractor on all site development, and Barnes is hoping that his company will be involved in constructing the rest of Civita as future phases get rolled out.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.