Magee Ranch
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Sensitive Land Planning

Location Danville, California, United States

Client Diablo Ranch Development Company, WSI Builders

Scope Planning, Landscape Architecture

Size 600 acres

The project site is a beautiful 540-acre hillside ranch in suburban Contra Costa County, California. It was slated for development by the City of Danville as a clustered planned community. The development concept was to preserve the essential beauty of the ranch and to allow some 300 homes to be built with the least possible impact. The City’s Planning Commission dictated strict grading standards requiring detailed grading studies for single-family lots. The site’s unstable side slopes and visible ridgelines led to a scheme that concentrated developed areas on canyon floors and dedicated two-thirds of the site to regional park use. The resulting project accommodates 257 custom and semi-custom homes. Over 1,000 oak trees were preserved by this design approach. When grading for the homesites was completed, the site retained its previous landform and tree cover. New landscape accentuated the natural beauty of the site by the use of stone, orchards and gardens. The entry road was designed to fit the hills and to create the mystery of a hidden valley where the homes were placed. At the entry, the magnificent oaks and creek were preserved as the entry feature, highlighted only by a natural stone hedge and entry pylon, and accented by an orchard of flowering trees along the road edge. SWA’s major contribution was to understand the dynamics of a complex tree-covered hillside site and the process of sensitively locating 300 homes without changing the basic landform and preserving the oak-studded hills. The landscape architects were responsible for site analysis, conceptual studies, land planning, detailed grading plans, and extensive public review through the City’s approval process and community workshops. Following the City’s approval of the design approach, the landscape architects provided design, implementation, and field observation of landscape for all common areas, streets, model homes, entry walls, bridges and open space areas. This project was unanimously endorsed by all of the surrounding homeowner groups and received an unprecedented unanimous approval by the City of Danville Planning Commission and City Council. The mayor cited the unique accomplishment of preserving almost all of the 1,000 oaks on the property. The environmentally aware suburban community of San Francisco has repeatedly used this project as an example of how responsible development can be accomplished by sensitive land planning. The leading role played by the landscape architectural firm has enhanced the perception that the profession can make a difference in the design and execution of hillside projects. The unique factor is the combination of sensitive planning and community outreach. The plans for tree preservation and buffering to neighbors were discussed in separate meetings with homeowner groups and in Planning Commission workshops. In a region where the concept of NIMBY or “Not-In-My-Backyard” is a prime planning precept, it is unusual to have every neighboring homeowner group support the project unanimously at the City Council hearing. This support has continued since the opening of the project and through the construction, site grading, and sales phases.

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