Magee Ranch

Magee Ranch

Sensitive Land Planning 


LocationDanville, California United States
ClientDiablo Ranch Development Company, WSI Builders
Size600 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.

Related Projects

Mountain House

SWA provided comprehensive master planning services for a new 4,700-acre community located near the foothills of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Envisioned as a sustainable, “smart growth” town located on less productive agricultural land, the community is designed to provide an internal balance of jobs and housing to mitigate traffic impacts. Working for the...

Quail Hill

This mixed-use planned community of over 6,000 people features over 2,000 dwellings in a broad mix of single family detached dwellings, and over 500 multifamily dwellings, complemented by a retail center and 800,000 square feet of flexible development. . Prominent natural landforms such as the Southern Ridge and the three knolls have been preserved and incorpo...

Shady Canyon

Shady Canyon is a 1,070-acre residential community and land preservation project in the heart of bustling, master-planned Orange County. The project carefully integrates the natural environment into every aspect of the community which consists of 400 custom and builder homes, a golf course that preserves important biological resources, swim center, recreation ...

Woodson’s Reserve

This new master-planned community challenges conventional thinking by preserving wetland areas and open space while achieving an optimal mix of housing products and amenities. A robust local economy has elevated demand for both commercial space and single-family housing. The master plan for Woodson’s Reserve targets active families and those who enjoy outdoor ...


This planned community 30 minutes north of San Diego is a testament to the collaboration of a visionary client, talented land planner, and creative designers and marketers. Set gracefully on its rolling site and preserving over half its acreage as open space, Santaluz is both a model of environmental planning and a financial success, out-performing all its loc...

The Cannery

The Cannery is a new pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in the City of Davis that exemplifies the most current and best practices of sustainable community design. Drawing from the agricultural roots of the adjacent landscape, the development emphasizes wellness through the establishment of a comprehensive open-space and recreational system and locally produced f...


Esencia at Rancho Mission Viejo is the recipient of the 2019 NAHB Master Planned Community of the Year Award. The second in a series of planned communities, Esencia is integrated into a 17,000-acre open space preserve in the hills of South Orange County. The surrounding oak canyons, creeks and orchards set the stage for a vibrant development that preserves, pr...

Almaza Bay Beach Town

Located on the tranquil and pristine Mediterranean coastline in northwest Egypt, Almaza Bay Beach Town redefines the concept of a resort town. Seamlessly integrating the intimate and relaxed feel of a beach community with the entertainment and excitement of a walkable retail district, this mixed-use development offers an exceptional lifestyle that enriches the...