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In the beginning: pre-Sun City days

By: Judy Bennett, Special to The News Messenger
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Editor’s note: This is the first of a monthly series leading up to Sun City Lincoln Hills 10th anniversary in September. Next month’s column will look at Sun City residents’ involvement in the community. By Judy Bennett Special to The News Messenger One spring day 24 years ago, a prominent, wealthy businessman from Hong Kong flew over northern California scouting potential property for future development. While soaring over Lincoln, he spotted cattle and sheep grazing on a spectacular expanse of ground below him and that businessman quickly purchased all 5,000 acres from the Hoffman family without ever setting foot on the property. The year was 1985 and that’s when the story of Twelve Bridges began. The property continued to serve as grazing land until 1990 when a San Francisco attorney representing the Hong Kong landowner contacted former Placer County Supervisor Mike Lee and his business partner, Don Riolo, who worked in project entitlement, development and management, and asked to meet with them to determine whether their services and credentials matched the development goals of the client. Following that fortuitous meeting, Lee and Riolo were summoned to Hong Kong to meet with Albert Young, the landowner’s son, and were hired on the spot to lead the future Twelve Bridges project through the necessary and complex legal steps toward becoming a viable master-planned community in this region. Under the company banner of Placer Holdings, Inc., Lee and Riolo began the required due diligence with both Placer County and the city of Lincoln to determine the feasibility of developing the vision for the community along with the entitlements necessary to bring that vision to reality. At that time, the property, which was located in the county, but within the sphere of influence for the city of Lincoln, was zoned by Placer County for 20-acre minimum parcels. Richard Ramirez, Lincoln’s city manager at the time, expressed great interest in annexing the project into the city for future development. The city was also working on annexing the property now known as Lincoln Crossing and another 900-acre site owned by Paul and Alice Ferrari for future development. Lincoln was clearly on its planned-growth path. While the protracted annexation process was underway, the Twelve Bridges Golf Course was being constructed under the county’s approval. Due to the leadership of Lee and Riolo, along with CEO Dr. Albert Young, the annexation, EIR (Environmental Impact Report), General Plan and the Twelve Bridges Specific Plan were completed and approved in May, 1994. At that same time, May, 1994, Del Webb was opening for sales its first non-desert Sun City community in Roseville. John Murray, general manager for Sun City Roseville, was already looking for a future Sun City site in the area and liked the Twelve Bridges location and vision. According to Lee recently, “John Murray was adamant from the initial meetings that if the property within the Twelve Bridges Specific Plan was to become a Sun City, it would be developed as an integral part of Lincoln, complete with a Lincoln identity.” Negotiations began with Placer Holdings, Inc. and a formalized relationship including partnering with Placer Holdings on significant infrastructure was in place in 1995. “Teichert Construction was poised to begin the initial infrastructure work as soon as word was received from Hong Kong that the agreement had been approved,” Lee said. “We were all positioned at the starting block for the most ambitious development project in the area’s history to begin.” As with any good story, this one includes a dramatic twist. In October, 1995, as the finalized purchase agreement was being flown to Hong Kong by Young for approval and signatures, Young unexpectedly died. All progress came to a halt. The negotiations had to start again – from the very beginning. “We were devastated by the news Dr. Young had passed away and the double blow was the significant setback to the Sun City Lincoln Hills development timeline,” Murray said. “I think it’s fair to say we were in shock.” In January, 1996, Paul Lam was appointed to assume Young’s role in the negotiations with Hong Kong. The Twelve Bridges Golf Course was nearing completion, Sun City Roseville was setting sales records for the Del Webb Corporation and the successor community was in dire need of identification. Fortunately, Young had embraced the Sun City concept and, when Lam assumed the leadership role with Placer Holdings, Inc., he advanced the revisions necessary to the General Plan. The city of Lincoln, Placer County and the community were in favor of the project moving forward. Following a total of 33 hearings from conception to final approvals, approximately 2,000 acres of the 5,000-acre Twelve Bridges Specific Plan were designated to be Sun City Lincoln Hills. The remaining property in Sun City Lincoln Hills includes approximately 300 acres purchased from the Leavell family and the 900 acres owned by Paul and Alice Ferrari that were being processed for approval during the same time period as Twelve Bridges. On April 27, 1998, the official documents were signed by the city of Lincoln, the landowners and Del Webb Corp., setting in motion the next momentous chapter in Lincoln’s history. Riolo and Lee convey a great deal of enduring satisfaction regarding their involvement in the Twelve Bridges Specific Plan. “We knew the vision and timing were right for Lincoln,” Riolo said, “but nobody could have imagined the success and the community and personal impacts this realized vision – conceived 5,000 feet above the ground – would create so many years later.” Judy Bennett is marketing project manager of Sun City Lincoln Hills Community Association