Jan292012

Laguna Altura: San Remo



Last week, I covered the community of Cortona in the Village of Laguna Altura. Before that, I provided an overview of Laguna Altura in the post on Toscana:

Laguna Altura is an Irvine Company Village located at the intersection of Highway 133 (Laguna Canyon Road) and Interstate 405. The proximity to the Irvine Spectrum and nearby offices are ideal for local workers who desire a short commute. The ease of access to Interstate 405 and Interstate 5 cuts down the commute time of anyone working at a greater distance. This adjacency to the freeways does make the community a bit noisy despite efforts to buffer the sound. Further, the main entrance is on Laguna Canyon Road, a busy thoroughfare bringing traffic from Laguna Beach and other south county commuters linking from the 73 toll road. The traffic situation at the entrance is less than ideal.

The Village has no commercial center and no community center. The absence of these features is a notable negative to the Village. The nearest grocery store is in Quail Hill across Laguna Canyon Road which will serve to put a great deal of traffic through this intersection. There are a number of parks, and walking trails around the community that lead into the adjacent preserved land. The parks are typical of the nice parks built in Irvine Villages during the 00s, but it does not seem as richly amenitized as earlier developments. Early proposed plans had more parks than the final design.

The Village of Laguna Altura is composed of four communities: Siena, San Remo, Cortona, Toscana. The communities are ordered from the lowest priced being near the negatives of the freeway road noise and pollution to the highest priced being near the quiet solitude of the surrounding preservation area. The layout is notably efficient in a traditional neighborhood design. No space went to waste. This efficiency does create some monotonous long sightlines and a general lack of variety. The attractive landscape does serve to mitigate the weakness of the layout, and some interesting framing mounds creates a feeling of isolation despite the proximity to suburban sprawl.

The house designs have been touted for their innovative designs, although it is difficult to ascertain how exactly these are innovative. The designs are certainly efficient, and if innovation is defined as being livable at the least possible construction cost, then these houses are certainly innovative.

When touring the models, one is immediately struck by the similarity between all the floorplans. In fact, the downstairs of each model in each community is basically a minor variation on the same general layout. The proportions subtly change, and some areas are expanded in one and curtailed in others, but all of them contain the same basic elements with a large great room with a kitchen and family room with a dining room and covered California room at the back of the house. Notably absent are formal living rooms at the front of the house.

The larger homes, which are the ones profiled here are the most comfortable and spacious. The smaller and less expensive products are scaled down and somewhat more awkward versions of these floorplans. It is rather unusual for a homebuilder to create one basic floorplan and create several variations. If a potential customer does not like this floorplan, there is no product offered by the Irvine Company which serves as a viable alternative. This may create an opportunity for other OC homebuilders to create alternate floorplans which appeal to buyers dissatisfied with the current Irvine Company offerings.

The real problem with these properties is the price. Laguna Altura is positioned as a premium community similar to nearby Quail Hill, Turtle Rock, or Turtle Ridge. However, it doesn’t have the views those communities have, and it doesn’t have the amenities or commercial center to justify the higher price. When you consider the cost of ownership is well above rental parity — even with sub-4% interest rates — this community is simply priced too high relative to the value delivered. Sales so far have been sluggish, and with the lack of a move up market, sales will continue to be sluggish for years to come.

San Remo Residence One

The San Remo floorplans all have the downstairs arrangement typical of current Irvine Company offerings with a kitchen and great room and a California covered patio and a dining area at the back of the house. All the current offerings are variations of this basic plan. In residence one, the upstairs layout provides excellent master bedroom privacy, a convenient upstairs laundry and two bedrooms. One of the two bedrooms is larger than the other and it has a more spacious walk-in closet. The second bedroom is rather small.

San Remo Residence Two

Residence two at San Remo has mirrored the downstairs of residence one. The upstairs crams four bedrooms into a small space. All the bedrooms suffer for size.

San Remo Residence Three

Residence three at San Remo moves the forth bedroom downstairs to serve as a guest bedroom. This forces the front door to the side of the house. Since the downstairs bedroom is where the staircase used to be, this has been moved to the middle of the house at the expense of some size in the great room. The upstairs has small but adequately sized bedrooms, but the master and one of the children’s rooms share a wall making for less privacy in the master.