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Invaluable Lesson on Master Planning

Thursday, October 15, 2015 / Urban Land Institute

The Canyon House

IRVINE, CA – Students of the Urban Land Institute popular lecture series, ULI Leaders in Planned Communities, Residential Design & Urban Infill, were recently honored by speaker Paul Johnson, Sr. Vice President/Community Development, Rancho Mission Viejo. The class is part of a program designed to provide a relevant learning experience for housing industry professionals as well as university students.  An impressive roster of industry leaders will speak from September 9th through November 4th 

As a brief introduction, Paul Johnson joined Rancho Mission Viejo in 1998 and now leads a team of 21 persons, five of which are vice presidents.  It is his responsibility to keep the focus on the legacy of Rancho Mission Viejo and its remaining 23,000 acres approved in 2004. The master planned communities include Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo of which the villages of Sendero and Esencia are underway. 

Presenting “Lessons for Today and Tomorrow” in neighborhood crafting, Paul shared a wealth of information on the vision and planning of the different communities. “It is the goal of Rancho Mission Viejo to have fully integrated intergenerational communities, with Esencia being the real analog," stated Paul on product segmentation.  He advised it was important to know how the product fits into the world it’s going to be in, and to rely on yearly market analysis, both quantitative and qualitative to understand how and why consumers buy each product. Paul doesn't do anything without a schedule, adding "the only realistic way to know your goal is possible is to produce a schedule." 

Rancho Mission Viejo’s President and CEO Tony Moiso is passionate about connecting people and believes place making is about putting the physical community together (neighborhood crafting) and the social place (lifestyle crafting).  The communities have 501(c)4 organizations which deliver the  lifestyle programing. A few insights from Paul included the importance of providing active adults with their own amenities, keeping homeowner’s association fees reasonable, and an ageless clubhouse can be programmed by time, not age group. 

Ladera Ranch is comprised of 8,100 homes when the last 36 units are completed on 4,000 acres, with 52% as single family detached and 32% single family attached housing. Universal selling points included distinct village design each with separate clubs, neighbor to neighbor connections, and neighborhood crafting with articulated massing, authentic architecture and street landscaping. 

Extensive research went into the planning for The Village of Sendero with 941 homes, featuring a six-acre recreational core for intergenerational mixing and the Gavilan neighborhood for 55+ active adults.  Great care and thought was taken for close proximity to recreation areas, and includes a farm and parks.  A fully-leased 10-acre retail center will open in the 4th quarter of 2016. Sports and recreation areas for kids include a 12-acre sports field and pickle ball courts. Universal selling points included The Ranch heritage, The Reserve with 17,000 acres of permanent open space, a location in the heart of Orange County and hospitality with a culture of care. 

Recently grand opening to over 10,000 guests, Esencia is a new mixed use, inter-generational village, two times the size of Sendero, with 840 gross acreage and 2,800 planned units in three phases. It is designed as an ageless community with no gates.  Enjoying greater awareness of The Ranch, it integrates 55+ adults and features clubhouses, parks, bothies, farm, 45-acre retail/medical center, sports park, K-8 school and a Hilltop Club. 

As the class came to a close, Paul offered the student future insights to the building industry.  He warned that if you don’t like cycles, you are in the wrong business – it’s a part of it. As a master planned community developer, Paul stated “We have to provide innovation and front the research”.  Rancho Mission Viejo is focusing on understanding who the Millennials are and all of the different aspects of what they need in a community and home.  He sees smaller homes in the future, as well as smart houses becoming a reality. He thinks 2018 and beyond will be about affordability in the housing market.  Paul concluded the class with “as you grow to be a great manager, you get the opportunity to be a leader.  A leader is a visionary and able to show people how to get there.  Find out what your passion is.”  Paul loves what he does. 

Please contact for more information on the ULI Industry Leaders Program. 

The Urban Land Institute ( is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the ULI has more than 40,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

Published by : Fran Bangert
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