News Article | 10/17/2007

Rialto airport area project approved

RIALTO – For 60 years, small aircraft have taken off and landed at Rialto Municipal Airport, but plans call for the aviation operation to move to San Bernardino International Airport and for the city to sell the property for creation of a vast residential, retail and industrial project.

The city Redevelopment Agency would sell 482 acres to the developers, who also have purchased other airport-adjacent land from private owners to create a 1,510-acre project called Renaissance Rialto.

On Tuesday night, the Rialto City Council — Mayor Grace Vargas was absent — approved the developer’s revised master plan for building 2,118 homes and 14.7 million square feet of industrial space.

The site is bordered by Base Line, the newly opened section of Highway 210, Ayala Drive and Rialto’s western edge, near Palmetto Avenue.

In earlier versions of the project developers Lewis-Hillwood Rialto LLC planned to build 3,887 homes and half as much industrial space — 7.1 million square feet.

The developing partnership consists of Upland-based Lewis Retail Centers and Dallas-based Hillwood Development Corp. But in July, the team scaled back its conceptual master plan, approved by the Rialto Redevelopment Agency in December 2005.

City Council members generally praised the proposal, with some caveats and requests.

“I think this is going to be a great project. It’s going to resuscitate and revive Rialto,” Councilman Joe Baca Jr. told representatives of Lewis and Hillwood, the latter company headed by Ross Perot Jr. Hillwood also is master developer of San Bernardino’s shuttered Norton Air Force Base.

But Baca also said that, as the environmental impact report is conducted and the developers create their specific plan for the project, he wanted it to include plenty of park land and open space. Rialto has much the same recreational uses as it did when he was growing up 25 years ago, he said.

Councilman Ed Scott said he wanted the city to have some say in what type of businesses would occupy the industrial portion of Renaissance Rialto.

“I’m strongly opposed to warehouses that pay $8 an hour, because those aren’t good jobs for our residents. All they do is bring more trucks,” he said.

The developers told city officials that they wanted to scale back the number of homes because of the ongoing slump in the housing market.

“The current and near-term condition of the residential economy made implementation of the original master plan infeasible,” city Economic Development Director Robb Steel said in a written report.

The retail portions will be built close to Highway 210, and the residential neighborhoods will be constructed nearby so people can walk or bicycle to shopping, the developers said.

The developers will purchase the airport property once they complete the environmental review process and get all their approvals and development permits from the city, Steel said.

The airport property will be appraised at that time to determine its market value, which will in turn determine the selling price.