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New 800-home development gives Fresno's west of Highway 99 region a big push

New home development being constructed in the Central High area

The large development by Wathen Castanos Homes will have 12 different floor plans available in a project that will see about 700 homes built.
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The large development by Wathen Castanos Homes will have 12 different floor plans available in a project that will see about 700 homes built.

Homebuilder Wathen Castanos Homes has big plans for west of Highway 99 in Fresno — a new home community with trails, parks and nearly 800 houses.

Construction has started on the first phase of Westerra, the first major residential development in years west of Highway 99. The premier planned community has no association dues or rules, which is typical of master-planned communities. And buyers have a large choice of floor plans from starter homes to houses with multi-generational suites and large living areas or extended dens to accommodate the diverse families who call the area west of Highway 99 home.

Westerra is a big deal for Fresno's No. 1 growth area, said Fresno City Council Member Esmeralda Soria, whose district includes the new development. "The market is calling for more housing, in particular that type of housing," Soria said.

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Wathen Castanos officially opens their Westerra model home center in west Fresno with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Demand for new homes where development has been sporadic over the years drove Wathen Castanos to the west side after years of building in Clovis and east of Fresno. The timing and the cost were also right. Together, it meant less risk for the builder.

"We noticed in the area there were only a couple of homebuilders," said Peter Castanos, vice president and one of the company's three owners. "Pricing (on land) had appreciated as much as in our Clovis community."

"To have pricing similar here in the west area of Fresno (compared) to our Clovis communities was startling," Castanos said.

The area has long been in the city's growth plan. New home construction was robust during the housing boom, but foreclosures hit many neighborhoods during the bust. When the economy improved, commercial developers came back first with retail construction. There was high hope that developer Darius Assemi would start his Westlake development, just southwest of Westerra. But he postponed the project in 2014 because of high costs and uncertainty about the city's plan to grow.

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A bonus room is an additional family room option in a Wathen Castanos model home in west Fresno, photographed on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

On May 3, the first of several community meetings was held to begin talks about what residents want to see on the west side. The target area includes 38,000 people, Soria said. "We need to figure out the infrastructure. The more people that live out there, the more the roads will be used, the more traffic. We’re needing to plan for that."

Westerra is on the outskirts of town bordered on the north by Gettysburg Avenue, Hayes to the east, Ashlan to the south and Bryan to the west. It is located across the street from Harvest Elementary School and Glacier Point Middle School in the Central Unified School District where enrollment has increased 9.25 percent over the last decade to 15,893 students, the district said.

Diversity in style

The houses in Westerra range in size from single-story, 1,427-square-foot homes to 3,243-square-foot, two-story homes. Some models have flexible living options with rooms that can be used as offices, second dining areas or converted into suites for in-laws or college-age children. Prices range from the high $200,000s to high $300,00s. The multi-generational plans are popular with the many Indian and southeast Asian families who live in the area, Castanos said.

The majority of the buyers are of Indian decent, Castanos said. "They love this multi-generational plan because they have this family dynamic that is really cool … you've got three generations going on in there," he said. "In some cultures it's significant to have two sitting areas or dens or family rooms when gatherings happen, so (these designs) seem to make sense."

The new home development in west Fresno by Wathen Castanos has floor plans that offer separate mother-in-law suites or bonus room for family gatherings popular in southeast Asian and Indian cultures.

The builder sold 22 homes before the models were built, a record for the company because it is often hard to sell when there is nothing for buyers to see, Castanos said. The first phase includes 120 houses.

Moving in

West-side resident Mandip SinghCQ drives the roads around Westerra often to his brother's house in the nearby Centex neighborhood. Singh, his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 2, live in an apartment near Shields and Marks avenues. When the Westerra information trailer went up, Singh immediately stopped by to ask about buying a home. He bought a three-bedroom home with an option for a fourth bedroom.

Singh, who is a truck driver, said his family has lived on the west side for six years. He said it was important to find a house in a quiet location on streets with little traffic and within walking distance to the elementary school.

"I want to buy the house because my family is growing up," Singh said. "My brother lives in that area and my parents … I have two babies, so my babies will go to school easy. They don't have to go far by car."

BoNhia Lee: @bonhialee

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