A 495-unit apartment complex proposed at what is now an outlets-center parking lot has jumped to the front of Tejon Ranch Co.'s line of housing projects.
Pending a vote Tuesday by the Kern County Board of Supervisors, the project is expected to house people working at the company's nearby retail and distribution-center developments — and help recruit new employers to the area.
The 27-acre project would be far smaller than the Lebec-based company's three other residential projects, including one proposed a few miles away aimed at serving the same blue-collar residents. That project has fallen behind schedule amid legal challenges.
A company spokesman declined to provide a construction timetable but said the two-phase project, with 13 residential buildings two to four stories high plus resident amenities and 8,000 square feet of shop space, will be the first of the company's housing projects to be built.
It will serve demand for apartments among 4,000 people already working at the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center, he said, and it will help persuade other employers to move to what is now an area with few housing options.
Bakersfield industrial property broker Wayne Kress said the project will boost the area's attractiveness among operators of distribution-type centers.
"The proximity to labor will only help Tejon attract industrial users," he said by email.
Originally the land proposed for the project was set aside for an expansion of the company's Outlets at Tejon immediately to the south. The shopping center launched in fall 2016 has at times struggled to keep some of its larger spaces leased.
"Given changes in the bricks and mortar retail environment, providing housing opportunities for the workforce is a better and more immediate use of the land," Tejon Ranch spokesman Barry Zoeller said by email.
Supervisors are scheduled to vote Tuesday whether to grant Tejon Ranch a pair of conditional use permits it needs to move forward with the project.
The project has the support of Bakersfield Association of Realtors President Ronda Newport, who noted local rental vacancies are at record lows. She said the project will help workers with no nearby housing options.
"When you can site housing opportunities close to an employment base, like this project does, that is attractive to those employees," Newport said by email.
Tejon Ranch, an agribusiness and real estate development company, had planned to meet the area's housing needs with a project called Grapevine. With a master plan of 30 years or more, it is proposed to eventually include 12,000 residential units at the foot of the Grapevine and more than 5 million square feet of commercial space, as well as schools, parks and entertainment.
The company said the Grapevine project has been slowed by lawsuits — "an unfortunate reality plaguing California real estate development," Zoeller wrote. A court hearing set for later this month is expected to determine the adequacy of a supplemental environmental review approved by the Board of Supervisors in December 2019.
Zoeller emphasized the very different scales of the two projects. The one going before the board Tuesday, he stated, "will be done very nicely, as is the Tejon way, but it's not a large project."
A county staff report said the mix of apartment types could change but that as it stands there would be 297 studio and one-bedroom units, 186 two-bedrooms and 12 three-bedrooms.
Stephen Pelz, executive director of the county Housing Authority, said the organization supports such projects because the lack of residential units drives prices up faster than income levels.
"It’s encouraging when developers and employers like Tejon Ranch see the big picture and find ways to help meet the housing needs of their workforce," Pelz wrote in an email. "This will complement the Grapevine project as it is important to have diverse housing types available to a variety of income levels."