ANTIOCH -- As news sinks in of the East Bay Regional Park District's purchase of 1,885 acres of East Contra Costa ranching land, so does the realization that this city's vision of luxury homes enticing deep-pocketed executives is now likely gone.
The sharp reversal is welcome news to many in the community, but others lament it as a lost opportunity to boost the cash-strapped city's economy.
The park district agreed last month to purchase the land known as Roddy Ranch for $14.24 million from Roddy Group LLC, entering escrow with the partnership that includes ex-rodeo star and cattle rancher Jack Roddy.
The move halts Antioch's 15-year effort to develop 646 acres of that land located inside its growth boundary. Instead of lots upward of 20,000 square feet around a golf course, that land appears destined to someday be a new regional park.
Several residents say Antioch must focus on improving its existing neighborhoods and city services before expanding, regardless of the type of homes.
"I have seen more and more of the hills and landscape being demolished and developed. Everything is disappearing," resident Adam Van Winkle said. "It's getting too big, so I welcome the park."
Mayor Wade Harper said he was delighted to hear about the land's preservation.
"The residents of the entire Northern California area are better served by a regional park than by yet another subdivision," Harper wrote in a June 20 letter to the editor of this newspaper.
Some, including several past city leaders who for years wrangled with the county over the land, expressed frustration with the sale.
Former mayor Donald Freitas, a main proponent of a 2005 initiative that moved the city's development boundary, allowing housing on a piece of Roddy Ranch, said he has mixed feelings.
"It's great that it's going to be open space that everyone can enjoy in the future, but I feel like there could have been some kind of compromise where both parties are winners," he said.
Several city leaders said they wished some kind of compromise could have been reached.
Resident Noah Burt added: "It's disappointing. If it developed into high-end homes like the original intent, it would be a huge boost to the city government and local businesses. Development can be done right."
Councilman Gary Agopian said it's unfortunate the development will not happen, though a regional park option is "a close second" as far as his preferred options. In addition to boosting Antioch's economy, the development approval also would have required the developer to make substantial financial payments to the school district and local transportation, he said.
The regional park district's potential acquisition does not include Roddy Ranch Golf Club, Roddy's personal 40 acres and two other parcels inside the project boundary.
Roddy could not be reached for comment last week.
Antioch has argued that adding estate homes and a gated community would lure doctors, attorneys and business owners similar to Blackhawk's growth in the San Ramon Valley. Neighboring Brentwood also has seen a boost to city coffers because it has several developments of high-end housing, former Antioch councilman Allen Payton said.
"The (City Council) needs to go to bat for this and honor the will of the voters of Antioch," Payton said. Added Freitas: "It's a type of housing Antioch can't offer, but Brentwood can. It sets back Antioch moving forward."
Development plans were eyed in the late 1990s but hit a legislative roadblock in 2000 when county supervisors moved Roddy Ranch outside the city's growth boundary, stripping the land of development potential. Measure K, the 2005 initiative, reversed that.
But Roddy Ranch developers fell into financial trouble in 2009, defaulting on a $36 million loan.
No one could have predicted the hit the real estate market took over the past decade, resident Terry Ramus said.
"I think it's telling that you basically have an entitled project, and no developers wanted to come in. It became unrealistic," said Ramus, a Measure K proponent.
Antioch should focus on more timely issues such as making the city safer and development around revamped Highway 4 exits, he said.
Roddy Ranch seemed to again pick up steam last fall, as a new developer group that included Roddy submitted similar building plans to the city.
Antioch found out about the potential sale to the park district five days before the meeting where it was approved, City Manager Jim Jakel said. A couple of potential developers interested in buying the property from the Roddy partnership had contacted the city in the month leading up to that deal, he said.
Payton pointed out that there is still a chance over the yearlong escrow for a developer to try to acquire the property.
"It isn't a done deal yet," he said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
1976: Jack Roddy buys 2,156 acres southeast of Antioch.
1996-97: Faced with foreclosure, Roddy forms a partnership with Wayne Pierce, who invests cash and arranges loans. Pierce owns 80 percent of the new company, and Roddy owns 20 percent.
1998: Partners sign a deal with broker David Fitzgerald to finance a golf course and 1,000 luxury homes on the property.
1999-2000: Fitzgerald sells $35 million in municipal bonds to finance the project. Investors will be repaid with proceeds from home sales.
2000: Contra Costa County shrinks the growth boundary, which places a large portion of the ranch off-limits to housing.
March 2001: Officials revoke Fitzgerald's securities and broker licenses.
April 2001: Ranch defaults on bond payments.
July 2002: Ranch files for bankruptcy.
August 2003: At the request of creditors, a judge appoints a trustee to take over Roddy Ranch.
May 3, 2004: Richland Communities offers $31 million for the ranch in a courtroom auction.
June 30, 2004: Richland fails to close escrow for undisclosed reasons.
January 2005: A consortium of owners -- Black Mountain Development of Pleasanton, Castle Companies of San Ramon and Pacific Coast Capital Partners of Sacramento -- forms Roddy Ranch PBC and buys the property out of bankruptcy.
November 2005: Antioch voters approve Measure K, which sets the city's growth boundary to include Roddy Ranch.
November 2006: Roddy Ranch is annexed into Antioch by the county land formation commission, allowing for the use of city services such as police, fire, sewer and water.
January 2009: Antioch releases draft environmental impact report.
July 2009: Ownership group Roddy Ranch PBC defaults on property.
January 2010: Roddy Ranch property purchased by GKK Roddy Ranch Owner LP at a trustee sale.
August 2012: Antioch releases recirculated draft environmental impact review.
June 2013: East Bay Regional Park District purchases Roddy Ranch's 1,885 acres for $14.24 million