By Rachael Rees
TERREBONNE — After entering through a 22-foot-wide gate of wood and basalt pillars and traveling up a red cinder-chip road about a half-mile, visitors turn the corner and see what looks like a Tuscan villa in the distance.
It’s the Old Winery Clubhouse at Ranch at the Canyons, a private ranch nestled by the base of Smith Rock that totals 1,700 acres. It includes about 600 acres of working farmland and vineyards, more than 500 acres of land protected by the Deschutes Basin Land Trust and 46 landholdings, 21 of which are still for sale.
In an effort to preserve land and give homeowners at Ranch at the Canyons control of the gated community sooner, its new developers and majority owners, Jeff Creagan and Patrick Ginn, recently reduced the number of landholdings available for development from 60 to 46.
“What that means is that we only have (21) landholdings left to sell and then this community is a fully complete, thriving community,” Ginn said.
When 75 percent of the landholdings are sold, ownership will transfer from Canyons Land and Cattle Co., LLC, owned by Ginn and Creagan, to the homeowners association, said ShanRae Hawkins, director of marketing and communications for Ranch at the Canyons. And the reduction of 14 landholdings means the turnover will be happen much sooner.
“It was a goodwill gesture to say, ‘You guys have been patient,’” Hawkins said .
Boom and bust
For more than three years there wasn’t any direction or activity at Ranch at the Canyons, Ginn said.
“It sat with no forward motion because they ran out of funding and there was no vision for the future,” he said.
Ranch at the Canyons started being developed in 2000, after the original owners, Jim Garner and Mick Humphries, were denied permission to build a destination resort on their property because of land use regulations, Hawkins said. They tried for about eight years to turn it into a resort, she said.
When the economy started to turn down, the duo brought in PacTrust, a Portland-headquartered commercial real estate company, to help. PacTrust later took over majority ownership, and after having the property on the market for about a year it put 29 homesites, as well as controlling interest of the ranch, up for auction.
The reserve price was set at nearly $2.3 million, according to the auction catalogue by Realty Marketing Northwest, an Oregon and Washington-based real estate marketing and brokerage company. The catalogue stated about $30 million had been invested in development and 23 homesites had been sold with sales that exceeded $20 million.
In December 2012, Creagan and Ginn purchased the ranch through the auction.
Creagan said he stumbled upon the ranch by accident while looking for the Central Oregon Pumpkin Co.’s pumpkin patch. He took a wrong turn, followed the rock wall that outlines the community and found the auction sign.
“Honestly my first desire was to get involved with the ranch because I liked the place, I thought it was special,” he said. “I first came out here, drove around looked at it and said ‘Wow, this is probably the most beautiful place I’ve been ever.’”
But then, he said, he thought, “I’d love to have a place out here someday, but not currently the way it is.”
So he teamed up with Ginn, whom he’d worked with on similar projects, to bring momentum back to Ranch at the Canyons.
“I think it was similar to most large, half-built communities that you went into in 2010,” Creagan said, referring to the state of the ranch’s development. “Is it going to be great? Is it going to be finished, or is it going to die on the vine and this is what it is?”
When they purchased the ranch, Ginn said, no activity was going on.
“It was discouraging for owners and the developers because things stopped selling,” Ginn said.
In the past five years, Creagan said, only two homes have been built in the development. But this year, he said, there will be at least four, including a 3,698-square-foot, $1.6 million home scheduled to be completed in June.
Ginn said the cost for lots ranges from about $300,000 to $800,000, a value compared with what they were before. Originally, he said, they were selling for $1.3 million just for the land, but when the economy started to tank a landholding was short-sold for $160,000.
“It’s certainly been encouraging for our owners … to see values quickly bouncing back,” Ginn said. “Part of it is the certainty of the ownership and the direction that we’re taking it and part of it is the overall improvement in the real estate market. Its values have increased pretty dramatically from their low.”
In addition to owning a home within the community, he said, owners receive collaborative ownership of the ranch.
“It’s like living on a ranch. We have farming, we have our own vineyards … but you don’t have to go out and start your tractor at 6 in the morning and do the hay or prune the grapes,” Creagan said. Landowners pay for the work via their homeowners association.
A turning point
Mike DeGennaro, the development’s first resident, agreed the ranch was paralyzed for a while but said it’s at a turning point.
“The people that were here enjoyed what they had, but it wasn’t a community yet because there weren’t enough people,” he said.
Creagan and Ginn are working to change the ranch — not through a revolution, but an evolution of the original vision, he said.
“We didn’t want (Ranch at the Canyons) to be like other communities,” he said.
DeGennaro said the vision was to take what’s at the ranch — the land and the views — and work with it, not impose commercial elements such as basketball courts or golf courses.
The decision to reduce the number of landholdings is a reflection of that idea, and something DeGennaro said he and other property owners are happy about.
It’s an effort to lower density and have fewer homes on the ranch, he said.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is be good stewards of the property here. This is a beautiful piece of property and it doesn’t need 60 homes on it,” he said.