River Islands has changed the Northern San Joaquin Valley housing market. Now it is taking aim at a major makeover in the approach to commercial areas.

River Islands has surpassed 3,000 home sales since the first contract was signed in 2017. The number includes 540 home sold in 2021. So far, more than 2,500 homes are occupied generating more than 8,200 residents on a reclaimed Delta island that a decade ago had just one household.

And with approval — and the means — to build 15,001 housing units that would bring River Islands build-out population to the cusp of 50,000 people the planned community will not end up being a cookie cutter replica of development of the past 40 plus years in much of the Central Valley or even the Bay Area for that matter.

It has all to do with an element of the planned community’s design that was envisioned long before today’s paradigm shift in the approach to shopping that started with the Amazon Effect and accelerated with the advent of the pandemic.

Cambay Group, in designing the planned community more than 20 years ago, eschewed big box, medium box and small box retail as well as traditional strip centers. They also entered into a binding land use that prohibits truck-intense firms from locating in the planned employment center.

“Big box retail wants to locate on freeways,” noted River Islands President Susan Dell’Osso.

She has pointed out River Islands is close enough to such traditional consumer draws located nearby across the San Joaquin River in the northern part of Lathrop, Manteca, and Tracy to serve residents.

River Islands is deliberately targeting what might be called “recreational shopping” and those ventures that feed off such a concept.
There are three town centers being pursued on the edges of River Islands. And while River Islands is working to snag smaller specialty grocery stores — think the genre of the store O’Brien’s has in Modesto on Dale Road – the goal is to populate the town centers with the types of stores and venues one would walk to after dining in a restaurant.

And to make that happen, Cambay is clustering its planned 5,000 apartment units in the three town centers. That includes one town center on the edge of the employment center that will be designed as a transit village surrounding the Valley Link station.

Valley Link rail service is targeting a 2028 startup to connect River Islands at Lathrop along with Tracy and Livermore to the BART station in Pleasanton/Dublin.

The consumer base for the town centers are being augmented by the deliberate placement of recreation complexes.
The main town center where the new Lathrop Police Department station is being built near the split of the Old River from the main San Joaquin River channel is also where the football field is being built that will be used by River Island High which is breaking ground this year.

The high school campus will be more than a half mile away.

The football field will go next to the Islanders baseball park — that is among the largest in the region in terms of seating — as well as the lighted soccer complex.

The idea is to create synergy between recreational pursuits and the town center.

“There are already a number of out-of-town teams that play at River Islands,” Dell’Osso said.
The recreation complexes are within easy walking distance of where restaurants and shops are planned.

And when the River Islands High teams play football games — or soccer for they matter — fans could easily walk to nearby restaurants after the game.

The more community centric football stadium is also expected to encourage its use for more community events such as car shows and festivals.

The fact Cambay Group has decided to design, build, and retain ownership of all apartment complexes dovetails into its plans to create and foster vibrant town centers.

Assuming the apartment numbers are split evenly between the three town centers they will provide a built-in immediate consumer base of between 3,000 and 3,500 people per town center in walking distance.

That is on top of other River Islands residents within walking and bicycling range or a short driving distance. The ability of recreational sports and similar activities to lure people from off the island to the town centers completes repackage.

That can’t be emphasized enough given that once the planned community is completed there will be an uninterrupted 18-mile trail looping River Islands that is accessible for anyone. Given the views it will offer of the rivers, wildlife areas, and even that of the community with its numerous manmade lakes it will likely be a magnet for walkers, runners, and bicyclists from throughout the area who could often end up patronizing restaurants and stores.

Working in River Island favor is Cambay’s commitment to constantly looking at things to see if they can be made better.
One of many examples was a decision made to invest more money so that the trail looping the island would never require the need for users to contend with cross traffic.

The issues of traffic versus recreational use popped up as the first bridge — Bradshaw Crossing — was being built. The development team noted that it would mean four lanes of traffic ultimately would hinderusers of the trail.

The decision was made to add bridges for the trail. Those bridges also do double duty as entrance features for the community.