While the housing crisis continues to deepen, there is one set of people seemingly immune to the local constraints of building a new home: the mega-rich.
This month, construction will begin on a three-story, 19,480-square-foot home in Carmel Valley in a private subdivision near Quail Lodge with 87 water fixtures. Given the cease-and-desist order handed down by the state more than a decade ago due to Cal Am’s illegal overpumping of the Carmel River, it would seem such a project would be impossible to get approved.
But this property has its own well outside of the alluvial plain of the Carmel River – if it were in that plain, it would trigger environmental regulation – and according to the project’s architect, Henry Ruhnke, it is a highly productive well and produces 28 gallons per minute, more than eight times what a normal single-family home would need.
Not that this is a normal single-family home – it will be an estate owned by Sir Michael Kadoorie, a Hong Kong billionaire and scion.
But here’s the catch: Kadoorie also owns an adjacent home, with double the water fixtures, that has up until now been served by the well. Once the new home is built, the existing house will start using Cal Am’s water supply instead of well water. (Meters on that home pre-date the cease-and-desist order, and it is permitted to use up to 1.74 acre-feet annually.)
According to reporting by Bloomberg, 81-year-old Kadoorie is worth $9.63 billion as of Sept. 19; he was knighted by the British monarchy in 2005. And though much of his business is in providing electricity across Asia, his family also has a substantial stake in The Peninsula Hotels chain, which owns Quail Lodge.
The Monterey County Planning Commission was first presented with the current project in June, then tabled a vote on the project until July 27 in order to get more information clarifying the well situation, traffic impacts and environmental impacts. The project will require removing 14 coast live oak trees and 28 nonnative trees. It will also involve grading, including on land that exceeds 25 degrees in slope (not allowed in Carmel Valley, without an exemption granted by the Planning Commission). About 9,250 cubic yards of earth will have to be trucked offsite and deposited in the Marina landfill.
That’s in part because the home is designed to be invisible to its neighbors, and will blend in to the wildland urban interface of the valley and the Santa Lucia Mountains to the south. And while wildfire has become an ever-increasing concern, the home’s location on the WUI – it’s literally pushing the envelope into the wildlands and is tucked into a forest – was not an issue raised by the commissioners. That’s because there are no prohibitions regarding building in the WUI in the Monterey County General Plan, last approved in 2010.
On July 27, the Planning Commission approved the project unanimously.