Two significant builders of North Bay homes over the past four decades are back in the game, rebuilding some of the thousands of homes destroyed in the October wildfires. A number of these are homes they had constructed.

Keith Christopherson has built more than 6,000 homes in the North Bay and Sacramento areas over nearly four decades. M.L. “Tux” Tuxhorn has had a hand in building over 1,000 homes in that time through various ventures.

Before the firestorm of Oct. 8–9 torched his home east of Santa Rosa on a path through the Fountaingrove and Coffey Park areas at the north end of the city, Tux and Beth Tuxhorn were working on a gut-and-remodel of a Palm Desert home.

“We were basically retired and planning to take time off, and now we’re knee-deep in trying to get some people back in their houses,” Tux Tuxhorn said.

After the fire, he contacted those who had lost homes in two subdivisions he developed next to the Coffey Park area. Of the 63 homes Benjamin-Tuxhorn Homes built in the mid-1980s in the Shelbourne (aka Barnes Meadows) neighborhood, 60 burned. Of 120 homes built in the Windrose development, 37 burned.

He also built in the Saddlebrook subdivision in Larkfield north of Santa Rosa, a neighborhood that escaped the Tubbs fire.

“We’re going to rebuild between 40 and 50 homes in Shelbourne and Windrose,” Tuxhorn said. “Hopefully, we will start rebuilding the lots in the next couple of months.”

After being in the buy-and-flip business following the 2006–2009 economic slump for housing that led to the closure of Christopherson Homes, Keith and Brenda Christopherson relaunched their homebuilding business at the beginning of this year, calling it Christopherson Builders. They set up a new office at 565 W. College Ave., the former Santa Rosa home of the DeMeo & DeMeo law firm. An 1,800-square-foot design center is being created there to allow homeowners to choose options for what their rebuilt home will look like on the inside.

“We’re helping a couple hundred owners right now get plans together, but we haven’t entered into agreements or contracts yet,” Keith Christopherson said. One holdup has been the formation of the new company, which is set to be finalized in the next few weeks.

But the scale of this reconstruction is bringing with it a lot of new-development aspects that can prove daunting for individual homeowners and in-fill builders, Tuxhorn said.

“I got my building permit on my house from the county of Sonoma in three or four days, but I have 40 years’ experience in doing this,” he said.

While city and county planning and building staffs have been gearing up for moving through a deluge of plan and permit submissions quickly, one thing that’s become clear in the months since the fires is what homeowners need to have packaged together in their plan submissions to expedite the process, Tuxhorn said.

That includes a soils-engineering report and updated architecture and engineering for building code updates plus items not part of the plans when the homes were built decades ago. Such additions are CalGreen green-building features, Title 24 energy-efficiency calculations, landscape drawings that account for city restrictions on water usage, fire-sprinkler design and house truss specifications. There’s also coordination for repairs or needed upgrades to utilities such as underground sewer, gas, telephone, electric and cable.

“That doesn’t happen overnight,” Tuxhorn said. “Architects and engineers are really busy. Between the subdivisions (I’m working with), there are seven main plans and couple had variations, so we’re talking about 10 plans — plus my home — so that’s 11 plans, and this for 50-60 homes. We can expedite the process, but it takes five to six months to get the architecture and engineering done, so that’s why weren’t not seeing houses.”

What’s helping builders involved with reconstruction of their developments of yesteryear is policy from local governments to speed processing of plans that were approved years earlier. Santa Rosa is allowing different approved floor plans for a neighborhood to be used, as long as it fits within constraints for a given lot in the development.

The Christophersons and Tuxhorns have updated some of their floor plans in burned communities to accommodate more of what modern homeowners want — living space, kitchens, bedrooms — and less of what they don’t, like dedicated dining rooms.

“What really matters is the height requirements and the setbacks,” Keith Christopherson said. “But no one has asked for two stories where they had single stories before. In a lot of cases, it’s the opposite. They want less square footage than was there before. When we get rid of all these rooms, they have more home, and it feels larger than higher-square-footage homes.”

But those who want changes to previous floor plans depends on the neighborhood and when the houes were built, he said. For example, owners in the Tuscany neighborhood at the top of the Fountaingrove area largely are sticking with the previous designs, because they were built a decade and a half ago, versus three decades ago as in Coffey Park. Christopherson Homes built as many as 300 homes in Fountaingrove.

And a number of owners in burned Coffey Park homes are concerned about the cost to rebuild, because the cost to replicate the previous design can make it higher than a new home, even though new homes cost more because of the complexity of design and systems that go into them, Christopherson said.

Keith Christopherson got into construction during high school and took it up as a vocation after graduation. After a stint in the Army, he returned home to a nation in economic recession. In 1976 he started working for a contractor in 1976 and four years later earned his own general contractor’s license.

But that was the early 1980s, and another period of economic recession had arrived. Christopherson had hung out his own shingle with a couple of partner builders who also had their own ventures.

After the 1980 and 1981–1982 recessions, his wife, Brenda, quit her job as a travel agent, which had been supporting the family and her husband’s solo enterprise, to take up marketing and sales for the family building business, Christopherson Construction. In 1987, the following year, the name changed to Christopherson Homes.

That company built developments in Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Solano, Sacramento, El Dorado, and Glen counties.

Jeff Quackenbush (jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and commercial construction and real estate.