Santa Rosa housing project embraces modular construction

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Kitchens and bathrooms often are among the last parts of a new home to be completed. But at The Residences at Taylor Mountain project in southeast Santa Rosa, they have started arriving before the first foundations are ready for them.

An often-touted benefit of modular construction is acceleration of a project timeline by as much as double, as work on site and in the factory can happen simultaneously. But in the case of this 93-townhome project, the production plant got ahead of the on-site work.

“The challenge had with fires is it has stressed the factories and the local labor market pool,” said Will Oswald, CEO of Kawana Meadows Development LLC, the Kentfield-based developer of the townhomes and a future phase with 67 single-family homes, called Taylor Mountain Estates. “‘Half the time’ is now down to half the half the time, because there is so much work out there.”

Santa Rosa-based HybridCore Homes has delivered over a dozen of its “wet cores” — modules with ample plumbing such as bathrooms and kitchens — to the townhome project site at 2880 Franz Kafka Ave. from factories in the Central Valley. But with thousands of homes destroyed in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties in October and hundreds more destroyed in wildfires in Southern and Northern California in the months since, such factories are getting to be as busy as local subcontractors.

“We get production that’s good and consistent out of the factory, but the problem is if you’re not in their schedule, there are 100 projects ahead of you,” Oswald said. “Two years ago, it was not hard to do, but now the timelines are getting longer.”

HybridCore alone has about 20 postfire rebuilds underway in Santa Rosa’s devastated Coffey Park neighborhood and the Larkfield community just to the north, according to Matt Hernandez, director of operations. The company contracts with factories in Sacramento, Woodland and Corona operated by Clayton Homes, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Those plants operate six day a week, rain or shine.

As the HybridCore modules arrive for the Taylor Mountain project, Sonoma County firms Argonaut Constructors and Staggs Construction are preparing sites, infrastructure and slab foundations for the first 10 of what eventually will be 27 buildings with one-, two- or three-bedroom units.

The project general contractor, A-One Construction from the Peninsula, will be framing — “stick-building,” in industry parlance — the first floor of the units then building the hallways, stairs and other areas around the modules after they are hoisted into the place on the second and third stories.

A spinoff of Farrell Faber and Associates architecture firm in Santa Rosa, HybridCore has manufacturing (HybridCore Homes) and on-site construction (HybridCore Build) divisions.

The goal is to start being able start stacking the modules vertically in the units in mid-September to stay on track for the first units to be available for occupancy early next year, Oswald said.

Prices for the townhomes are anticipated to start in the low $400,000 range for the 623-square-foot one-bedroom unit called The Oak, according to Tara Polley, a Sotheby’s International Wine Country Properties agent marketing the project. The largest units, called The Mountain, will have three bedrooms and 1,444 square feet.

Kawana Meadows is going with conventional framing rather than modules on the first floor of The Residences at Taylor Mountain, because site drainage calls for the townhome buildings to be built on slab-on-grade foundations, Oswald said.

Despite the logistical challenges at the moment of timing on-site work with factory work, the savings on time and cost make incorporation of such construction worth it, he said. The cost to install HybridCore modules with on-site construction around them is about $275-$300 a square foot, Hernandez said.

“The advantage is factory pricing is guaranteed, so once you lock in the cost with the client, it mitigates cost overrides,” Hernandez said. The cost unknowns that can come from on-site construction can come into play for the conventional construction around the modules, such as building a garage, roof or supplementary bedrooms, but those can be straightforward elements to estimate costs for, he said.

And an advantage of room modules over sectionals of a home is the ability to make a resulting home not look like it was manufactured, Oswald said. Though a great room with a 14-foot ceiling may be stick-framed, it can be wedded with 9-foot-ceiling room modules, which are restricted in size by what can fit on a big-rig trailer and under bridges and freeway overpasses.

“I’ve always been a big fan of modular construction,” Oswald said.

Principals behind Kawana Meadows also have other large projects in the works. One is the $350 million The Chateau village project across the Heavenly Valley resort gondola near South Lake Tahoe, developed by South Tahoe Development Corp. Another is a large condominium project in San Francisco.

The ownership acquired the Taylor Mountain project property in 2015 and started moving toward construction in 2016.

“We buy projects that are already entitled,” Oswald said. “Otherwise, it takes way too long. It’s really difficult to chase the market when you think you will have units a few years ahead and then it takes three to four years to get the project entitled before you start it. We like to buy projects that will come to market in a few years.”

The Santa Rosa project is the only North Bay endeavor the developers are working on currently. But when it’s done, they will be looking for something else, Oswald said.

HybridCore has 30 employees between its design, manufacturing and construction divisions.

The Residences at Taylor Homes is one of the larger projects HybridCore has undertaken, Hernandez said. The company completed a larger project two years ago in the booming North Dakota oil fields. However, the fire rebuild is keeping the company focused locally, he said.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Reach him at or 707-521-4256.

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