Burgeoning Buellton

Montecito Builder Kerry Moriarty Helps Create Gateway to Santa Barbara’s New Wine Country

Longtime Montecito resident Kerry Moriarty is above all else a devoted football fan. He served as a backup quarterback on the Notre Dame team that, unfortunately for Kerry, featured a young Joe Montana, who almost never missed a game. Meaning, of course, that Kerry’s opportunities to show what he could do as starting quarterback were limited. Nevertheless, he has remained a faithful football fanatic, to which this humble correspondent can attest; I attended a USC/Notre Dame game with him and the Irish flame continues to burn, fiercely. Kerry’s brother, Larry Moriarty, who also attended Notre Dame, did however enjoy a five-year NFL career as a running back for the Houston Oilers. As for Kerry, since a hoped-for NFL career never materialized, he channeled his lead quarterback spirit into finding and funding building opportunities.

Kerry’s first project was a condo conversion near State and Constance streets in Santa Barbara, called Los Encinos, in the early 1990s. He had already spent 11 years in the real estate finance end of banking, having worked for local banks and Savings & Loans; before that, he sold real estate, and along the way acquired “quite a few” rental properties. His other projects include an 18-town home venture underway in Nipomo to be called Vista Grande Villas, a development in Lompoc, and he is “looking aggressively” at projects in north Santa Barbara County and south San Luis Obispo County.

Kerry’s current construction project is an ambitious development on Avenue of Flags in the heart of what will likely be the new downtown Buellton, called Vintage Walk. His first Buellton effort is nearby, within eyeshot of Vintage Walk: a four-acre parcel he purchased and upon which he designed and built a 28-unit townhome project called Burgundy Hills.

Kerry says that by going through the entitlement process with the city, he “got to know and appreciate the potential of Buellton.” He has purchased nearly 12 prime acres along Avenue of Flags, so if Buellton has a bright future – and it certainly looks poised to become what it is being called: Gateway to Santa Barbara’s New Wine Country – then the future is likely to be downright dazzling for Mr. Moriarty.

“Driving up here [from Montecito], I could see the beauty and the potential of the little city of Buellton,” Kerry says during our conversation at the nearly completed Vintage Walk site. As we stand on the balcony of one of the residential units being readied for sale, overlooking Solvang Valley, he points out the farmhouse, empty lot, and two motel properties directly across the way, on the east side of Avenue of Flags, that he owns. His properties on the west side include all the land up to and including Toños Mexican Restaurant. Directly adjacent to Vintage Walk (a joint venture with Santa Barbara-based Bermant Homes) is a feed store, soon to become Vintage Walk II.

“There have been serious discussions in locating a ‘civic center’ along Avenue of Flags,” Kerry says, but adds that, “there’s nothing concrete as yet.” The avenue, as currently configured, is separated by a wide grassy median, but sketches outline what many hope it will become over the next decade. The Buellton City Council has already approved an urban design plan that offers a template for the area that includes a new city center, retail shops, tourist destination elements, professional offices, and restaurants, all intertwined with high-density residential. What Buellton city fathers are looking to create is a “walkable” city center. Those plans might seem ambitious, Kerry avers, but he believes they will materialize. As for his role in all that, “It’s kind of exciting to be on the ground floor,” he says.

Before he took on Burgundy Hills, Kerry’s first involvement in Buellton, “Like everybody else,” he says, “I’d drive by once in a while and get gas and a snack.” That was about five years ago. During that process, however, he was struck by the potential: “Great visibility, right next to the 101 Freeway, beautiful mountain views, tremendous weather. I could just see the vision of a new Buellton.”

A Mixed-Use Development

Vintage Walk features 10 900-square-foot commercial ground-floor condominiums (priced in the low $300,000 range), 11 market-rate townhomes (mid $500,000s), and six “affordable” rental apartment units on 30,000 square feet. The Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara (not a governmental agency) will handle the rentals.

The 11 two- and three-bedroom residential units range in size from 1,380 to 1,560 square feet; all feature a fireplace, designer kitchen, oversized windows, heavy-duty sliders to the balcony, bull nosing in the interiors, 9-foot and cathedral ceilings. Nine of the units have two balconies, and all include either carport or garage parking.

“This is a custom-built project; it’s not a production-style home,” Kerry says. “When you look at the exterior, there is a tremendous amount of custom construction in the dormers, the eaves, the balconies… just those exterior elements are expensive to build.” He explains that County planners insist upon extras such as sound mitigation, double-wall construction, extra insulation for sound attenuation, etc., in a mixed-use development, hence the high-quality construction.

A unique aspect of the commercial units is what Kerry calls “a flex-use option,” allowing the owner to live and work out of it for up to a five-year period, at which time the units must convert to all-commercial use, either retail or professional use. “Light retailing, coffee shops, or bakeries are OK,” he says, noting that “accountants, chiropractor, wine people, a photo gallery, real estate agency, and a website builder are currently studying their options.” Tough restrictions will maintain the integrity of the development, he stresses. “For example, we’re not going to allow for any restaurants that provide for grease traps,” he says.

Doing my own figuring, if one were to purchase both a living and a commercial unit, even at the current asking price, it would come in at around $880,000. A 10-year interest-only loan could probably be obtained around the 6% range, creating a monthly “rent” of $4,400 for both a business and a home.

As for Buellton’s appeal, Kerry points out that, “All roads lead through Buellton to get to Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Solvang, Los Alamos, and Lompoc.

“The appeal of Vintage Walk,” he continues, “is in that the units can be a primary home, a second home, and even a business, or all of the above.”

Kerry believes his market will come primarily from the Santa Barbara area. “You can own in Buellton for less than what you could rent a similar townhome in Santa Barbara,” he observes. “It’s a great opportunity.” He believes Buellton will become, among other things, “the premier bedroom community to Santa Barbara and Goleta.”

A Grand Opening is scheduled for late May; date for completion is the end of May. Kerry’s wife, Geonine Moriarty, a noted Montecito-based interior designer who works under the name Casa Bella Design will design and decorate the model townhome (possibly two). Kerry notes that if someone purchases the model unit, they would “be purchasing a signature designer home from Casa Bella.” The model furniture would be available, but at a separate price.

Interested parties are welcome to visit the website, vintage-walk.com. Call 805-565-2147 to inquire about the residential units, 805-884-8480 for the commercial ones, or simply drive up to Buellton and see it for yourself.