In 1987, Hon Development purchased what had been called Whiting Ranch – almost 3,000 acres of land in the Saddleback Valley with great potential to support residential growth. Barry Hon, the leader and namesake of the developer, had a clear vision for this new residential space: a place that balanced the needs of its residents with the needs of the larger community. Hon Development worked with Orange County civic leaders and environmental officials for over two years to address area concerns with a plan for a balanced development for the land.
The first idea Hon had was industrial growth. This new community would bring thousands of jobs to South Orange County with industrial zoning of about 800 acres, inviting businesses large and small to set up shop. Hon took steps to ensure that the businesses coming into the community would help provide funding to for public works of art to help beautify the area and contribute to the local culture.
The second quality Hon wanted to implement was residential growth. While primarily comprised of single-family homes, the development would also include apartments and condominiums. New schools would be built, as well as a library, to benefit the community and Orange County as a whole. Hon would also contribute tens of millions of dollars to the development and improvement of the roads and freeways to help alleviate traffic in and around Foothill Ranch, including $40 million toward the construction of Highway 241 (the Toll Road), which opened in 1993.
The third, and arguably most important, quality was environmental preservation. Hon made a commitment to donate over 1,100 acres to the county for an expansive natural park for the betterment of both human resident and the local wildlife. Plans were also in place to ensure that nearly half of the project land would remain open space, as well as relocating precious trees displaced during the construction, some of which were centuries old. Communities of homes would be linked to one another and the parks by picturesque footpaths and hiking trails.
At the time, county officials called the Foothill Ranch plan “unprecedented” in scope and vision – a benchmark for all subsequent development in South Orange County.
Physical development of Foothill Ranch began in 1989, with the first homes being put up for sale the following year. Residents began moving into the community in the early 1990s.
“When we first viewed our model home, we had to camp out for it and our names were drawn in a lottery before we could choose our lot. The sense of community was built with our neighbors that camped with us. For about a week, we hung out together in the evenings and then slept in our campers, tents, and pickup trucks. When Saturday morning arrived, we had our name pulled, chose our lot, and then had to leave right away to shower for a wedding we were attending.”
~ Longtime FHR Resident (since 1992)
For the next decade, Foothill Ranch blossomed into a hidden gem. Well known businesses flocked to the Foothill Ranch Towne Centre and Foothill Ranch Marketplace retail centers as development of homes continued. Streets slowly turned into micro-communities, social groups began popping up, and neighborhood block parties became a regular sight.
By 1999, nearly all of the initial construction of Foothill Ranch was completed, and the community was incorporated into the City of Lake Forest the following year. Since its incorporation, Foothill Ranch has benefited from the services of a large city – from municipal services to large infrastructure – yet has managed to maintain its own identity.
As the years passed, Foothill Ranch grew in not only size but reputation. Large-scale community events began to emerge like the annual Taste of Lake Forest event, which showcases the fare of several of Foothill Ranch’s well-known restaurants. Many well-known companies like Oakley, TAE Technologies, Kawasaki North America, Sol Technologies, Del Taco, and Kaiser Aluminum moved their corporate headquarters to Foothill Ranch. In 2008, Foothill Ranch was the subject of national news when Saddleback Church, whose flagship campus is based in Foothill Ranch, hosted The Civil Forum on the Presidency, in which Pastor Rick Warren interviewed both candidates of the 2008 presidential election, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, one-on-one.
Today, Foothill Ranch is a thriving community with over 14,000 residents in almost 5,000 households. While that is a large amount of homes, the community still manages to have a small-town feel, even while achieving great diversity among its residents. The now 2,500-acre Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park continues to attract hikers, bikers, and equestrians with its trails and scenic vistas. And Foothill Ranch’s industrial centers are still as robust as ever.
In its three decades of existence, Foothill Ranch has maintained Barry Hon’s vision as a picturesque community of balance and a standard-bearer for all of its sister communities throughout South Orange County.