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Casa de Maria puts price tag on Montecito property

1/25/05
REAL DEALS
Maria Zate

The 34-acre property that is home to La Casa de Maria retreat center at 801 Ladera Lane in Montecito is for sale for a whopping $12 million. At that price, prospects appear slim that a nonprofit organization would move into the heavenly sanctuary.

Dan Encell of Prudential California Realty and Rebecca Riskin of Village Properties are the listing agents for the property that includes nearly 75,000 square feet of institutional and educational buildings.

The marketing flier states that the Ladera site has "phenomenal views" and "extraordinary estate potential."

Although it sits on 34 acres, the hilly property only has 15 acres that are usable. That would limit its use to one estate because the zoning there requires a minimum of 10 acres for each residential parcel, Mr. Encell said.

"We think the property would be very attractive to someone who wants a very large estate in a private setting in Montecito," said Mr. Encell. "I think it would be great as Governor Schwarzenegger's mansion outside of Sacramento. There's even room for a helicopter pad."

La Casa de Maria has struggled with financial hardships in recent years, and the sale of the Ladera property is a last-ditch effort to make sure the organization survives. The center hosts gatherings, workshops and retreats for various religious organizations and other nonprofit groups. Casa de Maria also owns another property at 800 El Bosque Road, and there are no plans to sell that site.

In July 2003, Jim Villanueva, Casa de Maria's executive director, told the News-Press that the organization was thinking of selling the Ladera property. A decline in conference visitors and a drop in charitable giving led to a "severe case of financial whiplash at the center," he explained.

Money problems made it difficult for Casa de Maria to make the mortgage payments on the Ladera property, which it had purchased in 1997 from a Jesuit seminary for $5 million, Mr. Villanueva said. The center had been looking for a partner or donations to help pay the mortgage, but it appears those options have failed.

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