June 22, 2003
Markham leaving his mark
Henri Brickey
Staff Writer

Whether it's how far you have to drive to buy a gallon of milk, or the size of your back yard, there's a good chance Larry Markham was involved in determining it.

As his customized license plate on his black Chevy Suburban implies, Markham is the "LandAce" of the region.

Regarded by many as Southwest Riverside County's premier developer's consultant, Markham, 52, has served as a steward to the legions of developers who have set their sights on this valley within the past two decades. Essentially, his job is to shepherd developers' projects through the red tape.

But he has also served on various commissions and land-use boards that have shaped how Temecula and Murrieta have been built.

Among his clients and city leaders who share his vision for the community, Markham, president of Markham Development Management Group Inc., has been called "a super citizen" and is something of a savior to developers trying to build in the area.

"Larry Markham has been invaluable," said Barton Buchalter, a Los Angeles-based developer who has worked with Markham on about a half-dozen apartment complexes in the valley. "When a project has a problem with a local politician, Larry Markham ... is so well-respected he knows the right way to handle any given situation. He's a class act."

Relentless in defending property rights, Markham said it isn't unusual for him to put in 80 hours of work during a busy week.

Much of his work is done at city council and county Board of Supervisors meetings, where Markham tries steering projects through the barrage of questions elected officials can throw at a developer.

"I defend my clients as aggressively as I can," said Markham, who says if he had to choose another career it would be as lawyer. "I get accused of being an attorney all the time anyway."

But his no-holds-barred commitment to his clients has made Markham appear insensitive to some residents in the area, particularly slow-growth advocates and environmentalists, some of whom say Markham has had a "negative impact on the valley" by allowing overdevelopment.

Michelle Anderson, co-founder of the slow-growth group Citizens First of Temecula Valley, a group opposed to one of Buchalter's projects, said Markham knows how to work the system and usually gets what he wants, but it's not always to the benefit of other residents.

"He's a very astute business man whose business interests definitely take priority over the community's interests," Anderson said.

Super citizen or 'good ol' boy'

From his office on Temecula's west side, Markham, explained recently why he thinks some people don't like him.

"Homeowners are used to seeing that field behind their homes vacant for the past 15 years," he said. "When I come in and defend my clients who want to build on that land, (homeowners) mistake that I'm being adversarial towards them."

Sometimes the public's perception of what should be built on a piece of land and the wishes of Markham's clients collide, he says ---- particularly when things such as apartments or shopping centers are planned behind residential developments.

But what many of those residents fail to realize, some city officials point out, is that it was Markham who paved the way for their homes to be built. From Bear Creek to Copper Canyon to California Oaks and now The Vineyards, Markham has ushered in almost every major neighborhood in Murrieta.

He was also behind the controversial Temecula Ridge apartment complex, the Temecula Valley Industrial Park and the Winchester Commerce Center, among others.

Murrieta City Councilman Jack van Haaster said that he considers Markham "a super citizen" for the work he's done to bring quality projects to the area.

"We typically don't have to worry at all about Larry trying to sneak something through," van Haaster said. "Before that project ever gets to our Planning Commission or staff, he has pretty much applied our own rules and development code against it."

Beside knowing the city's development rules "like the back of his hand," van Haaster said there's another thing that has made Markham so successful.

"Knowing he's a resident of the region, I do believe he cares for the area," he said. "I've never got the sense that he wants to see a bad project in his back yard."

But not everyone shares van Haaster's admiration for Murrieta's best known developer's advocate.

Ray Johnson, a local attorney who has made a career of challenging cities and developers over the negative environmental impacts of certain projects, says Markham is a smooth-talking "good ol' boy" with enough connections to get what he wants from local politicians.

"Sometimes I think he's too smooth for the city's good," said Johnson, who blames Markham for "single-handedly" creating Murrieta's traffic woes by pressuring city officials to adopt lenient traffic standards at key intersections. "He's had a negative impact on the valley."

Despite Johnson's opinion of him, Markham said he respects Johnson.

"As a result of his litigation, he's made me be much more careful on environmental documentation and design because I know there's someone out there (watching)," Markham said. "As a result, I've probably ended up with better projects."

Besides the major residential projects Markham has represented, he has also made it easier for commercial and industrial builders to come into the area.

Another life

But life isn't all work and no play for Markham, who said he makes it a point to spend weekends with his wife of 17 years, Joann, and his daughter, Taylor, who is 11.

"I try to make it to all my daughter's soccer games," said Markham, who says he also takes time to go hiking and camping with his family on a regular basis.

In the beginning of his career, Markham's future seemed destined for something a world away from supermarkets and tract houses.

Shortly after earned his master's degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 1976, Markham came to California and landed a job in Burbank with Lockheed as an aircraft structural designer. But less than two years into his aerospace engineering career, Markham grew restless and sought out something more familiar to him.

"My father was a heavy-construction superintendent and I grew up around construction sites," Markham said.

In 1978, he came to work on the Bear Creek development in the foothills west of Murrieta as an employee of the Los Angeles-based development firm A.C. Martin. By 1980, A.C. Martin had a number of projects in what was then known as the Rancho California area and Markham was named the on-site manager for the rapidly growing area.

A year later, Markham split from A.C. Martin and staked out his own place in the development arena, a niche where Markham has made a name for himself as the guy developers go to when they want a project approved.

And that's not likely to change.

For the past 11 years, Markham has lived with his family on 3 acres in Temecula's Los Ranchitos neighborhood.

"I'll probably be here for good," said Markham.

Contact staff writer Henri Brickey at (909) 676-4315, Ext. 2616 or hbrickey@californian.com.

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