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Attainable Luxury on the Waterfront
On the prestine beaches of Northern Michigan, one luxury builder addressed sensitive land to tap market demand with turnkey luxury, and fractional mortgages.
Lakefront luxury is in every detail. Site-wise, clustered condos, mature pine and maple plantings and voluntary preservation of native grasses bring a net habitat gain to the sensitive beachfront.
Designer Helen Velas unified eclectic elements with rustic elegance, using a palette of warm golds, sages, caramels and browns.
Fractional mortgages at LeBear Luxury Residential Club and Spa bring a slice of the good life to Michigan vacation home buyers.
The northern half of Michigan's lower peninsula lakeshore is lined with beaches, resorts and development opportunities. But along the 35-mile stretch of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, most of 71,000 acres is federally protected. How to get a profitable development onto the tiny (and expensive) portion of available land? The answer came to Dominic J. Moceri, principal of luxury home builder Moceri Cos., based downstate in Auburn Hills. Buying out an underutilized restaurant, he turned three overlooked acres into LeBear Luxury Residential Club and Spa.
This second-home development clusters 14 luxury condominiums in a single building on the beach, directly across from the downtown retail district. Each furnished flat is sold in one-eighth interests, offering up to 112 buyers approximately six weeks of occupancy.
LeBear succeeds as an alternative to pricey second homes and sets a new standard for area luxury. "We provide everything but your toothbrush," says Moceri. (Actually, the concierge has that, too.) "Where else in America can you put 20 percent down — about $50,000 — and get a $3.5 million condo?"
Moceri planned LeBear with low-impact land use in mind, in stark contrast to most vacation homes, which are vacant most of the year. It would meet market demand for luxury retreats while conserving land and helping to flatten the town's seasonal dips with year-round occupancy, Moceri reasoned.
Some locals and even retailers feared development would spoil area aesthetics. But Jim Lively, a planner with Michigan's Land Use Institute and project director of the Leelanau Smart Growth Coalition, concedes Moceri followed all the rules and located LeBear "in the right location and area of town for this type of project." Glen Arbor Township supervisors approved it in a single meeting. "Our plan was so non-intrusive to the community and local ordinances, it wasn't even necessary for me to attend — and I usually attend every one of these meetings," Moceri says.
Architect Dominick Tringali carefully nestled the basic footprint between a boat launch and the public road. "This was fairly flat land and the grade didn't offer any easy sight-line answers," he says, "but we decided early that we wanted to give everybody a view of the water."
The Nantucket architecture of the all-cedar exterior lends a traditional waterfront air. Shared amenities include two heated pools (indoor and outdoor), a social lounge with billiards, a day spa and a 30-seat restaurant below a glass conservatory overlooking the beach. The design mixes modern and rustic, polished and distressed, exposed ceiling beams and stone arches, diverse ceiling lines and a general rough-hewn luxury repeated in the condo interiors.
Entering the individual units, "you get a rich, comfortable feeling," says Paul Samartino, lead designer with Tringali. He adds, "then you see the waters edge, out to the horizon, like you're looking out at the ocean." Two floor plans bring the outdoors in with beachfront views and decks, some exceeding 1,000 square-feet. Rustic and luxury elements mingle, from the stainless steel and granite of the kitchen, complimented at the hearth by a stone arch; to the variety of woods throughout, from rich cherry cabinetry to distressed, wide-plank floors, and a hand-laid marble floor mosaic beneath the foyer's domed ceiling. The design shows an unusual degree of synergy between architecture and dTcor. For instance, bear and nature imagery pervade everything from the pewter accent tiles on the tumbled marble kitchen backsplash to lampshades and carved-iron mirror frames. "We went through a lot of trouble to find interesting art pieces," says Helen Velas, president of Eleni Interiors, based in Naperville, Ill.
Fractional ownership had proven successful two miles north at another development, also on the beach in Glen Arbor. Only 50 of its 600-plus homes are co-owned, but their success has prompted developer Robert Kuras to pursue more. LeBear's entry price of $252,000 may seem steep. But on the beaches of Glen Arbor, land is at a premium. According to Moceri, a vacant lot for a single-family home goes for $1.8 million, and attached condos built 20 years ago now sell for $795,000 to $1.1 million. Instead, LeBear offers state-of-the-art luxury living for a fraction of those prices.
Still, to sell buyers on the part-time nature of LeBear's luxury, Moceri had to put on the ritz. Turnkey concierge service helps. An annual maintenance fee just below $10,000 covers year-round beach grooming, landscaping and snow removal, valet service, boat-launch and golf tee-time scheduling, pre-arrival refrigerator stocking, grocery delivery, airport shuttles and twice-daily room service — down to evening-turndown's mint on the pillow.
Steve Netherton, owner of Glen Arbor Real Estate and LeBear's sales agent, calls the project a "boutique development," following the lead of hoteliers including Marriott, Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton. "Top executives from these companies took a look at the plan and called it that, and they agreed Le Bear should do well, due to the location," he says.
A Sustainable Success
In June, after two years of presales, the exterior was completed and seven of the 14 homes were offered for sale. Through August, Netherton sold two-thirds of the 56 available mortgage interests.
Of the possible 112 owners (eight x 14 condos), Moceri expects roughly 80 residents at closeout due to multiple-interest buyers, most of whom are from Michigan. Some 20 percent of buyers are from across the lake in Chicago.
For his land strategy, Moceri deserves credit for thinking outside the box, before it closes on future developers. Smart Growth advocate Lively is supporting height and other zoning restrictions that he expects will restrict future shoreline resort development "within a year," which will likely enhance LeBear's value and exclusivity.