Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
Master planner Laurent Development Co. is sculpting a different kind of community that borrows from New Urbanist and traditional design philosophies to create a hybrid.
If all goes as master-planned, independent builders will be dancing in the streets of upscale Dancing Waters in Woodbury, Minn. Master planner Laurent Development Co., sister company of Laurent Builders, one of the community’s 15 builders, is sculpting a different kind of community that borrows from New Urbanist and traditional neighborhood design philosophies to create a hybrid. “We’re taking the best of all the styles and techniques of land planning,” says Terry Forbord, Laurent’s president and managing partner.
Open spaces, public and private trails, view corridors, sculptures, a swimming pool, private Dancing Waters Central Park, and lots of landscaping and flowers provide a lifestyle that befits a rarefied community with homes priced as high as $1.5 million.
About half of Dancing Waters' 1,148 homes will be association-maintained, including these row homes by Wensmann Homes. Their red brick fronts, slight roof variations and front stoops evoke traditional urban row houses.
Forbord formed the development company in 1998 with brothers Gary and Randy Laurent, operators of their building business since 1974. Forbord had been a company president tasked to consolidate his organization’s land holdings for sale to a national builder.
In reaction to that experience and consistent with his high community profile on land issues, Forbord created an opportunity for independent builders to survive in competition with the national builders who otherwise would control the market by dominating the land supply. “We try to do only master-planned communities with uncommon features and amenities, and provide the independent builder an opportunity and the ability to compete within a target market area,” he says.
The Waverly, one of Wensmann Homes’ luxury townhome models, starts at $290,000. This open kitchen/dining area uses ceiling details and natural maple cabinetry to retain an airy ambience while defining spaces.
An Arts and Crafts-style office disappears behind pocket doors, out of view of the adjacent den/library. It’s a space-saver developed by Pratt Homes for empty-nester products such as this villa-type townhome that is detached but association-managed.
Photo by Moses Yuhanna
Additionally, Laurent Development’s product partnerships with Andersen Windows, CertainTeed and James Hardie help in marketing features of Dancing Waters’ homes. “We’ve provided a platform for builders, and it’s something they’d never get anywhere else,” says Forbord.
Forbord envisioned fighting the appearance of cookie-cutter sprawl and giving consumers “something that’s not totally homogenous. Our builders put in a tremendous amount of woodwork, craftsmanship and choices. I wouldn’t use the term production home here,” he says, because many builders on the project build 12 to 25 units per year, with “just a few” above 150.
“It took four years before we could push dirt,” says Forbord, as well as “relentless persistence, time, money and lobbying” to win over opponents of development. Anti-growth sentiment, moratoria, hearings, task forces and housing unit allocation limits led to higher lot and housing prices, he adds.
Laurent turned “monumental” issues that “could have easily killed the project” into solutions, Forbord says. Groundwater and storm-water rules and the need to protect adjacent, pristine, 57-acre Powers Lake led to strategically placed water storage and pretreatment facilities and a new, 10-acre Dancing Waters lake. The 1.5 million cubic yards of excavated dirt allowed Laurent to provide walk-out lots for roughly 80% of the project.
There’s no room for box-on-box design at Dancing Waters, which requires four-sided architecture from its builders. Laurent Builders, a sister company to the developer, pushed back the second garage (top) to minimize its street presence and varied the exterior cladding, trim and roof lines to give this home its custom character. A hearthless Arts & Crafts-style stone fireplace (above), flanked by built-ins, is a highlight of this Laurent Builders great room.
With the second of six phases almost complete, the developer’s story is an unqualified success with 520 home sites bringing Laurent $40 million in lot sale revenue in less than a year. Not all models are up yet, but 40 homes have closed.
Forbord says he’s pleased with the pace of sales. So, too, he says, is U.S. Bank. Dancing Waters was the bank’s largest residential land closing in Minnesota at the time of the deal.
“They liked our business model,” he says. “They’d rather be associated with a company that’s doing outstanding communities rather than just subdivisions” because if interest rates rise, a community has more value than a typical group of subdivision lots.
“It’s a lot harder to do a Dancing Waters than a bunch of subdivisions — the work effort is like 10 times higher,” says Forbord. “But if you create a community that everybody wants to be in, it’s going to sell. Builders will go beyond what they normally would want to do as far as terms and pursuit of lots.”
The hedge against risk also serves builders, while the community’s added value works for consumers, too, both owners of single-family homes and the roughly 50% of residents in other home types who will pay an association maintenance fee, about $600 a year for a single-family home. “Frankly, the bar has been raised,” Forbord says. “Home buyers, if given a choice, are willing to pay a little bit more for something of real value.”