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.
Building in the golf and recreational resort community of Lansdowne on the Potomac — in Lansdowne, Va. — Brookfield Homes' Washington metropolitan division faced the challenge of including 39 mandated affordable housing units in a 100-unit townhouse development. Rather than treating that element of the project as a down-market stepchild, the upscale builder rose to the occasion with...
Building in the golf and recreational resort community of Lansdowne on the Potomac — in Lansdowne, Va. — Brookfield Homes' Washington metropolitan division faced the challenge of including 39 mandated affordable housing units in a 100-unit townhouse development. Rather than treating that element of the project as a down-market stepchild, the upscale builder rose to the occasion with a creative strategy that paid off handsomely.
Defying conventional wisdom, Brookfield created a new townhouse design that puts high-end units selling into the $900,000s next door to subsidized units priced at a legal maximum of $148,203.
The 2,155-home, 1000-acre Lansdowne master plan has provided opportunities for the Brookfield division since late 2002 when the builder replaced John Laing Homes as a development partner in the community alongside Van Metre Homes of Burke, Va., and divisions of Centex Homes and Beazer Homes. The opportunity here was "the chance to continue our work at Lansdowne," says Chip Devine, vice president of construction and chief operations officer for the division, which already had multiple products underway at Lansdowne.
Market research indicated "a hole in the market for affluent, young professional singles and couples, and empty-nesters seeking low-maintenance housing," says Janet Howell, the division's vice president of sales and marketing.
Brookfield's scheduling and production situation required the company to build 39 affordable dwelling units (ADU in local parlance) into a single, 100-lot takedown, as opposed to other builders who were able to spread this financial burden across multiple neighborhoods. The lots were arranged in clusters of buildings with four to eight units.
One initial concern was that the ADUs would erode the value of the market-rate units, but Brookfield "decided to try blending the ADUs with the other homes in a high-end package, and have them look like they fit together," says Jack Chudovan, associate with Sutton Yantis Associates Architects, working with a concept developed by principal Bill Sutton. "We decided to put each building's two ADUs together to look like one, big unit, and break up the massing of the other units to work with those proportions," he adds.
Size mattered, too. The ADUs have 20-foot frontages while three market-rate plans range from the 28-foot Leonardo to the 32-foot corner units, the Milano and Bellini.
The Town Villas' spacious three-floor interiors are graced with ceiling heights that rise in places to 10 feet, 4 inches under low-slung metal roofing. This, the use of full-size brick — not veneer facing — and the overall complexity of the exteriors "required that we give our masons longer to finish the job," says Devine.
To help translate complex plans into a properly executed reality, Sutton Yantis created 3-D drawings for on-site trades and Devine added up to 45 days to the production cycle for a maximum of five weeks for the largest structures.
The resulting exteriors meld Italianate details in cornice brackets and cantilevered bump-outs with a horizontal, Prairie School influence seen in oversized eaves, brick banding and a low, 4/12 roof pitch.
Low-maintenance synthetics were also used, including fiber-cement planking, synthetic decking in various finishes and colors and Synboard cellular PVC trim. The trim eliminated a primer coat and was part of an extensive program that also included custom components from the builder's own millwork shop.
Likewise, trim levels and standard features are a notch above standard production-building fare. For example, DuPont Corian is the countertop standard with granite as the upgrade. Merillat cabinetry, GE Profile appliances and Delta fixtures and faucets (in five finishes) are also standard.
"These buyers are far more inclined to read Architectural Digest and hire an interior designer than the affluent buyer of one of our $1.3-million single-family [detached] houses here at Lansdowne," says Gregg Hughes, Brookfield's general sales manager. Buyers are spending into the upper $900,000s for units. The sales office reports buyers choosing upgrades from home theaters to sculpted carpets and bamboo or pecan flooring. Some buyers spent up to $100,000 on flooring upgrades alone, according to the sales office.
After a six-month pre-sales period that saw 25 sales, Brookfield opened its models in August, 2004, at prices roughly $75,000 higher than any other Lansdowne attached homes. Since then, prices have increased more than $200,000 per unit. With 85 units sold, close-out is likely by year's end. All of the ADUs, offered through a lottery, sold within two weeks of sales release.
The corner units were the top sellers, split evenly between the Bellini and Milano units. Brookfield has indeed tapped a new and overlooked market for affluent couples and active baby boomers.
Al in all, Brookfield's Town Villas represent a resounding, if unconventional, success.