Carl M. Freeman Communities solves land and location obstacles to create a community that blends vacation living and neighborhood appeal.
Porches, standard on all homes, present a key departure from conventional golf course communities, fostering a streetscape and a social life beyond golf. The visual impact of front-loading townhouse garages is lessened by integrating them into the architecture and adjusting driveway design. Townhouse driveway entrances are reduced to 8 feet to accommodate landscaping details that break up the slab and prevent eyesores. Garages on single-family homes are tucked back from the front.
The Village at Bear Trap Dunes introduced master planning to inland southern Delaware with sophisticated charm. Architectural design leans toward Colonial, even New England influence rather than low-slung Southern Coastal.
By building The Village at Bear Trap Dunes, Carl M. Freeman Communities in Ocean View, Del., brought golf closer to the beach and a master-planned resort community farther from it, to a place where other developers hesitated to invest. Targeting empty nesters a three-hour drive away in the Washington area who seek a second, retirement or vacation home, the developer aced the challenge of balancing a leisurely sporting lifestyle with a community where buyers want to put down roots.
Ocean View, part of a coastal tourist economy, is marketed as "quiet" in contrast with Ocean City, Md., a half-hour drive away, where more than a dozen golf courses dimple the area landscape.
Freeman was eyeing a site planned for an 18-hole golf course but no residential development when president/CEO Josh Freeman began to rethink the course design and hired Rick Jacobson, a protégé of Jack Nicklaus, to redesign and expand the course. He produced a 27-hole, championship-length course designed to intertwine with the homes to come.
Adding a residential community made sense because the developer was having approval delays for Bayside, an 865-acre, 1,700-home, master-planned shoreline community getting under way this year. "We knew it would take awhile to get that through zoning and approvals, and we saw a void for home building," says Patti Grimes, vice president of sales and marketing. Bear Trap presented an "interim step" to fill demand.
While Bear Trap Dunes brought golf closer to the shore, there was still the risk of locating a resort inland, even if only 3 miles inland from Bethany Beach.
The homes are more affordable than beachfront homes, which can start at $400,000 and continue into the millions but lack a sense of master planning. At the same time, the development brought golf closer to the water than other residential options, and buyers value the course views provided by abundant glass inside each home. But it's not just these backyard views that add value.
"These homes 'live' out the front," says Steve Smith, director of community planning. "They were designed with a streetscape in mind that attracts people to want to be on their front porches. You naturally want to mingle with neighbors."
Traditional neighborhood design cues extend from the front porches on all homes to the streetscape (with lantern-style streetlights), "pocket parks" within a five-minute walk of any home and, for community gathering, an amphitheater that hosts art festivals and theater productions. Bear Trap Dunes also offers a golf pro shop, dining, a fitness center, tennis courts, and indoor and outdoor pools. The Village Square retail center is under construction.
"We added touches that cost more, and a lot of builders probably would not have taken that risk," Grimes says. But the plan had no use for alleys, a TND place to hide and back-load garages.
"We couldn't just throw garages in the back," architect Bill Devereaux explains, because the backyard golf course vistas were a prime amenity. Instead, front-loading garages are set back 12 to 20 feet to minimize their impact. Visual tweaks such as landscape elements help diminish the impact of driveways.
Bear Trap also provides convenience and low maintenance, issues especially important to homeowners who are absent much of the time. For example, the thousands of options offered in the design center include composite siding and decking. Homeowners association fees consolidate multiple bills, including cable television. All homes come with Category 5 wiring, cable modems and access to a private community intranet that helps residents plan trips and keep in touch even when off site.
All major rear-facing rooms feature low-E glass, and plenty of it. The homes are Energy Star-rated.
Amenities include indoor and outdoor swimming pools, which are joined by a full-service clubhouse complex, formal and informal dining, a fitness center, five tennis courts, meeting rooms and Village Square, which is under construction and will bring retail and additional dining.
Roughly 80% of Bear Trap Dunes buyers want their master bedroom on the first floor. This one is from the three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath Classic model, which starts at $250,000.
"We wanted to provide homes that look like yesterday but live like tomorrow," says Grimes, now a resident like other Freeman employees, including marketing manager Katie Avsec.
"We feel like we're partners with the town," says Avsec, citing Ocean View's annexation of Bear Trap Dunes, with full police coverage and a new police station planned on community land donated by Freeman. And beachcombers aren't landlocked. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, a convenient beach shuttle runs daily on the half-hour from stops throughout the community.
With sales at 500 homes and a 32% buyer referral rate, The Village at Bear Trap Dunes proves that a resort community can succeed close to but not on the beach. "We've found that a lot of people know their neighbors better here than they do where they live in their primary homes," Grimes says.
About two dozen residents have traded up to larger homes but stayed in the community, some year-round. Approximately 12% of the homeowners are year-round residents, primarily retired, but Grimes says there has been a rise in families with children. Avsec adds that the local chamber of commerce has stepped up efforts to encourage a year-round economy.
"Nobody ever thought they could sell the volume of houses they've sold and not be right on the water," Devereaux says. "But they set off a land grab that's been going on for the last couple of years." Centex, Toll Brothers and Gemcraft are among the Giants that have caught Freeman's development bug in the area.