Thursday, April 5, 2012

St. James developers outline 'small' plans for future neighborhoods

Parks in St. James could be smaller, but greater in number, in areas of pending development, the town planning board was told Thursday.

Bill deBruin and Bob Duffy, with the St. James Plantation developer’s office, gave the board an update on plans for development, especially in the new Seaside area. That area is being developed in phases, allowing the developer to see what sells and to adjust to market changes as necessary.

But deBruin and Duffy told the board Thursday that the current trend was toward smaller homes, as small as 1,300 square feet and some “single-family, semi-attached homes,” which they described as two separate, small homes, each on its own parcel but connected at a firewall.

To go with smaller homes, the two described small pockets of green space or water, with gazebos and bike racks, a short distance from the homes.

“There has been a trend toward smaller homes,” deBruin elaborated. “Enough magazines said so for a long enough time. Enough people are finally asking for it.”

In many cases, some of the yard work or maintenance of homes is included, they said, adding that such set-ups appeal both to newcomers to St. James and to long-time residents seeking smaller homes that require less upkeep.

“I may come in as a part-time resident in a small home, and then move to a bigger one,” Duffy said. “As life changes, I can stay in the same community and move again, neighborhood to neighborhood, and still enjoy St. James.”

“It’s the same person, the same typical client,” deBruin added. “I think what we’ve seen is from six or eight years ago, everyone’s net worth has changed, bank accounts have changed, or lifestyles have changed. People who built homes four, five, six years ago can’t or don’t want to deal with them anymore, or they’re ready for a change.”

And as the home-size preference shifts, they foresee smaller but more frequent parks, giving owners more outdoor space within an easy walk.

DeBruin called such areas “pocket parks,” though he said the designation was not official, and described them as small neighborhood hubs that did not require driving, and wouldn’t necessarily draw people from the entire development.

“We want to pick an area within a five-minute walk of someone’s house,” he said, describing small areas where residents could fish or garden. “‘Hey, man, let’s grab a fishing pole and walk down the block.’ They’re not going to attract everybody, but provide little pieces. It’s a local amenity that doesn’t require driving; we want to coax people out of their homes, leave the car in the garage and walk.”

Duffy and DeBruin emphasized that about 40-percent of the land in St. James is in some form of conservation easement, and said they did not intend to change that. The smaller parks would help break up higher-density clusters of homes, so the overall density would be similar to other areas of St. James Plantation.

Board alternate Bob Accordino compared the concept to similar parks in Manhattan—small green areas meant to be an amenity in the immediate neighborhood but not a driving destination.

“I think it’s important to emphasize, this is something we’ll have to learn to look at from the planning board’s perspective,” said board chairman Ron Johnson. “As a planning board, we will be asked to look at them.”

Councilor Bruce Maxwell, who serves as liaison to the planning board, urged the board to think about how such small neighborhood parks might be different from larger parks, such as Waterway Park, and how the parks might have different requirements for matters like parking.

“If the market changes dramatically, what’s planned for here will change,” Duffy said of Seaside and the area near a new access at Midway. “The nice thing is it’s a blank canvas. The challenge is it’s a blank canvas.”

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