It’s hard to imagine there could be any sort of unfilled housing niche in the overbuilt landscape surrounding New York City, but builder Bill McGuinness seems to have found one. Palmer Hill, a verdant community planted in the space between Stamford, Conn., and upper-crust Greenwich, Conn., is offering a lifestyle option that, until recently, was tough to come by in the area: luxury in a medium-density setting.
“With attached housing, what you typically find around here is very vertical, Trump Tower–type new construction. Or, if it’s garden-oriented, it’s a small infill project with fewer than a dozen units and no amenities,” says McGuinness, principal of the Pawling, N.Y.–based design/build firm Sun Homes.
Palmer Hill cherry-picks the best of both product types. Located just 35 miles from midtown Manhattan—a door-to-door commute to Grand Central Station is less than an hour—the property offers all the classy amenities you’d find in a luxury high-rise (party rooms, pool, hot tub, fitness center, yoga/dance studio, business center, etc.) but in a quaint, village-like setting that feels more like Martha’s Vineyard than an extension of the Big Apple.
Crisp clapboard townhomes and shingle-style condos maintain a low profile and are anchored by a clubhouse in the same style. The 20-acre site plan preserves large chunks of green space and accents them beautifully with natural stone walls. Rather than leveling the topography, Sun Homes allowed each cluster of attached houses to step down a hill and follow the natural grade. “As a result, we show a lot less foundation wall and the rooflines have a nice rhythm,” McGuinness says. “We were trying to avoid all the little telltale signs that these are production homes.”
Other design differentiators include driveways inlaid with red brick pavers (in lieu of broom-finished concrete or asphalt), bluestone patios, solid-wood front entry and interior doors, built-in fireplace mantels with custom millwork, commercial-grade appliances, and hardwood floors. Carriage-style garage doors are natural wood with hammered iron strap hinges.
“It’s the stuff at eye level that people notice,” McGuinness says. Most buyers have not only embraced that value proposition, but also splurged above and beyond the standard package with even higher-end cabinetry, finishes, fixtures, and electronics. “Despite what may be going on in the market, people are still willing to spend more to get more. They’re concerned about the real estate market, but they are not shy about spending on the amenities they want in their own homes,” he says.
So far, sales have split evenly between empty-nesters and urban professionals without kids. Large end-unit townhomes featuring master-down floor plans have won big with downsizing boomers, while younger commuters have snapped up the interior units as an affordable alternative to living in the city (with a heck of a lot more pantry and storage space, thank you). Twenty units are set aside as affordable homes for families making 50 percent or less of the area median income.
What buyers don’t see on the surface is that the homes are built using panelized construction—a strategic move that McGuinness says reduces jobsite waste while allowing greater flexibility in the cycle time. “We did a price comparison of stick frame versus panelization and went with the latter,” he says. “It’s better from a green standpoint, and it will allow us to pick up the pace if sales start to go faster. We’re optimistic.”
There’s always a hang-up, but in Palmer Hill’s case it wasn’t the permitting process. The project was approved in less than two years but then litigated for five years when the town of Greenwich sued the city of Stamford for approving it. Greenwich officials feared that a higher-density project next door would compromise the character of their old-growth neighborhoods. Those fears proved unfounded.
Community: Palmer Hill
Total acreage: 20
Date opened for presales: September 2007
Product: Townhomes and condos ranging from 2,300 square feet to 4,000 square feet
Price range: $886,000 to $1.25 million
Total number of units at build- out: 195 (20 income-qualified affordable)
Sales to date: 45
Builder/Designer: Sun Homes, Pawling, N.Y.
Developer: Buckingham Partners, Haddonfield, N.J.
Interior designer: Lynn Morgan Design, Rowayton, Conn.