“Most developers are not educated in land development,” says Ron Tyne, president of Rocket Properties in Little Rock, Ark., offering a theory as to why land plans that satisfy increasingly stricter land-use regulations and open-space edicts are a tough nut for developers. “Simple lot yield is no longer the No. 1 priority. It takes a different mindset to turn that around.”
Like the one Tyne and his team applied at Woodland’s Edge, a 780-acre parcel his company first purchased in 2001 and has carefully crafted to become the nation’s first four star–rated community under the National Green Building Standard (NGBS), earn the first American Trails Developer Award, and be named the NAHB’s 2009 Green Development of the Year.
But industry accolades were not Tyne’s goal with Woodland’s Edge or any of the previous parcels to which he’s applied his dual degrees in forestry and landscape architecture and four decades of urban and suburban land planning. “My approach is to disturb what’s there the least amount possible,” he says. “If what’s there [naturally] has worked up until that point, it’ll work in the future … if you can preserve it.”
Tyne’s philosophy isn’t just about keeping trees and streams and other natural elements from being bulldozed, but also reducing impact (and expense) by avoiding lots that cost more to develop than they’re worth.
Typically, he says, 20 percent of lots on most greenfield parcels fit into that category, so Tyne advises—and practices—dropping them from the land plan and leaving them as open space. “You can reduce your infrastructure costs by 20 percent or 30 percent by not trying to develop those lots.”
And if Woodland’s Edge is any indication, deleting a few costly lots from the master plan—to save nature and money—doesn’t negatively impact sales or profitability, either. Selling exclusively to a prequalified pool of about 40 local builders, Rocket Properties has seen lot sales and prices at Woodland’s Edge increase since the first phase of 69 parcels went on the block in mid-2002.
To date, more than 250 acres have been developed (albeit within a setting more akin to a park than a housing community), translating to more than $22 million in lot sales and $125 million in construction activity. “We’re very strong in this market,” says Tyne, adding that about 40 percent of the total parcel, or more than 300 acres, will remain pristine. “People who live here love it, and we’re looked at as the standard [for sustainable development].”
His builders are beginning to follow suit. Though Rocket Properties does not mandate that its builders adhere to any green building protocols or certification program standards, says Tyne, “We encourage it and hope they respect what we’ve done with the land plan,” by building homes of lesser environmental impact, as well. The nudge seems to be working. Tyne reports that four homes by builders who have earned Certified Green Professional (CGP) standing through the NAHB are currently under construction, with several more on the boards by other CGPs and those qualified by the federal Energy Star program.
He also sees the development community maturing and especially likes the site design and development and lot design, preparation, and development sections of the NGBS that encourage and reward more sustainable land-use practices. “It’s more sensitive to suburban development [than the urban-focused LEED Neighborhood Development specs],” he says. “It accommodates more situations and more people.”
As for the vast majority of land developers still stuck in the status quo, Tyne encourages them to consult with landscape architects and planners—before they engage an engineer—and to study the NGBS to get on the new path. “Eighty percent of the success of a green development is in the planning,” he says. “It’s not rocket science. It’s just applying what we already know in a different way.”