This June, Pulte began taking orders again for Celebrate by Del Webb, an active adult community nestled within the 2,400-acre Celebrate Virginia master plan along the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Va. Pulte plans to build 1,100 homes on 240 acres here. But two years ago, this project fell into a ditch when environmental issues brought the subdivision to an abrupt halt.
“The delay actually worked to our advantage and made Celebrate bigger and better,” says Shawn Evans, vice president of operations for Del Webb’s Mid-Atlantic division, who notes that initial sales have been brisk. But it probably didn’t seem that way in September 2006 when county supervisors forced Pulte to put the project on hold after the builder had presold 137 customers who expected to move into their new homes that summer.
Three years earlier, Pulte had asked The Silver Cos., Celebrate Virginia’s master developer, to carve out room for a Del Webb community. Silver had previously worked with Pulte on Falls Run by Del Webb, another active adult neighborhood in Fredericksburg. And Celebrate Virginia, which bills itself as the largest retail resort on the East Coast, had emerged as one of that market’s premier projects. “It is a drop-dead gorgeous location,” says Tony Sala, Silver Cos.’ executive vice president.
Stafford County approved a generalized development plan that allowed for around 1,400 active adult units on land Silver sold to the builder. Pulte diverged from the plan when it attempted to move water management ponds that defined a conservation easement. At the time, Pulte believed it had an understanding with the county that it could modify the easement restrictions; the county thought otherwise. So while the changes Pulte started making affected only a handful of lots and 500 feet of an eight-mile road, the county’s supervisors in September 2006 voted 6-1 to send the builder back to the planning commission, according to the Free-Lance Star, a local newspaper.
Pulte resubmitted a plan that rerouted the subdivision’s entrance roads, but the process delayed completion of the community for more than a year. Evans says the delay gave Pulte pause to rethink the project, which now has more open space than originally planned including 20 miles of hiking and walking trails. Del Webb markets Celebrate as “more of a pristine, natural community,” says Evans. To strengthen that image, Pulte applied to certify Celebrate at Del Webb under the NAHB’s green building standards.
When the project stalled, Pulte offered buyers their money back. Forty of them, however, rode it out with the builder and have since moved into one of the few active adult communities in the area that include a golf course. The homes range from a two-bedroom, 1,269-square-foot model selling for $249,900 to a three-bedroom, 2,919-square-foot unit selling for $379,900. Three of the six models come with lofts. A 6,000-square-foot Discovery Center doubles as a sales office and, during off-hours, a meeting place for residents.
Celebrate at Del Webb’s primary marketing tool has been the Internet, and it’s been drawing interest from a wider area than Evans anticipated: Through early July, half of its buyers were from out of the area including two from Washington state.
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