Ralph W. Spargo, general manager of Gallery Communities at Standard Pacific Homes, was more than just a casual observer as he watched people tour the models at Front Street last March. Front Street, a live/work neighborhood that's part of Ladera Ranch's 4,000-acre, master planned community in Orange County, Calif., is--plain and simple--his baby. Each of the 22 beauties he helped conceive features separate, commercially zoned office space and two entrances; one is for residential use while the other is meant for a business. Homeowners can even hang a sign or two, hire employees, and offer clients a place to park.
"On that first day, as people would go in the front and walk out the back, they would say, 'Oh, this is a front, too,'" says Spargo, a 25-year veteran of the home building industry and the project manager at Front Street. "That's really what we were trying to get at, that these homes have two fronts depending on whether it's your business or your home entrance. We were pleased that they didn't say, 'Oh, it's got two backs.'"
What started as a cryptic set of initials on the Ladera Ranch master plan--HBBE, or "home-based business enterprise," is now on its way to becoming an innovative community where a photographer, a decorator, a magazine publisher, and a daycare provider, among others, will both live and work in their homes. The houses, priced between $671,000 and $712,000, sold as fast as they were made available, with three furnished models sold via priority list. Christmas is the targeted move-in time, but some folks could be in their leading-edge live/work spaces by Thanksgiving.
Two principles drove the Front Street project. First, the homes had to maintain their residential scale and aesthetics. That was a high hurdle given that at least half the houses would have their business ends, so to speak, fronting a perimeter street. Second, the work zones of each unit had to be separate from the living zones--and built to commercial and disability specifications.
Key to both the design of the office spaces and the ambiance of the neighborhood was the answer to one question: What kinds of businesses would be allowed to set up shop in the Avendale section of Ladera Ranch, a neighborhood whose five parks boast T-ball fields, a water-fun zone, and a children's maze?
"Rather than putting down a list of things that weren't allowed, Orange County required us to come up with a list of things that were permitted," says Spargo, adding that this mandate, rather than being just another hoop to jump through, actually enlightened Standard Pacific's planning process. "It helped us to define what kind of businesses we thought could be compatible with the neighborhood. Rather than saying, 'You can't have a bomb-making facility or grow marijuana,' it made us realize that, in a community of residents, we wanted to see the kinds of things that supported other residents. An insurance agent or photographer or a hairdresser would be the kinds of businesses that work one-on-one and don't do a high level of traffic."
The resulting conditions, covenants, and restrictions (CC&Rs) outline four types of ventures that are allowed at Front Street: "public access" businesses (attorneys, dance instructors, decorators, etc.); "mobile" businesses (landscapers, building contractors); "casual public access" businesses (a catering service, for example); and "secluded" businesses (such as a Web-site designer).
"Given the home-based business aspect and Ralph's desire to design those businesses as either a greet-the-public type or businesses that go to the public, the homes and the site plan were molded together," says architect David Kosco, Bassenian/Lagoni Architects' principal in charge of design at Front Street. "It represented a true hand-in-glove fit between architecture and land planning. More traditional single-family detached developments don't often evolve in that manner."
From the outside, the four architectural styles at Front Street mesh well with Avendale's early Americana themes. There's a Charleston-inspired colonial with a columned, two-story front porch; a friendly Cape Cod; a brick-and-stucco Monterey with two-story porches on three sides; and a stately Italianate. The three- and four-bedroom homes range in size from 3,212 square feet to 3,634 square feet with office spaces coming in between 450 and 696 square feet. But it's the four floor plans that really spotlight the hard-working guts of these homes.
Plans One and Three, which feature business components at the front, were designed with the entrepreneur who receives clients in mind. Plans Two and Four have their business entrances at the back of the house, working off the private alley/lane; these are meant for people whose jobs take them out to the public. All four business spaces have a second, handicap-accessible entrance. There are connections built into several of the plans that enable people to walk from the residential zone to the business zone, but there are no sight-line connections between the two.
That design element brings a nod of approval from at least one trend spotter. J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich, a North Carolina-based marketing group specializing in lifestyle trends, says his company's research shows that while people want to work at home and make home the center of their lives, they don't want to be consumed by work. This desire is part of a phenomenon Smith calls "hiving" (as opposed to Faith Popcorn's earlier notion of "cocooning") where "home provides a kind of command central for people's lives."
"More and more people are trying to find ways in which they can make work accommodate itself to home and family life," says Smith, adding that Generation Xers tend to be especially unwilling to make trade-offs between career and family. "People don't want work to spill out and take over the home environment. The key issue for people right now is, how do I keep these things separate?"
Not surprisingly, what gave those associated with launching Front Street the most grief was working out this separation within Orange County's various code allowances.
"From a regulatory standpoint, it was something the county had not seen before so there were a series of meetings between us, the builder, and county officials trying to get our arms around the concept," says Kosco. "In the end the county saw the project truly as a mixed-use condition having a 'B' or office occupancy coexist with an 'R' or residential occupancy. I won't belabor the implications there."
Parking ended up not being much of a problem, though. Each home has a garage for two to three cars. The 3.1-acre triangular site plan includes a green space in the interior courtyard, which was a convenient place to locate walk-up clientele parking. Additional parallel-parking stalls are configured along the site's exterior perimeter. Averaged out, that makes five parking spots per house.
While prospective buyers were encouraged to hear that the CC&Rs were more concerned with what businesses would be accepted rather than what wouldn't, there are still some basic rules. Homeowners are allowed to post two signs, but they must conform to standards set out in a slick business signs guideline. Customers are allowed on site only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Certain businesses are expressly verboten, including tattoo parlors, fortune tellers, and body-piercing establishments, to name a few. And forget about anything having to do with massages.
That won't be a problem for Mel Fonseca and his fiancee Angela Esperon, both in their 30s, who are still giddy after nabbing the last available Front Street property. He's in the food-service business and already works from home; she's a hairstylist currently leasing a salon but eager to start doing highlights and perms from home. Rounding out this about-to-be-blended family are his 11-year-old son, Nicholas, and her two children, 7-year-old Carlos and 2-year-old Alynah.
"I think it's the opportunity of a lifetime," says Fonseca by speaker phone as he makes his way through some of Orange County's notorious traffic. "Los Angeles is so congested, but here we have the opportunity to work at home, to have our kids go to school a block away, and for us to be there in the afternoon when they get home."
Except for possibly adding a sink to the space Esperon will use for her salon, they won't need to do a thing to their two commercially zoned office spaces. "There's a separate air conditioning unit for the business, a bathroom that's built to commercial specs, even a fire extinguisher built into the wall," says Fonseca. "We should have no problem with OSHA coming in and making sure everything's up to spec."
"Think of all the money I've been throwing away by renting a salon," adds his fiancee. "Our outgoing isn't going to be any less, really, but there's going to be a return on our investment. Plus, right now we don't see the kids until we pick them up at after-care, so eliminating that for the well-being of the children is a very important thing. I think we're reinventing our future here."
Project: Front Street, Ladera Ranch, Calif.; Size: 3.1 acres; Density: 8.3 units per acre; Total units: 22; Price: $671,000 to $712,000; Developer: Standard Pacific Homes, Irvine, Calif.; Builder: Standard Pacific Homes, Irvine; Architect/Land planner: Bassenian/Lagoni Architects, Newport Beach, Calif.; Landscape architect: Summers/Murphy & Partners, Dana Point, Calif.
Front Street's 22 live/work homes orient toward both the interior and the exterior of the triangular-shaped site and encircle a center gazebo and park-style meeting area. This site plan, which packs everything into a dense 3.1 acres, won a Gold Nugget Grand Award for Best Community Site Plan (0 to 15 acres). Visitor and client parking spaces are located at the interior perimeter of the site while parallel-parking stalls ring the exterior perimeter. All in all, each home at Front Street can boast a total of five parking spaces.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.