On the site of the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport in Austin, Texas, a long-awaited redevelopment plan–partnering the public sector, the private sector, and the community–has given big builders a little reminder of what 2005 felt like. The highly enthused response to an online sales lottery program, dubbed Mueller Pioneers, shows that when a desirable location is paired with innovative planning, demand most certainly exists in today's new-home market.
The 711-acre redevelopment includes a mixed-use urban village in central Austin designed as a transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly model of new urbanism and sustainability. But the land-use plan has been mired in controversy since the 1980s, as fractious debate led the city to relocate its airport. It wasn't until 2002 that Austin city planners issued a request for proposal to develop the site. By 2004, Catellus Development Group was named master developer, and the wheels were set in motion to bring the long-dormant tract back to life.
Having It All
The community will feature residential, commercial, and retail space, including a town center, a regional retail center, and several major employment centers with an estimated market value of $1.3 billion at completion.
Upon completion, 4,600 new homes projected to house 10,000 residents will be located within the town center and in four adjacent new neighborhoods. The project will include up to 2,400 single-family yard homes, row houses, shop houses, and up to 2,200 multifamily units; one out of each four homes will be part of Mueller's affordable homes program.
Site prep for phase one of the project is currently underway and includes 350 homes, 71 of which will be designated as affordable. In March, Catellus named six builders to the phase including nationals David Weekley Homes, Meritage Homes Corp., and Standard Pacific Corp. In addition, three local builders have a presence in the community. Together, the Muskin Co., Saldana Homes, and Streetman Homes will contribute nearly 50 units to the project. "We made our selections based on each builder's ability to meet our design and construction standards as well as their ability to create a diverse range of housing types and prices," says Matt Whelan, senior vice president of Catellus.
Among the requirements: Builders must design new products specifically for Mueller that blend into the surrounding neighborhoods. To further support the project's sustainability, all homes must be in compliance with two-star ratings in the Austin Energy Green Building Program. In phase one, each will actually meet or exceed a three-star rating.
Harkening back to the bygone housing boom, a residential registration process was established for the Mueller community thanks to the intense interest in the project, located just three miles from downtown Austin, the State Capitol, and the University of Texas at Austin. And, as the April 30 deadline for registration passed, the developer and active builders were stunned by the response. Though they admit to having high expectations because of the thousands of people who registered online for information, no one expected such incredible broad-sweeping interest.
At press time, Catellus was still compiling the actual number of registrants, but reports that all the builders, regardless of price point, received a number of requests well above their inventories. David Weekly Homes is building the affordable homes in the project's first phase and is reported to have been "bombarded' with prequalification materials.
"Some of the builder's preferred lenders are completing the prequalification process, so it might be weeks before we have a final tally," Whelan says. "We anticipate having between three and four times as many Pioneers as there are homes available in the first phase. However, with approximately 4,600 living units planned at Mueller build out, there will be much more housing to look forward to, and we're accelerating our development schedule to meet the ever- increasing demand."
Prospective home buyers submitted registration packets to the developer, which is currently working to assign priority. In order, prospects will then be turned over to work directly with their selected builders. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer with occupancy expected by the beginning of 2008.
–Lisa Marquis Jackson