By Lisa Marquis Jackson. What does it take to get a new development through a final plat approval in less than 90 days? The answer in Asanti, Minn., is diversity, determination, and something a little different.
"I was so sick of these developments that all looked the same," says Brian Iverson, owner of Brian Iverson Real Estate Corp., in Wyoming, Minn. "We wanted to create a better feel and keep costs down. Of course, I want a good return on my investment, but there is more money and more appreciation -- from the city, from the home buyer -- if there is some diversity."
According to Iverson, it was his involvement with Rick Harrison, president of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio, in Minneapolis, Minn., that was key to the creation and approval of Villages on the Rum, Iverson's latest development. The 284-acre "coved" community was designed to incorporate curved streets, varying setbacks, and architecture resembling the early 1900s. His approach involves reconfiguring lot and street layouts in a way that improves community sightlines while also making better use of developable land. The first phase includes a mix of single-family homes, attached townhomes, and detached townhomes, or "bay homes", for a total of 261 units. "It gives everyone who walks in the door something to buy," says Iverson. "Rick was my secret weapon."
Located 30 minutes north of Minneapolis, the town of Asanti and its neighboring suburbs are experiencing commuter growth. But instead of drawing people in on affordability alone, Asanti is offering a better form of neighborhood. "It was a real way for them to display the city," says Harrison. "Once this type of development is established, people will be forced to compete against it. Buyers will demand it. Progress is made by someone coming up with a better mousetrap."
As an award-winning land planner and creator of the "coving" concept used by such builders as US Home, Ryland, Pulte, Mercedes Homes, Centex, and D.R. Horton, Harrison boasts a 100 percent approval rating for any plan he has submitted for city approval. "Every city is looking for something new," says Harrison. "This is the kind of thing that can happen when you up the standard." The Concept
The concepts of coving and bay homes were created to increase open space while maintaining or increasing density. Single-family units are planned in a curved design that reduces the linear feet of public street. "The end result is more premium lots, dynamic streetscapes, more privacy, better curb appeal, and a 20 percent increase in average lot size," says Harrison.
Bay Homes were designed as a low-maintenance alternative to traditional neighborhood design. The single-family detached units are association maintained and reduce infrastructure by up to 50 percent. The home pad is reversed, with living areas facing the front of the home onto open space and walkways instead of streets. Garage entry is in the rear, accessed via private drives. "We call it the social side and the service side of the home," says Harrison, "instead of the front and back." These designs incorporate interior wall placement, window location, and exterior space planning in one step.
Bringing in the Builders
Selling the builders on this project could have had its challenges, as well. After all, altering the land plan to such a degree meant "totally new modifications," says Becky Knisley, vice president of Knisley Construction. "We had to design all new floor plans to fit this new neighborhood." In Phase I, Knisley is building 128 attached townhome units and 65 bay homes -- with 13 floor plan options. It's the individuality that sets this development apart. "The beauty of this project is that we can take an attached buyer and detach them. If they want a bigger garage, we can change it. It allows us to be more versatile."
Another change of focus for home builders is the extra emphasis placed on the social side of the home. As a result, "the back and sides need to be dressed up a little more than is typical," says Brad Fritch, president of Monarch Homes and builder of Phase I's single-family units. "It costs a little more, but it should make for easier sales."
Selling the City
Some of Village On The Rum's specific elements that appealed to Asanti town officials:
1. Innovative Architecture: Housing is designed to resemble the classic architectural influences from the 1910s and 1920s. "We added flair without adding $5,000 per lot," says Iverson.
2. Upgrading Trees: Lots included a minimum of three trees. "All the trees we brought in were four to eight inches in diameter," says Iverson. "The costs associated are passed along to the buyer."
3. "The city likes private streets because they don't have to plow or repair them." Homeowners will pay an average of $48 a month in fees to cover plowing and lawn maintenance.
4. Site Design to Hide Cars: "When you develop for working class people, hiding the cars is a big thing -- it's just a reality," says Harrison.
5. Space and Quality of Space: The non-linear design forms curve and arc throughout the development. "It really enhances the view, both as you drive through the community and from inside each of the homes," says Harrison.