The developers of New Amherst—a 170-acre master-planned village community in Cobourg, Ontario, about 60 miles east of metro Toronto—have taken the unusual step of forming a home-building company, New Amherst Homes, to build out the 1,100 homes for which their community has been approved. Max LeMarchant, New Amherst’s managing partner, tells Builder that the project, which was first conceived in 1989 and began construction in 2006, had been working with three local custom builders that had completed about 100 homes as well as the community’s signature clock tower.
But “we ran into challenges,” he explains, that were related to coordinating the marketing of the community and the quality control over construction. “We’re almost providing custom homes for people, and that’s what our clients are looking for.” LaMarchant says the formation of New Amherst Homes “demonstrates our commitment to take [quality construction] to the next level.”
LeMarchant adds that New Amherst “was pretty geared up” to start construction under its own home-building entity. It hired a site superintendent, but already had relationships with subcontractors, architects, and designers. Plus, the house plans and community map had already been established.
The “biggest hurdle,” he says, was the requirement in Ontario for all home builders to be registered with Tarion Warranty Corp., which licenses new-home and condominium builders to ensure that homeowners get the warranty coverage they are entitled to by law. Over the years, Tarion has become “more stringent,” says LeMarchant, and New Amherst Homes had to meet certain financial, business, and technical criteria to earn registration.
New Amherst is in a historic resort town and caters to buyers who are looking for a slower, smaller-town lifestyle. This is also one of the first private-sector new urban communities planned for Ontario, says LeMarchant. It was designed by the new urbanist architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and is located near commuter rail service, which makes Toronto accessible. LeMarchant says the partners got their inspiration for New Amherst from such well-known communities in the U.S. as Seaside and Celebration.
The community, which extends to Lake Ontario, offers a variety of cottages, two-story houses, townhouses, and condominiums that range from 1,200 to 4,000 square feet and will sell for between 200 to 300 Canadian dollars per square foot (US$204.50 to US$304.71). New Amherst will also include a considerable amount of commercial space. For example, some townhouse buildings will have 2,000 square feet of ground-floor office space. Condos might include ground-floor restaurants and retail. Plus the community will include a 30,000-square-foot mixed-use building with 10,000 square feet on the first floor for banks, insurance companies, and so forth, office space on the second floor, and possibly condos on the third.
While New Amherst Homes will build out most of the residential over the next seven to 10 years, LeMarchant says the developers will still use outside builders for all of the commercial construction and probably for some of the condos.
However, the developers will only build at a pace that matches demand and sales. “We try to avoid building specs,” LeMarchant says.
The president of New Amherst Homes is Bill O’Malley, a partner in the 10-year-old development company. He is also a principal in Ontario Laser Rentals, which provides construction equipment. Rae Carruthers, a partner in the development company and a vice president with its home-building division, is founder and principal of Carrurthers Construction Company Ltd., which develops and builds homes, apartment buildings, and commercial plazas. LeMarchant’s background is primarily in project management.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.