By early winter, Hunter Communities, one of Alabama’s largest builders, should start construction on the first 350 lots developed at Savannah, a new community in the town of Triana.
Hunter’s involvement is one of several key factors that enabled developer John Wisda to get this project off the ground. Another is a cagey arrangement Wisda helped broker between the cities of Huntsville and Madison to provide and manage Triana’s suddenly more complicated water and sewer needs.
For a town that, between 1996 and 2008, averaged only two building permits per year, Savannah is a major undertaking. It’s one of a number of large, ambitious developments cropping up around Redstone Arsenal, a military facility that, by 2011, is expected to bring 11,000 jobs to the area as a result of the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure program.
Lynn Kilgore, who manages the Huntsville/Madison HBA, counts no fewer than seven different projects in the works near Triana, a sleepy town of 800 people and 400 homes. These include Towne Lake, where Breland Homes and Adams Homes are building on more than 155 lots.
As Triana is on the verge of exploding, its “biggest challenge,” says Mayor Mary Caudle, will be finding money to beef up its fire and police protection. Paying for road construction to handle the anticipated boom is a central issue in the governor’s race.
Wisda and Jeff Benton, who owns Huntsville-based Jeff Benton Homes, were rolling with this momentum when they put under contract 300 acres in Triana in 2007. (Benton subsequently dropped out of the development deal, but retains 100 acres.) The entire subdivision has between 1,200 and 1,500 lots, and Wisda got approval to develop 760 lots on 120 acres for which he paid $26,000 per acre. But he could negotiate financing for only 350 lots. Bryant Bank of Tuscaloosa came up with $5 million after Wisda put up $2 million, which he raised by borrowing against other real estate assets.
Hunter Communities’ entrance greased this deal’s financial wheels. Scott Cameron, Hunter’s land development manager, says the landowner approached Hunter about coming in, and the builder—which controls 30 percent of the annual closings in Huntsville/Madison—agreed to take down 350 lots as Wisda completes them. Hunter Communities intends to build three different products at Savannah, priced between $100,000 and $300,000. “We’re trying to cover a large cross-section of buyers,” Cameron explains.
Triana isn’t big or affluent enough to pay for the infrastructure needed for a burgeoning community itself, but the politics of water led its neighboring cities to come to Savannah’s aid. Wisda explains that Huntsville Utilities provides water to Triana. It also supplies water to Madison, an arrangement that has caused friction between the municipalities. Madison wanted access to Triana’s river, and in exchange agreed to provide water and sewer to Triana. Wisda expects the agreement to flow like this: Huntsville will provide water and sewer to Triana; Triana will provide water to Savannah; Madison will manage Triana’s water supply and provide sewer to Savannah.
“It’s a credit to the three cities that they could put differences aside for the benefit of the community,” says Wisda. And once Hunter starts taking down lots, Wisda says he’ll have the capital to borrow more money to develop the rest of the subdivision.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Huntsville, AL.