New Towns -- Doe Mill Neighborhood, Calif.
Like most successful new urbanist developments, Doe
Mill Neighborhood in Chico, Calif., is a jewel crafted by generalists.
The 48-acre TND faced all-too-familiar obstacles that were overcome one
by one by a team of practitioners who weren't afraid to wear more than
one hat. Doe Mill's design came from Chico-based Heritage Partners, with
input from Opticos Design of Berkeley, and 180° Design Studio of Kansas
City, Mo. The developer is Heritage Partners and the Haile Group.
But we're all developers, says John Anderson of Heritage Partners. "I'm
a designer/developer, Tom DiGiovanni (of Heritage Partners) is the developer/developer,
and Jeff Fleeman (of the Haile Group) is the finance guy/developer."
Their crossover collaboration has made Doe Mill the talk of this college
Doe Mill started out as a planned development (PD) that had gone back
to its lender (a European bank) and laid fallow for several years. Heritage
Partners bought the land from the bank and replanned the site. Because
the environmental work had been done previously, the team waited only
64 days from the time they landed the contract to the time they received
planning commission approval, in fall 2000. The density level didn't change,
just the arrangement of the elements.
The developers' work with local players is already a well-known tale.
Working often on a one-to-one basis, they pushed the standards of their
local fire department and public works officials -- and ended up compromising
a bit by posting No Parking signs at the top of T intersections, so that
a ladder truck can better negotiate the turn.
But it was the local utilities that proved to be even more of a challenge.
"We had a tremendous learning curve with the gas, electric, cable TV,
and phone companies," says Anderson. "None of them had seen the utilities
put underground in an alley. Their mindset was that in new construction,
the utilities go in the front yard, where God intended. So we had to demonstrate
that we could meet the requirements of the Green Book -- all the stuff
accepted by the public utilities commission -- and make it work. Our surveyor
staked the utility wall on every garage to demonstrate where the meters,
etc., would go. That was in the first phase. In the second phase, we started
with the garage plan. They came around. We're glad there are no big, green
boxes in the front yards."
To bring their realtor and appraiser up to speed, the developers took
them to Celebration, Haile Village Center, Newpoint, Port Royal, I'On,
and Harbor Town. "The appraiser was very rigorous," says Anderson. "He
read all the market analysis from Zimmerman/Volk, plus "Valuing the New
Urbanism," so that he understood how homes in a TND should be valued for
"We had previously taken our engineer on pretty much that same tour. He
went as a skeptic and returned as a convert and advocate."
Doe Mill broke ground in 2001, and another challenge immediately rose
up. "In a small market like this, convincing the local home builders to
come out and change their house designs wasn't going to happen," says
"So, in addition to being the developer, we decided we'd have to be a
builder. We created New Urban Builders, and put together our own crew
of local carpenters to do the interior and exterior trim -- and did 24
houses the first year. We're on track to do 50 this year. We'll have the
whole neighborhood built out by Christmas 2004."
The developers are presently working to secure entitlements for a 2.5-acre
commercial corner, which will contain mixed-use office space, and live/work
buildings. Single-family homes, fourplexes, and six- and 10-unit bungalow
courts will comprise the rest of the neighborhood. When built out, Doe
Mill will contain more than 300 dwelling units, with a gross density of
8.4 units per acre (more than double that of the surrounding CSDs).
Doe Mill is enjoying success in tangible and less tangible ways. The sales
numbers look good: Doe Mill competes well with local CSD projects, with
homes going to members of a waiting list and garnering premiums in the
20 percent range, even though the Doe Mill homes are slightly smaller
and are sited on smaller lots. The explanation behind that is easy, says
Anderson. "Our home buyers understand the benefits of the neighborhood
beyond their own house and yard. The houses are laid out well; they live
better and look better. We have 50 to 60 percent more windows in our houses
than some of the other builders in town, so there's lots of light."
Most Doe Mill streets are 26 feet curb to curb, with parking on one side.
Others are 32 feet, with parking on two sides. But tell that to the pedestrians
who visit Doe Mill just to walk its streets, and you'll likely get little
more than a smile before they move on. They're there simply to enjoy the
Doe Mill's market success has garnered the development team more than
just kudos from its residents. "The big news is that we demonstrated this
is a viable approach for building new neighborhoods," says Anderson. "Now,
with the Haile Group, we're in contract for 240 acres across the arterial
from Doe Mill. That property presents an opportunity for a wider range
of building types: civic uses with a full town center.
Now that's success.
Jason Miller is a new urbanist freelance writer and editor based in St.
Paul, Minn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651.503.6304.