NorthWest Crossing’s Natural Neighborhood

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When freshly sawn, a Ponderosa Pine’s pleasant scent is reminiscent of the forest where it grew –offering an apt metaphor for Bend’s popular NorthWest Crossing mixed-use community, which is rooted in a sense of place evocative of the spirit of older neighborhoods.

In fact, a detailed survey of predominantly second-growth Ponderosas prevalent on the old tree farm site was integrated closely into the project’s original planning process, with blocks, roads and lot lines laid out to preserve as many large specimens as possible; helping reinforce the feel of an established streetscape.

Such attention to detail was just one of the ingredients that went in to cultivating a connected, sustainable and livable traditional neighborhood-style development — as part of a vision formulated over a decade ago – resulting in the diverse, walkable, compact and vibrant community that the evolving 486-acre NorthWest Crossing is today.

Elements such as a variety of architectural styles of housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks and facilities essential to the daily lives of residents lie within easy distance of each other as part of efforts to seamlessly weave a neighborhood addition into an integrated whole, while also encouraging opportunities for social interaction.

And the character-defining formula has certainly proved popular among a discerning public, with sales figures for NorthWest Crossing — named a 2008 Top Ten Cottage Neighborhood by national publication Cottage Living Magazine, among other awards — flourishing and numbers for 2009, which was a real estate nadir in most markets, actually topping those of 2006.

Walk around the expansive tree-lined sidewalks and you’ll find a neighborhood center with acclaimed restaurants, two public schools and 35 acres of parks where neighbors mingle and children play, as part of a community design based on the principles of both Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) and New Urbanism — an architectural philosophy that emphasizes pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods integrated with commercial and retail businesses, schools and parks.

Other than careful preservation of natural features like native trees and rugged lava outcroppings, another prime driver of the NorthWest Crossing master plan is that it is organized around a large central circular park, creating a distinctive heart to the community and a memorable identity. Compass Park is also part of an interconnected trail and sidewalk system that encourages residents to walk and bike to work and school.

This focal point serves as one of many place-making elements, which some may say contrasts starkly with more conventional models of recent (runaway) development where blanketing a parcel of land with lots then belatedly trying to carve out open space from the unbuildable remainder is commonplace. That could be cited as another reason for this westside community better weathering the recent downturn and outperforming its submarkets.

NorthWest Crossing’s developers – a partnership of Brooks Resources Corp. and Tennant Family Limited Partnership known as West Bend Property Company – embodied the planning tenets of New Urbanism and TND in making NorthWest Crossing a place that put a sense of community high on the list of desirable attributes.

CAPTURING THE SPIRIT OF OLDER NEIGHBORHOODS

Both companies, based in Bend, have solid histories of commitment to thoughtful, quality real estate development in Central Oregon and their long-term goal of creating a livable and sustainable community is rooted in their understanding and respect for the traditions of Bend and the region’s lifestyle.

Part of the aim was to create a development that captures some of the spirit of older neighborhoods, featuring narrower streets that encourage people to get to know their neighbors, front porches, corner stores, and plenty of mature trees to make the place feel anchored, as though it’s been there for a while.

New Urbanists have invariably looked back to the precedents of the past to understand what features of old — often pre-World War II and pre-automobile — towns and villages we are missing today.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY REQUIRED

NorthWest Crossing’s dedication to traditional neighborhood design is also strongly linked to principles of environmental quality. Before green building grew from a niche to its present more mainstream position, the project’s developers laid down guidelines on sound environmental and development practices.

Every home in the neighborhood is required to be Earth Advantage Certified for energy efficiency, indoor air quality and environmental responsibility. North West Crossing is a founding member of the Building Green Council for Central Oregon, and featured a winner in the first Central Oregon Tour of Homes Green Building Award. Two retail buildings in the commercial district were also among the first in the state to receive the LEED-CS Silver designation.

As with commercial components, in the residential realm the community is one of variety and character with types ranging from single-family homes and cottages to duplexes, townhomes and second-story apartments.

Architectural styles range from Craftsman to Tudor Revival and Colonial to American Foursquare and Prairie, and NorthWest Crossing has been carefully developed in phases to control sprawl. The first home was completed and sold in August 2002 and full build-out (totaling around 1,200 units) is expected to be achieved in 8-10 years.

NorthWest Crossing General Manager David Ford of West Bend Property Company (WBPC) said currently available inventory is down to just 13 lots, the lowest for three years, and the next phase (Phase 14) of 29 lots undergoing development will be released this summer.

MAINTAINING HOUSING DIVERSITY

To maintain diversity in housing types, the project does not have set floor plans or model homes, nor does the developer undertake residential construction. WBPC initially sold ready-to-build lots to an approved team of builders known as the NorthWest Crossing Builders’ Guild, though lot sales now have been opened up to non-guild builders and individual buyers. But all builders must be approved by WBPC, and the community’s Architectural Review Committee (ARC) must approve plans and materials.
John Kvapil, design director of DKA Architecture, who also sits on the ARC, said his firm was involved in the design of NorthWest Crossing’s first commercial building, among others, kicking off the curb appeal of the neighborhood center both in terms of a “Main Street USA” style and in the quality of craftsmanship which is a hallmark throughout the project.

He said: “This project is somewhat unique in Central Oregon in creating a series of places that are memorable in an urban setting.

“NorthWest Crossing also benefits from a sagacious general manager in David Ford, who has helped really build the community spirit, for example, in the staging of events such as the farmers’ market in the neighborhood center area.

“We find a lot of visitors from bigger cities also recognize this type of development as familiar, recognizing a tone of, say, a Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. At first there was just a vision articulated to the general public, but now people can see the bricks and mortar and appreciate how the character of NorthWest Crossing has evolved.”

Kvapil also pointed to schools as an important part of the “urban fabric” and hailed the project’s developers for dedicating land for this purpose, enabling local students to be able to walk or bicycle to their places of learning.

And NorthWest Crossing’s centralized location certainly makes ‘self-powered’ commute options, such as walking and biking, convenient for its residents. Sidewalks are 12 inches wider than standard, and combined with open space and the native ponderosa pines retained during development create a pleasant environment for walking.

Kvapil says diversity is the key in creating a vibrant community, adding: “Variety is essential, but everything goes through thorough review to make sure it is a compatible fit in context with the rest of the development. The ARC, for example, works with builders, developers and owners to help promote suitable quality and cohesiveness.”

On the recurring tree theme, he reiterated preservation was important and said builders had even flipped home plan footprints to make sure mature specimens remained undisturbed. Though houses were often in close proximity, care was also taken to be sensitive to owners’ privacy regarding design and orientation of structures in relation to the rest of the community.

Kvapil also commented that over and above sustainable design practices, the urban area’s general plan promoted sustainability through services being centralized and the efficiencies of having homes and businesses clustered together. NorthWest Crossing also promotes a culture more receptive to public transportation.

Kvapil said he hoped the project could serve as an example of what could happen in other areas in creating urban anchor nodes, observing: “Cities become richer when they have definable districts with their own distinctive character and the success of NorthWest Crossing during the real estate ‘drought’ of 2009 is a tribute to the whole organism.”

Ford recall that “both Mikes” – i.e. Mike Hollern of Brooks and Mike Tennant of Tennant Family LP – were influential in the development of the master plan, with the latter harboring fond memories of growing up in a traditional neighborhood development in the Portland area.

Ford attributes one reason for the enduring success of the project to “the thoughtful design and execution of the master plan, which rings true with a lot of buyers.”

He added: “People appreciate having amenities like parks and trails, as well as areas of natural beauty close by such as Shevlin Park, within easy distance of their home. The TND method is a good way to develop efficiently and to foster a sense of community.”

CONNECTING THE NEIGHBORS

NorthWest Crossing is always striving to connect people together. Owners receive a monthly email newsletter profiling residents, businesses and builders, and a residents-only email system and Facebook page provide a place where neighbors can exchange information and ideas.

With the help of Ford, residents also work together to plan community events throughout the year, such as the popular annual Hullabaloo celebration, Friday Art Walk and Farmers’ Market, to help further engender a bonded community spirit.

Another recently-announced new initiative is the creation of a Community Garden, with residents invited to enter a lottery for allocation of some 55 plots (which can be shared).

Ford said surveys of residents are carried out on a regular basis, with the design of the community being one of the highest scoring criteria.

He also pointed to sales of some 54 homes and 42 lots in 2009 as validation of the project’s community-based philosophy, together with some lot price adjustments more reflective of the current market, adding: “The project has built enough critical mass that buyers can see what a mixed-use TND is all about and can experience the lifestyle rather than taking a leap of faith.

“Also, our public relations efforts have been very successful, and our receiving of numerous awards has also organically helped spread the message.”

BUILDERS SENSITIVE TO COMPATIBILITY

One of NorthWest Crossing’s original builders’ guild members, Greg Welch Construction, has enjoyed continued success through involvement with the project in the ‘spec’ and custom home sector.

Owner Greg Welch originally met Mike Tennant through their active lifestyle pursuits and was invited by WBPC to join the preferred group of builders after working on a number of craftsman-style homes in the area, including in Awbrey Village.

He said: “You can certainly say I am a believer in the concept from personal experience as I have had my personal residence in NorthWest Crossing since the early stages – so I am illustrating the live-work theory as well as offering the same opportunity to others. I also really enjoy the accessible lifestyle and recreational opportunities here.

“As builders we work with each other to be sensitive to compatibility with the rest of the community, and my company always strives to envision who is going to live in the home and how to help optimize functionality and quality of life.”

Welch said he anticipated something of a shift a couple of years ago towards smaller-scale though still high-quality homes, and was able to tap into that demand through a combination of adjusted lot pricing and the release of more city-lot sized parcels.

He said: “In recent times we have seen popularity in the 1,600-1,800 square foot home versus the 2,200-2,400 square foot range, and have been able to deliver relative value for money product in that area without sacrificing quality standards.

“I’m happy to say I love what I do and find it really satisfying to realize a vision in conjunction with a homeowner.

“It’s great to live in this neighborhood and see a family enjoying a home we have been involved with and to help play a part in achieving a desired quality of life.”

Building Designer Adam Peterson of Bend-based Muddy River Design, who has also worked with Welch on several properties in the area, concurred that he had seen a spurt in the popularity of relatively smaller-scale homes.

He said: “We have seen a recent taste for single-level product in the 1,800-square foot range, often incorporating three bedrooms and two bathrooms in a craftsman-style home. Sometimes this fits the older babyboomer demographic, or a couple with older children who can turn one of the rooms into a den once the nest is flown.

“I think NorthWest Crossing’s popularity has continued, even in recessionary times, because of its lifestyle benefits as well as prospects regarding retention of value via thoughtful master planning and assurances of construction quality through avenues such as the builders’ guild and architectural review.”

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