New Urbanism Traditional Neighborhood Developments

Dated: September 18 2020

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Do you know what a TND is? Many people do not, even if they have been in one. I have studied them a good bit, but in this article I am only going to try to hit the high notes. New Urbanism or Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TND), which I will use interchangeably, are a style of master planned community or planned unit development that is designed differently from the inception than a common sprawling suburb.

The feel created is that of an old town city where walking is prevalent and town centers are hubs with close proximity being valued. You see unique aspects such as live/work units where commercial and residential coexist under the same roof. High density is key, with the most dense areas being at the town centers. There you will find apartments, condos, and commercial, and on the fringes of the development you will find larger lot single family estates. Here on 30a, the most popular of these developments would be Seaside, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, and Watercolor. If you have been in these neighborhoods, you quickly pick up on certain aspects such as on street parking, which is often a little too scarce. You are likely to find rear loaded units where you access the home from an alley. Roads are generally not designed to have too much of a straight away. Well planned developments make sure terminating vistas such as a pretty park, a church with a steeple, or a monument as simple as a gazebo are what you find yourself viewing at the end of any road. What you will not find is a cul-de-sac.

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Looking back at high density, lot sizes are generally smaller in TNDs. The build-to lines for the structure on the lot is a shorter distance or a zero lot line, where you can build up to the property line. When a house is pushed close to a road, certain design aspects are needed. You want to feel a level of separation. For example, with a close front setback these levels of separation may come in the form of raised elevation at least 18 inches above the road height, porches,  landscaping, short fence, then sidewalk, finally on street parking or the road itself.

Someone who wants to buy a prebuilt home that is ready to move into often does not realize the importance of architectural review boards and covenants, conditions and restrictions. These are a bigger deal in New Urbanism than an average neighborhood. They are not a hindrance, but rather put in place to increase the value of the homes in the development. Everyone thinks of the example of not letting a neighbor put a mobile home next to a mansion or not letting someone paint a house a repulsive eye popping color. The things you don’t think about such as how corner houses being built on slightly larger lots with a little more attention to detail will positively influence the feel of the development are what review boards and codes are for. Another one would be regulating airspace and views by setting building height restrictions.

Lets briefly look at fees, HOAs and CDDs. Home Owner Associations (HOAs) do not have quite the negative reputation as Community Development Districts (CDDs), but if done correctly neither should be seen as anything other than a plus.Yes HOAs are where that one person goes to complain with pictures as evidence of a garbage can being at the street 17 minutes too long or for an 8 year old hanging a towel on the rail of a porch at a vacation rental because he did not read the rules and regulations. In reality HOAs don’t just regulate, they also have expenses. These beautiful neighborhoods often have a large amount of common areas and amenities. One of my favorites examples is a cottage court. This is where a pod of homes encompasses a shared courtyard or small community park. A neighborhood HOA pays to maintain these common areas, neighborhood entrances, pools, fitness centers, tennis courts and other amenities. The HOA can even have expenses like maintaining storm water ponds or paying to keep the street lights on at night. Getting into construction cost is where we cross over to Community Development Districts. Crudely speaking, CDDs are areas where the developer finances expenses of constructing the development and each lot or unit is encumbered proportionately to pay back the debt over 30 years. This is paid with taxes each year, although it can actually be paid down all at once if the owner chooses. CDDs help make it possible for these miniature towns with high development cost to be created.

One important note on the communities on 30a that are TNDs is that a real estate agent will be needed to know what is on the market. Although many will be viewable on the internet, often these homes are sold by word of mouth and are never listed in the MLS, which is how the public ultimately ends up being able to view inventory online. Also, these neighborhoods do not allow “for sale” signs to be put up, so you can drive from one end of the neighborhood to the other and not see any sign that anything is available for purchase. Open houses are only permitted on certain days of the week and often a very modest sign at the house, and none directing you to the house, is all that is allowed.

If you have ever been in a Traditional Neighborhood Development such as Seaside, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, or Watercolor there is a good chance you understand the many reasons why they are so desirable over a Plain Jane suburb. The feel is enchanting, the flow is smooth, and the sights are pleasant. You do not feel like you are driving down an open airport runway or you are lost in the sameness of cookie cutter homes. Even the night brings an ambiance that holds you in a cozy manner. Design features, down to community mail centers verses mail boxes at every house, change the look and promote the community feel. These communities have events like farmers markets, movies in the park and concerts. New Urbanism is a lifestyle of luxury that is a way of the future, not a fad from the past.

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Jonathan Hill

Jonathan grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and vaccinated from 30A to Destin every time he got a chance while growing up. He attended The University of Alabama where he double majored in finance and busi....

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