By Simmons B. Buntin
The 107-acre development, featuring 2,300 feet of Gulf-front beach, was established in 1995 using the principles of New Urbanism and inspired by other classic beach towns. Specifically, Rosemary Beach is modeled after the architectural influences of the Dutch West Indies, Bermuda, New Orleans, Charleston, and St. Augustine, giving it a Pan-Caribbean flavor that allows houses and civic buildings to remain lively in color and design while still an integral part of the town fabric itself.
Given the challenges of siting a large, upscale development in an environmentally and perhaps politically sensitive area, Rosemary Beach’s developers were quick to point out that the town would be just that—a real town and not just another subdivision. And the planning methodology to achieve the town concept is the planned community: “What first comes to mind when we talk about planned communities,” says Richard Gibbs, Rosemary Beach’s town architect and vice president of Rosemary Beach Land Company, “is the concept of a place that is more tightly knit together than your average suburban subdivision. This idea is nothing new—you see it in Europe, where lots of tiny villages are surrounded by countryside.”
Like Seaside, the concept allows the development to balance architectural, environmental, economic, and other concerns while creating a sense of place where design itself creates opportunities. “Homes are usually built on smaller lots, in close proximity to the town center and other amenities,” Gibbs continues. “This provides environmental as well as economic benefits to the region at large. Because planners can set aside green space within and around the community, you have an automatic preservation of the undeveloped land.”
And also like Seaside, vision began to take form through a design charette process that enlisted the energy of the town planners and developer, other consultants, government officials, and members of the public. The charettes resulted in a series of design and planning documents and guidelines—collectively known as the Rosemary Beach Code Book—that provides guidelines for the placement, design, and construction of the streets, pathways, and buildings in the town.
Rosemary Beach is built adjacent to one amenity—the dunes and beach—while creating another—the town center and its Main Street—to satisfy the many needs of its residents and visitors. The town center, in fact, is the defining element of this newly built place: within a five-minute walk from any part of the town, it features most of the community’s public buildings and shops. The Town Hall, for example, serves both as the architectural cornerstone of the community—with its white stucco walls and Dutch West Indies parapet roof—and its public meeting space, both indoors and out. It features a large courtyard with grass and wide walkways outdoors, and a 28-foot high ceiling with cypress and hand-forged iron lighting sculptures indoors. With six breakout rooms and other configurable space, the building is the largest indoor venue along Scenic Route 30A.
Rosemary Beach’s Post Office features the town bell, which rings the number of the hour and can be heard throughout the town.
The town center also features many restaurants, shops, galleries, and a growing number of regionally-acclaimed bed and breakfasts, such as The Pensione, an eight-room European inn.
Access and Amenities
The town center serves as the hub for a series of avenues (for vehicles) and boardwalks, lanes, and other pedestrian ways—most facing north-south to allow easy access to and vistas of the beach. Along these accessways are a number of parks and other green spaces ideal for play and relaxation. These include the Western and Eastern Greens adjacent to the dunes, South Barrett Park, and Playground Park. East Long Green Park features a knot garden, while St. Augustine Park features an interactive children’s fountain and hosts outdoor concerts. East and West Long Green Parks also provide tree-lined sidewalks that lead cyclists along the Scenic Route 30A bicycle trail. Interspersing the town is the Rosemary Beach Fitness Trail and Walking Tour, a 2.3-mile trail comprised of sand paths and boardwalks, surrounded by natural landscaping and featuring fitness stations.
Additional Rosemary Beach recreational amenities include three neighborhood pools, such as the Cabana Pool (a family-friendly pool with adjacent children’s pool and nearby playground park) and the larger, negative-edge Coquina pool.
One of Rosemary Beach’s newest parks is the Butterfly Park, which hosts the Flutterby Festival, an arts and crafts gathering celebrating the arrival of the Monarch butterflies each October, and emphasizing children’s art. The park is a slice of preserved coastal habitat, additionally planted with native and nonnative species to attract and encourage butterflies, as well as those young and old eager to learn more—through interpretive signs and actual observation—about butterflies, their life cycles, and the importance of native habitat preservation.
Rosemary Beach hosts a number of other events, including local artist nights, a Bike-A-Thon, holiday brunches and parties, garden tours, outdoor concerts, and the West Indies Market—an “Old World” market featuring art, furniture, collectables, produce, and other locally-crafted goods on weekends.
The Rosemary Beach Racquet Club is a full-service tennis club featuring six clay courts, four lighted. It also features a pro shop with rooftop seating, children’s playground, and bike rentals.
Through its coastal construction control line, Rosemary Beach provides a buffer between the developed area and the natural vegetation and dunes of the beach. To ensure the integrity of the dunes while providing easy access to the beach, there are nine “dune walkovers” (two with wheelchair access) that are designed to be unobtrusive and functional while, according to the Rosemary Beach Land Company, “protecting the fragile dune system and preventing erosion and washout during storms,” which would be more likely to happen with foot or other trails crossing the dunes. Additionally, this buffer allows people to “walk along the beach without any sense that an entire village lay just beyond those 30-foot dunes,” according to one Rosemary Beach visitor.
Within the town itself, Rosemary Beach’s design guidelines specify the use of native plants such as Yaupon holly, saw palmetto, sand and live oaks, goldenrod, indigenous grasses, and of course the local rosemary. The only grass lawns, in fact, are in the parks and green spaces. And lights from homes nearest to the dunes must be dim to avoid confusing hatching green sea turtles, which follow the natural moonlight into the Gulf.
The natural topography of the area inland of the dunes, upon which the town is built, was disturbed as little as possible during site planning and construction. Roadways, for example, were laid to conform to the natural contours of the land, rather than bladed and leveled. The roads are also made of permeable concrete, allowing water to filter through to the sand below while eliminating the need for stormwater drains and holding ponds.
Attesting to the development’s proactive approach to preserving the environment, in May 2002 the Clean Beaches Council, a non-profit environmental public safety organization, included Rosemary Beach in its list of “Blue Wave Beaches.” These are beaches that meet the organization’s stringent requirements for water and beach conditions, safety, services, habitat conservation, erosion management, public information, and education.
Homes and Architecture
While the town center defines Rosemary Beach’s core, and the dunes and beach define its location, the architecture of the predominantly single-family homes and other buildings (including the new three-story residential/retail lofts near the town center) defines the community perhaps most of all. And like the landscaping and roadways, here the environment is key in determining the shape and texture of the architecture.
“If you look at any town that has a historic section,” says town architect Gibbs, “the houses will be of the materials that we allow here today. And really it is because they do survive and they do age gracefully.” Rosemary Beach’s houses and other buildings are “built of really genuine and time-tested materials,” he says. “For instance, our stucco buildings are only stucco over brick or block. We don’t allow stucco over wood frame. We don’t allow vinyl or aluminum over wood frame, or synthetic windows or artificial siding.” Learning from his own residential experience at Seaside, Gibbs notes, “At Rosemary Beach we ‘code in’ stain finishing for our wood siding so there is no potential for paint which peels off. The stain can age gracefully and naturally, so that if one does not choose to regularly re-stain one’s house, it doesn’t look neglected, as painted finishes do. As a Seaside resident, I’m forced to re-coat my house every three years.”
According to the Rosemary Beach Land Company, “Each home in Rosemary Beach is not only architecturally unique, but also custom designed to subtly reflect an owner’s tastes, needs, and lifestyle. Consequently, every house becomes an inextricable part of the fabric of the town, reinforcing its character.”
There are twelve basic building types outlined in the Rosemary Beach Town Plan. Rather than models or plans, they are “simply guidelines to help establish the character of the neighborhood and ensure the integrity of the Town Plan.” View building types, including descriptions and architectural renderings.
The homes—fewer than 30 percent of which may have year-round residents—not only meet the design guidelines of the town, but are also award winning:
Given the Gulf-front location and custom nature of the homes at Rosemary Beach—with their rich palette of colors and architectural forms and “elements like deep eaves, shuttered sleeping porches, and hipped roofs [that] are both functional and picturesque,” according to the Rosemary Beach Land Company—it’s no wonder that home prices range from over $400,000 to nearly $3 million, with vacation rentals topping $1,500 per night.
Do the price tags make Rosemary Beach any less “unsprawl,” or any less sustainable? Not according to Gibbs: “The experience at both Seaside and Rosemary Beach is that residents have a very high degree of pride in their homes with their architectural and urban integrity and do maintain them at a very high level,” he says. “So I do relate sustainability directly to architecture. I think that sustainability is based on pride in community among many other factors. And because of the good design work in laying these places out, the customer perceives more value, which is, in fact, really there. It is a place that has integrity when it’s done.” And from that comes a strong sense of place—in the urban and environmental context, for homeowners and vacationers.
For more information, visit the Rosemary Beach website at www.RosemaryBeach.com.
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