The idea for Prospect New Town was born in the early 1990s, when developer John "Kiki" Wallace decided to give new life to his family tree farm just south of Longmont. Over the next few years, Wallace studied neighborhood and community types and determined that the only appropriate use for his land was a community that placed people before cars, was built on the historic architectural integrity of old Longmont, and that used the mature landscaping of the farm. In January 1994, Wallace invited town planner Andres Duany to conduct community workshops that would enable Duany's firm to develop New Urbanist principles for the needs and conditions of Wallace's site. Over a span of three days at the Longmont Opera House, the public workshop participants crafted a plan, led by Duany, to lay out Prospect New Town. In addition to physical placement of streets, parks, and the like, the workshop drafted detailed design guidelines, or codes, to create a cohesive place.
Then the hard work began. Over the next four years, developers John Bruns and Wallace teamed with Duany to "fight tooth and nail," according to the Boulder County Business Report, with the City of Longmont to hammer out an agreement to make Prospect a reality. The City's largest concerns were public safety-including access by emergency vehicles-and traffic patterns.
Designing for Success
Prospect's design guidelines cover building placement, elements, height, and parking. They vary for each type of building, and include specific configurations, materials, coloring, etc., for each. The codes "feel much like trying to get a change approved in a designated historic district," says one local housing expert. But that's for a very good reason:
"We're not building something for people to disappear into the interior of," says Wallace. "We're building something that when you are outside the exterior, you feel like you are a part of something, and that you enjoy the experience of walking outside. The new urbanism we have here is pedestrian-oriented," he continues. "The project connects to other areas. It doesn't just dead-end into itself, and knock back everything else. It is part of the community. It's accessible. The houses are dealt with in a fashion that architecturally is very appealing."
Prospect's design guidelines are so stringent, in fact, that Duany's firm in Miami reviews and approves the architectural drawings for each house before allowing construction to begin. For self-described "control freak" Wallace, that's a plus. For builders and future residences, it's nothing short of tedious.
"It's an arduous review process," Wallace admits. "It is a three-tiered process. It takes about six weeks. The amount of detail, the level of scrutiny on the review process is very demanding. It has been difficult for some architects to contend with. It's like going through two municipalities-the City of Longmont, then us."
Wallace has kicked five builders out of Prospect for failing to follow the town's traditional design principles. "I'm at war," Wallace says. "It's me against the builder. That's why my project is working."
Prospect's original residents, at first wary of Wallace's my-way-or-the-highway approach, now respect and appreciate the developer's commitment to excellence in architectural integrity. "That's why I like him so much," says one of the Prospect "pioneers."
For Prospect's builders, the challenges are not only meeting Wallace's critical eye, but also getting the entire building industry to understand and support such precision. "The hard part is getting the subs [subcontractors] to understand what it's all about," says Doug Elting of Colt Construction, whose lots all sold before breaking ground. Prospect's tedious and time-consuming building review process led some to believe that, in the beginning, Wallace and Bruns were going broke on the project. Now, however, the project's reputation of quality and aesthetic appeal means that lots sell immediately when offered.
The Challenge of Affordable Housing
Prospect New Town will consist of 338 housing units, including Brownstones, luxury townhomes with rooftop terraces, single-family homes that may include carriage houses and/or detached garages with apartments or offices above, and Courtyard homes. The homes range from 1,800 to 5,000 square feet, all custom built, on .10-acre lots (though two lots may be purchased for the larger single-family homes).
Nearly all of the single-family homes include a 400- to 700-square-foot studio or carriage home above the garage. Current prices range from $285,000 to over $500,000, which at the "lower end" is about the average price of housing in Boulder County. The county's aggressive open space acquisition policy-as well as a surge in high-tech development along the Denver-Boulder corridor south of Longmont-has pushed housing prices way up.
In order for Prospect to receive Longmont's blessing, it was required to designate 10 percent of its housing as "affordable." By current Boulder County guidelines, that means landlords can charge $863 per month, plus utilities, to people who make 80 percent of the median income.
Implementing the affordable housing mandate is tricky. "Nothing out here will be permanently affordable," Wallace admits.
Longmont's director of planning, Brad Schol, agrees. "I don't think that particular project hit the nail on the head" regarding the affordable housing requirements, he said. "But affordable housing takes many different forms." And the city understands both that projects like Prospect require a unique approach, and also that Prospect is the first development of its kind in Longmont and the Front Range. It's a bit of a test case, and adjustments and amendments for future projects are expected. For now, Prospect is meeting the requirements by requiring 10 percent of its homeowners to rent their garage-top apartments at the "affordable" rate.
Prospect's approach to housing types is one of flexibility. "If we find the townhouses are in more demand than single-family houses," says developer Bruns, "we can regroup some single-family lots and make townhouses out of them. That's part of our neighborhood. We're going to go with what makes sense: what's in demand and works best for this community." He continues: "It is a custom home neighborhood, not a production-type subdivision. All these houses are custom homes, specifically designed for each lot. We have five or six different builders who are working with individual architects to come up with designs that comply with the codes that we have already established."
Just as Wallace points out the importance of stringent exterior and streetscape design guidelines, Bruns notes that this approach results in "social interaction [among] the people who are going to live in the neighborhood." Prospect's focus "addresses the social issues that are totally lost in suburbia."
What makes Prospect different from other suburban high-end developments is its emphasis on social interaction, promulgated in part through its public amenities. Phase one includes two of the nine pocket parks planned at Prospect, all within a two-minute walk of each house. An ice rink and community pool are planned for future phases. Ornamental landscaping and streetscaping-from benches to custom brick and concrete work-line the narrow streets. Alleys, which are lined on one side with gravel to reduce impervious surfaces and runoff into a nearby stream, relegate garages to the backs of homes.
Though only one commercial building has been constructed so far, the developers plan a two-block town center that will include offices, retail such as a coffee shop and bookstore, and a post office. Learning from other New Urbanist developments across the country, Prospect is waiting for its "critical mass" of residents before building additional commercial space.
Prospect's success is measured not only in housing sales-which are brisk-but also in the recognition it has garnered. It received a 1996 Smart Growth award from then-governor Roy Romer, who initiated Colorado's Smart Growth program.
Ultimately, Prospect New Town's success will also be measured in how well it performs as a community, that largely undefinable concoction of public life, social interaction, and support for local goods and services. And that can't be reviewed until the project is complete and, really, until it has had time to mature as a community
"This is like a great big classroom," Wallace says of Colorado's first New Urbanist project. Indeed, it's teaching a course on how to effectively redefine suburban community for many towns in the shadow of the Colorado Rockies.
For more information, visit the Prospect New Town website at www.ProspectNewTown.com.