Florida township inspires $500m estates

By Anne Gibson

A Florida township used as the set of an acerbic Hollywood movie has inspired an Auckland developer who is building hundreds of houses in Taupo and Orewa.

Patrick Fontein has returned from visiting 26 United States master-planned residential communities with ideas for his 35.5ha land holdings at the two locations.

A series of garden parks amid the houses, communal areas where the public is invited to weekly concerts and neo-classical house designs are some of the ideas he has brought back.

Fontein, the managing director of Kensington Properties, which has developed large office parks and luxury housing in Auckland, is about to start projects worth a total of around $500 million.

Hundreds of houses will be built on one site at Orewa (north of Auckland) and another at Taupo. Fontein is developing the two huge plots simultaneously in a scheme which will be one of the country's largest housing programmes.

Before plans were completed, he hunted through the US to find the best master-planned housing estates and examine the feasibility of bringing the best aspects of those estates here.

Of the sites he visited in Los Angeles, Florida, Colorado and Oregon, the resort community of Seaside on the Florida panhandle interested him the most.

"There was an almost unbelievable commitment to creating community at Seaside," Fontein said, "and the entry price to buy a house there is now more than US$1 million [$1.64 million]. Waterfront houses sell for more than US$5 million."

At first sections at Seaside sold for around US$15,000. Price rises there have averaged 26 per cent annually in the past 25 years.

Fontein is not the only one to find the Seaside look almost too good to be true. The Hollywood movie The Truman Show was filmed in the town, which some people have criticised as being overly rigid, resulting in conformity of style rather than creativity.

Critics say Seaside is a manufactured fantasy, lacking socio-economic diversity, an ironic barb given that the town was modelled on the diverse urban neighbourhoods of large cities such as New York and San Francisco.

But Fontein and Glen White, Kensington's head of design who also toured the US, were more entranced by Seaside than most of the other communities and met its founder, Robert Davis, who began developing the resort site more than 20 years ago.

Now, Fontein and White are using Seaside's neo-Victorian style of architecture and the town's street layout as inspiration for the Orewa development on the site of the former Puriri Park Holiday Resort.

Fontein paid $30 million to $40 million to secure the camping ground on Orewa's northern outskirts.

Seaside's houses with balconies facing the street to encourage resident interaction and reduce crime, garages tucked around the back of houses to reduce their dominance, narrow streets to encourage walking, extensive landscaping and parks dotted through the housing scheme to soften appearances were all features that appealed to them.

Fontein said New Zealand had few good master-planned communities and cited Millbrook near Queenstown as one of the successful examples.

Plans for the layout of the Taupo site - which encompasses Huka Village Resort with a conference centre - were also influenced by Seaside, although Fontein said the style of architecture at Taupo would be different from Orewa.

Fontein bought the 14ha resort site in October and last month bought an adjoining site to give him the 20ha area. The resort has a conference centre for 190 delegates, 33 separate villa residences, two restaurants and a vineyard.

The Taupo and Orewa sites will take years to develop but Fontein said he wanted to set a new benchmark for housing communities.

"Developers cannot cheat with master-planned communities. If they cheat, they hurt themselves."

Developers who built poor-quality first-stage houses had problems selling stock they subsequently built, he said.

"Satisfied buyers or residents are your best advocates for later stages."

Pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, amenities within short walking distance, interlinking walkways, reduction of car traffic compared with traditional subdivisions and emphasis on good urban design were all features of excellence in master-planned communities, he said.

Property values went up if the estates had community amenities such as cafes, convenience shops, parks and walkways.

Some of the best US planned housing estates had public areas where public concerts were held on Friday evenings to bring a sense of community to the area. He plans to investigate this idea for Orewa and Taupo.

Fontein won the Property Institute's supreme award last month for his contribution to the industry and is on Auckland City's urban design panel.


BIG PLANS

Orewa

* Land of former Puriri Park Holiday Resort being developed.

* 9.5ha camping ground was amalgamated with 6ha adjoining site.

* $300 million master-planned housing project planned for the area.

* The resort town of Seaside, Florida, provided inspiration for this project.

Taupo

* Land surrounding Huka Village Resort on State Highway 1 north of Taupo.

* 20ha site with existing conference centre and accommodation.

* Hundreds of houses to be built around this centre, developed in the 1980s.

* Planned communities in the United States provided ideas.

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