Finding a Home Among the Trees
NorthWest Crossing, the largest mixed-use real estate development in Oregon east of the Cascades, continues to win kudos.
In October, the two newest buildings in its neighborhood center won the Grand Award for Green Building in the 2008 Awards of Excellence administered by the National Commercial Builders Council (NCBC) of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
"To be recognized through a national awards program for our green building efforts is a great affirmation of what we are striving to accomplish at NorthWest Crossing," said David Ford, general manager of the traditional neighborhood development. "Building our newest neighborhood center buildings to LEED standards was right in line with our philosophy of sustainability for the community as a whole. This award is just icing on the cake."
In August, the Oregon/SW Washington chapter of the Urban Land Institute honored NorthWest Crossing with its 2007 Development of Excellence Award.
In this community where the trees come first because the trees were there first, "the master plan is really starting to come to life," said Ford.
Award-winning NorthWest Crossing, located in Bend, is the largest mixed-use development
in Oregon. Credit: West Bend Property Company
NorthWest Crossing is in Bend, a former mill town that has discovered there is indeed life after lumber. The latest Census Bureau estimate pegs its population at 66,105 -- which represents a growth rate of nearly 30 percent between 2000 and 2005. With a climate drier than the "liquid sunshine" for which much of Oregon is known, and with plenty of hiking and skiing available in the nearby mountains, Bend has become a significant tourism and recreational destination. Bend has drawn young families, as well as independent professionals who can locate where they choose.
In a city with several different traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs), NorthWest Crossing is the biggest. From his vantage point of about midway from groundbreaking to total buildout, Ford sounds pleased with what he sees.
Like other developers in Oregon, West Bend Property Company has had to work within the limits of the state's land-use planning regime. Some call it stringent, some call it foresighted. But in any case, it helps draw a clear line between urban and rural environments. New urbanists like it, and so do lovers of the outdoors, who want to keep suburbia from sprawling up into the mountains.
The last of Bend's five lumber mills closed in 1994, and as real estate development exploded, there was a backlash against further growth.
Along about this time, West Bend Property Company was formed to develop a tract of timberland that, as it happened, lay within Bend's urban growth boundary. As some in the community began to push for a moratorium on further development, the company moved to counter "no growth" sentiment for a campaign for "smart growth."
As Ken Pirie, an urban designer with the firm that planned NorthWest Crossing has written, "West Bend Property Company partners Mike Hollern, Kirk Schueler and Mike Tennant became moderate brokers of a rigorous public conversation and active proponents of good civic design." The developers sponsored charrettes to get public input on specific projects, such as a new bridge crossing the Deschutes River, and helped bring national leaders of the smart growth movement to town for a series of lectures on "Building a Better Bend."
Pirie also explained the "builder pool" arrangement that has led to considerable architectural diversity within NorthWest Crossing: Builders wanting to buy lots were vetted for experience and financial stability as well as connections to the local economy. Small numbers of lots were allocated by lottery to each of the more than 20 qualified builders. No builder had more than a couple of adjacent lots.
"The result," Pirie writes, "is a fascinating range of customized home designs on each block, with builders competing with each other to produce better homes that preserve trees and offer views, to gain the attention of passing buyers."* The resulting streetscape is a far cry from conventional subdivisions.
· If there have been issues in NorthWest Crossing, they've been around affordability. Houses have been pricey and often large in relation to lot size. That's been addressed by tightening floor-area ratios somewhat, according to Ford.
• Mature trees already in place: The presence of older trees -- lots of Ponderosa pines -- gives NorthWest Crossing the look of an older, more established neighborhood. Builders are supposed to work around trees. "Sometimes we'll have a builder flip the house to save a tree," said David Ford.
• Roundabouts: NorthWest Crossing had the first roundabout in Oregon. Roundabouts, also known as traffic circles or rotaries, are an alternative to more familiar limited-access highways, which gobble up land, and signalized intersections, which interrupt traffic and lead to pollution as cars idle at lights. "They're much safer, because they slow down the cars, and they're an efficient way to handle traffic," said Ford. They're being widely emulated in Bend.
• Public art: West Bend has pledged 1 percent of commercial building construction budgets to art within the community's Neighborhood Center. This includes the totem pole in the roundabout at the center of NorthWest Crossing.
• No "monument signs" at the entrances to NorthWest Crossing -- the kind that some subdivisions use to signal "you have arrived." The idea was that the new development would blend into the established older neighborhoods nearby, according to Ford, so no demarcation line was needed.
Shain and Kacy Logeais, proprietors of the new Riley's Market in NorthWest Crossing, pretty much epitomize their neighborhood.
Originally from Long Beach, Calif., the Logeaises had been in NorthWest Crossing for about four years. Shain was spending too much time on the road in his work in the financial sector, and he and wife kept wishing their neighborhood had a grocery store. They decided they wanted to solve both these problems in one fell swoop by opening a market there themselves.
Once they made their decision, "all it took was a phone call" to start things rolling, said Shain Logeais in a phone interview just a couple of weeks after the store opened. The developers obviously have an interest in having a food market in the community. "We're in partnership with the developers," he said.
The Logeaises sent out 1,000 questionnaires to their neighbors to find out what they wanted to see on the shelves of the new market, and they got 300 responses back. Those responses helped inform their decisions on what products to carry: diapers and formula for the young families; high-end meats, cheese and wines for those in the big houses near the golf courses ("They don't even look at the price tags," Logeais says.); and candy and snacks for the kids who drop by after school. The Logeaises are also keen to support locally produced foods -- salsa, hummus, barbecue sauce -- and to "educate customers" as well. But for those not ready to try organic pancake mix, Riley's carries Bisquick, too.
A special request from the moms in the community was low-fat, soft-serve frozen yogurt. As Logeais tells it, that soft-serve has made Riley's a destination for parents all over the community. "The kids think it's just ice cream, but the mothers know it's good for them."
"It's been a great community," Logeais said. He and his family like being among so many young families and like the walkability of the community.
"The culture is shifting," he said. "NorthWest Crossing is tapping into the pulse of the culture."
Ruth Walker is a longtime journalist and writer with an interest in urban issues. She is based in Boston. Contact her at email@example.com.
Location: Bend, Oregon.
Size: 487 acres
Developer: West Bend Property Company
Designer: Team was led by Walker Macy Landscape Architects; also included
Fletcher Farr Ayotte, Urbsworks, and W&H Pacific
Percent complete: 40 percent
Population: +/- 1,200
Cottages From approximately $335,000 to $360,000
Townhomes: From $379,000 to $619,000
detached houses: From $465,000 to $895,000
A complex of affordable active-adult retirement apartments is also in development.
NorthWest Crossing is on the northwest of Bend, along NW Mt. Washington Drive. Look for the totem-pole sculpture in the middle of the traffic circle. It will be the first traffic circle you come to if you come in from the south, or the second if you approach from the north.
For more information, call Northwest Crossing Realty at 541.388.1992 or visit http://www.northwestcrossing.com.