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Pardon Hill

South Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Project Type: Residential

Subcategory: Single-Family

Volume 33 Number 08

April–June 2003

Case Number: C033008

PROJECT TYPE

A 177-acre (71.6-hectare) conservation community 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of Boston, Massachusetts, that incorporates open space, farmland, and low-density residential development. Scheduled for completion in June 2003, Pardon Hill includes 22 homesites, 60 acres (24 hectares) of preserved farmland, and 87 acres (35 hectares) of conserved forests and wetlands.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 60 acres (24 hectares) of land permanently dedicated to active agricultural uses
  • 87 acres (35 hectares) of woods and wetlands permanently protected as a greenbelt
  • On-site vineyard and partnership with local winery

DEVELOPER AND SITE PLANNER

Qroe Farm Corporation
40 Lane Road
Derry, New Hampshire 03038
603-426-5110
Fax: 603-426-5130
www.qroefarm.com

ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER

Epsilon Associates, Inc.
150 Main Street
Maynard, Massachusetts 01754
978-897-7100
Fax: 978-897-0099
www.epsilonassociates.com

SITE CONTRACTOR

G. Lopes Construction
565 Winthrop Street
Taunton, Massachusetts 02780
508-824-4834
Fax: 508-880-3115
www.malocal.com/lopes

ENGINEER

Tibbetts Engineering
3090 Acushnet Avenue
New Bedford, Massachusetts 02475
508-998-3000

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

A 177-acre (71.6-hectare) conservation community 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of Boston, Massachusetts, that incorporates open space, farmland, and low-density residential development. Scheduled for completion in June 2003, Pardon Hill includes 22 homesites interspersed among 60 acres (24 hectares) of preserved farmland and 87 acres (35 hectares) of conserved woodlands and wetlands. Planned as an active farming community, Pardon Hill at buildout will contain crop fields of corn, hay, and grapes and will feature livestock such as horses, cattle, sheep, and goats.

Developer Bob Baldwin founded the Qroe Farm Corporation in 1981 in order to combat sprawl and address land use issues by utilizing property techniques associated with open space and farmland preservation. In Baldwin’s view, the basic tenets of smart growth run counter to how many Americans want to live. In particular, the notion of highly dense urban centers can be unappealing, and some people will go to great lengths to live elsewhere. Instead, Baldwin believes that many people want their own private spaces in pastoral settings with homes separate from others. He states, “The idea of smart growth should not be to keep everyone in the city behind a zoning wall . . . as that wall grows out, you push farmland and open space out. It aggravates the issues, and that is not smart. The [Qroe Farm Corporation’s] concept is that as the community grows, you incorporate the open space and the agriculture with it, so that a person in the city does not have to get in the car and drive 30 miles to see a park or a cow.”

The Qroe Farm Corporation has four employees but works with consultants in design, engineering, and other professions when appropriate. The company is kept small in order to concentrate on select projects. This approach keeps Baldwin’s developments manageable and ensures that sites will be selected for development only after an exhaustive evaluation process.

DEVELOPMENT PROCESS AND FINANCING

Pardon Hill occupies the site of a former farm that went out of business many years ago. During the acquisition of the site, the Qroe Farm Corporation hired a local farmer to recondition the land to make it farmable once again. Upon completion, this farmer will continue to work portions of Pardon Hill, with the homeowners being responsible for the majority of the farming.

Qroe Farm Corporation’s basic concept is to partner with farmers in order to relieve their financial debt while at the same time providing low-density development on farms for conservation-minded homeowners. Under this arrangement, the farmer sells the land to Qroe, retrieving the capital from the sale at current market prices, thereby eliminating property debt services. Qroe permanently protects the farmland through a deeded easement and the farmer is explicitly granted the right to farm the land as he or she sees fit. Moreover, new homeowners incur the real estate tax liability on the farmland and agree to underwrite part of the farming operation without interfering in day-to-day operations. Currently, Qroe is in negotiations to enter into this type of partnership with selected farmers in the Northeast.

The land for the Pardon Hill project was purchased from an estate owner who was able to sell the land to Qroe at market value and shares in any additional profit that comes from the market value added by the Qroe Farm design. Added value is reflected in higher lot prices and derives from the more efficient “manufacture” or site planning of the developments that Qroe designs. As when the land is owned by a farmer, the conservation land is permanently protected and the real estate tax liability is transferred to new homeowners. Homeowners have chosen to live at Pardon Hill because of their desire to be active in the farming community and to share responsibilities for farming the land. These responsibilities are viewed as a privilege, rather than a duty, that the owners willingly assume.

A unique combination of permanent easements and building restrictions ensures that at least 80 percent of Pardon Hill will remain conserved land. Homeowners enjoy their private lots, which average eight acres (3.23 hectares) in size, and through a detailed crisscrossing of land easements, all the homeowners have a stake in the common greenbelt and farming areas. The crisscrossing of easements and lot lines results in multiple homeowners owning parts of open space throughout Pardon Hill. When a lot is resold, all the easements and restrictions are carried over to the new owner, and any effort to alter the restrictions requires the unanimous approval of all the homeowners. This important measure was taken by Qroe Farm Corporation to make sure that Pardon Hill will always remain a farming community.

APPROVALS

The concept of low-density housing on preserved farmland was well received by the planning and zoning boards as well as by the local community. The project did not require any special zoning ordinances. Rather than seeking a higher-density bonus—as so many developers in the area do—Qroe created home lots that average eight acres (3.23 hectares). This approach to residential development was a welcome relief to a community that would like to grow sensibly.

Qroe’s concept of farmland preservation provided leverage in various ways throughout the approvals process. For example, local ordinances required a street width of at least 24 feet (7.3 meters). However, the developer felt that street widths of 18 feet (5.4 meters) would be more appropriate and contextual to the farmland surroundings. When pressed to make the streets wider, Baldwin noted that doing so would cost a great deal more than the 18-foot (5.4-meter) widths originally planned and more lots would have to be added to cover the costs. With many suburban developments in the area close to their maximum density, this was an atypical response. The planning board chose to grant an 18-foot (5.4-meter) waiver rather than add more lots and density to the development.

The home design approval process for homeowners in Pardon Hill is very strict—architectural plans are held to high standards and no designs are allowed that are not in harmony with their particular site. For example, three- or four-car garages are not permitted where they appear dominant from the street and building materials that do not wear well over the years are discouraged. Qroe Farm Corporation is not a homebuilder, but it retains 100 percent control over what is built on the site and homebuilders must be approved by the developer. Because of the number of builders, homes throughout the community come in a variety of sizes and styles. However, all houses are contextual to their surroundings and appropriate for their locations. Care is taken to discourage the building of large “ego” homes so that they do not dwarf smaller residences.

Homeowners are strongly encouraged to incorporate green construction and design features into their homes. Baldwin is currently developing a set of criteria that may be used in assessing whether or not environmentally sensitive and energy-saving techniques would be cost-effective in their homes. While green standards such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scorecard already exist, Baldwin believes that homeowners need more incentives to “go green.” Because of this, the Qroe Farm Corporation will be offering a discount of up to 10 percent on homesites in all future developments if the buyers incorporate certain green features such as greater insulation, the use of high-performance windows, and more efficient heating and cooling systems, because, according to Baldwin, “a major part of what [the Qroe Farm Corporation] is doing is conservation.”

MARKETING AND MANAGEMENT

Pardon Hill received a considerable amount of free publicity from newspapers and television newscasts during its marketing period as the development type is so different from that of a typical suburban subdivision and was appealing to the local community.

Homeowners at Pardon Hill include families, retired couples, and young professionals who all have one thing in common: a strong interest in nature and farming. Through a lengthy interview process, potential homeowners are made aware of the noise and smells inherent in living on a farm. Those persons purchasing lots in Pardon Hill enter into a unique set of agreements that ensures that no speculators will buy homesites, as owners must build on their lots within two years.

Like other Qroe Farm communities, Pardon Hill has a homeowners association that lacks design control authority. The developer believes that opening up design and control issues to an association would present a very unattractive scenario of one neighbor telling another what he or she is allowed to do. This situation would disrupt the project’s much-sought-after sense of community. Homeowners choose to live at Pardon Hill and invest in a community that is backed up by the design and development standards of the Qroe Farm Corporation, not a homeowners association.

The Qroe Farm Corporation, as the approval authority, regulates all design issues. The corporation holds this authority until the last lot has been sold and all major design issues have been resolved. At that time, a three-person committee designated by the developer will wield approval authority for any home renovations, additions, or other changes. This committee is intended, though not required, to include two homeowners and a third outside design professional. The committee is self-perpetuating: whenever one member resigns from the board, the remaining two appoint a new member.

EXPERIENCE GAINED

  • By the time the Qroe Farm Corporation purchased the site for Pardon Hill, a good deal of land had already been cleared for development by the previous owner. Baldwin regrets this and would have preferred the site to include more woodlands. As a result of the land being cleared, a group of homes is situation atop a hill where they otherwise would not have been located.
  • During the early stages of development, Baldwin decided to use gravel to pave the roadway throughout Pardon Hill. Besides being contextually appropriate for the site, gravel would have helped manage stormwater runoff. However, the response from potential owners to a gravel roadway was negative, so Baldwin opted to pave the road with asphalt. While most of the homes in Pardon Hill still have long gravel driveways, Baldwin regrets the use of asphalt and plans to use a more substantial gravel, such as crushed blue stone, in future developments.
  • Baldwin lobbied both the state and the local health board throughout the approval process to combine waste disposal into a common “constructed wetland.” Facing opposition, this measure has failed thus far, although Baldwin hopes to gain approval at some point during development.
  • Despite these minor issues, the development of Pardon Hill has been extremely smooth and Baldwin has received the community’s full support. That the tenant mix at Pardon Hill includes members of the local planning board is a testament to this.

PROJECT DATA

LAND USE INFORMATION

Site area (acres/hectares): 177/71.6
Total dwelling units planned/completed: 22/22
Gross density (units per acre/hectare): 0.12/0.3

LAND USE PLAN

Use

Acres/Hectares

Percentage of Site

Detached residential
(including common open space)

175/70.8

99

Roads

2/0.8

1

Total

177/71.6

100


RESIDENTIAL INFORMATION

Unit Type

Lot Size
(Acres/Hectares)

Number
of Lots

Range of
Current Sales Prices

Homesites

8/3.2

22

$215,000–235,000


DEVELOPMENT COST INFORMATION

Site acquisition cost: $1,242,000
Site improvement cost: $945,000

Soft Costs
Architecture/engineering: $86,000
Marketing: $360,000
Legal/accounting: $57,000
Total: $503,000

Total development costs (to date): $2,690,000

Total development costs expected at buildout: $2,810,000

Total development revenues expected at completion: $4,352,000

DEVELOPMENT SCHEDULE

Site purchased: May 1998
Planning started: June 1998
Construction started: August 2000
Sales started: January 2001
First closing: February 2001
Project completed: June 2003 (estimated)


DIRECTIONS

From Logan International Airport: Take the Southeast Expressway (I-93) south. Follow I-93 to where it becomes Route 128. Take Route 128 to Route 24 south and follow it to the Taunton area. Go east (left) onto Route 140. At the end of Route 140, turn right onto Route 6. From Route 6, take Tucker Road, then Bakersville Road southwest from 5.2 miles to the end. Turn right onto Rock O’Dundee Road. Pardon Hill’s entrance is located 0.1 mile on the left.

Driving time: 70 minutes in nonpeak traffic.

Clark Mercer, report author
Leslie Holst, editor, Development Case Studies
David James Rose, copy editor
Joanne Nanez, online production manager

This Development Case Study is intended as a resource for subscribers in improving the quality of future projects. Data contained herein were made available by the project's development team and constitute a report on, not an endorsement of, the project by ULI–the Urban Land Institute.

Copyright © 2003 by ULI–the Urban Land Institute
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