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 EXCLUSIVE: $200M Plan Gains Ground

Last updated: Mar 30, 2004  08:51AM

LANCASTER, TX-Officials of a Dallas County suburb and three developers have started the take-down of 1,500 acres for a mixed-use development with a $200-million build-out plan.

Acting as the point for the development side, Harvest Real Estate Partners LLC of Dallas has just acquired 90 acres, including the largest commercial corner in the Mills Branch Initiative, a Smart Growth vision that's expected to break ground in six months. In a month, Arcadia Realty Corp. of Dallas is expected to close on 75 acres for the first wave of residential construction while holding a rain check for 40 more, D. Randall Potts, president of Harvest Real Estate, tells The Melbourne, Australia-based Wilbow Corp. is getting 50 acres. Final prices aren't readily available, but land in the immediate area sells for $8,000 to $15,000 per acre.

As the rooftops spring up, Harvest will court grocers to anchor a 150,000-sf shopping center on one of two large tracts earmarked for commercial development. Potts and his partners, Bill Wait and Doyle Nix, have joint ventured with longtime landowner, Clyde Hargrove of Lancaster, to develop retail on the only four tracts--about 30 acres--reserved for commercial build-out in the Mills Branch plan. The first choice is to develop in-house rather than resell tracts to retail developers, but it's "an either-or" scenario as the Harvest team ramps up direct talks with grocers, according to Potts.

Harvest's grocery-anchored project will be the gateway for Woodland Estates at Mills Branch, the developer's residential stake in the public-private partnership's build-out plan. Potts estimates it will be three years before the shopping center breaks ground unless a grocery anchor says otherwise about the "going-home" corner at Belt Line and Blue Grove roads. And that could easily happen since there are just two stores in a town with 6,000 single-family homes on the drawing board and a 27,000 population.

The Mills Branch plan will add 1,100 homes with 80% of the proposed product, single-family houses and multifamily brownstones, positioned within 200 feet of open space, with hiking and biking trails, in a visionary design for a sustainable neighborhood development with life cycle appeal for first-time homeowners and empty nesters alike.

Lancaster has trailed its peers on the development side although it's positioned off Interstate 35 and is just a nine-minute ride to Dallas. "For some reason, it just hasn't grown like the rest of the metroplex," Potts says. "Now, it's a starter market for first-time buyers and first move-outs."

Alan Gree with Freese & Nichols Inc. of Dallas, Scott Policov of Prime Strategies Inc. of Austin and Dennis Wilson of Townscape Inc. of Dallas were the masterminds for the zoning codes and master planning of a blueprint utilizing the 10 principles of development from the North Texas Council of Governments. Potts says the ground-floor opportunity arose when he was helping a homebuilder partner look for land to develop and Lancaster officials said they didn't want a run-of-the-mill development.

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Jerry Sweeney of
Brandywine Realty

"We embarked on a campaign to attract tenants from outside the region, and we've talked with more than 3300 companies."



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