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VOL. 122 | NO. 157 | Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Despite Housing Downturn, Plans Unveiled for 600-lot Development in Arlington

By Eric Smith

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HEY NEIGHBOR: All 600 homes in the $24 million, 326-acre Villages at White Oak in Arlington will feature front porches, an integral component of the subdivision's Traditional Neighborhood Development design. Builders will break ground this week on the development. -- Ap Photo/Chad Greene

At a time when builders are scaling back nationally because of sagging home sales and the slowing economy, an ambitious subdivision in Arlington is about to take shape.

The $24 million, 326-acre Villages at White Oak is an expansive residential, retail and office development just north of Interstate 40 near the Shelby-Fayette county line.

The subdivision's 600 residential lots will be divvied among four longtime builders - Chamberlain & McCreery Inc., FaxonGillis Homes, J. Sweeney Homes and Signature Building Group - who will hold a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday and release the first 40 lots Saturday during an onsite sale.

The success of the six-year, six-phase subdivision, which will feature a variety of price and floor plans, won't be known for some time. But its planners said they hope to take advantage of Arlington's documented desirability in relation to other submarkets in the Memphis metropolitan area.

For instance, Arlington ranked first in Shelby County for lot sales from March 2006 to February 2007, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com.

White Oak development coordinator Tommy White notes the growing suburb's apparent insulation from the volatility that has plagued the national real estate market of late.

"The advantage in Arlington is they haven't taken the hit, so to speak," White said. "As the market goes through a lull, Arlington has been steady. We feel that in Shelby County and the Memphis area, this subdivision will be well-accepted."

'Inventory is moving'

Still, White Oak GP - the entity in charge of the development - must fight a shaky housing market that has seen sales tumble and lending guidelines tighten. Just 546 residential building permits were filed in Shelby County during second quarter 2007. That's 394 fewer compared to 2006 and 915 fewer than the torrid pace of 2005.

Some areas, such as the traditionally hot submarkets of Downtown and Collierville, suffered huge dropoffs between Q2 2006 and Q2 2007 - with permits in Downtown's 38103 and Collierville's 38017 each down about 80 percent.

"Arlington has always been a pretty strong area. A lot of the (national housing market) problem is an overbuilt situation and the predatory-lending situation, which both have caused a down market. Arlington is a different market."
- Sam Davidson
FaxonGillis president and chief operating officer

But the largest decrease in number of permits was in the Arlington/Lakeland ZIP 38002. In second quarter 2006, 248 permits were filed there; in 2007 there were just 111, down a staggering 137, or more than 55 percent.

Chamberlain & McCreery president Jon McCreery believes the time is right to ramp up building efforts in Arlington and elsewhere.

"Inventory is moving, and nobody is putting up any new product," he said. "So even if the market stays like it is, the numbers we're experiencing in sales are still as good as 2004. It's not as good as 2005 or 2006, when it was a completely erratic spike. So we're at a correction from an all-time high."

The numbers should rise dramatically once the four builders start moving dirt for Phase I of the Villages at White Oak, which they expect to commence in September.

"We're sitting on 'Ready,'" said FaxonGillis president and chief operating officer Sam Davidson. "We'll start building as soon as we can pull those permits."

Davidson agreed that Arlington won't face the challenges that a development of this magnitude might encounter elsewhere.

"Arlington has always been a pretty strong area," he said. "A lot of the problem is an overbuilt situation and the predatory-lending situation, which both have caused a down market. Arlington is a different market."
Traditional by design

The Villages at White Oak (www.comeseethevillages.com) was designed to be different. Born of a partnership between Chamberlain & McCreery and Canale Properties LLC, the development should benefit from the completion of Milton Wilson Road, which will connect Collierville-Arlington Road near I-40 to the south and Forrest Road to the north.

Location is important, but the developers and builders behind the Villages at White Oak hope its unique design - a Traditional Neighborhood Development, or TND - truly will set it apart from other subdivisions.

"Traditional neighborhood development takes us back to the '50s and '60s mentality of everyone on their porches," White said. "It's the mentality of getting people off their couches and meeting their neighbors - promoting a walkable community."

TND means strict building guidelines, such as front porches and garages set 14 feet from the front of the house, along with ample green space such as walking paths and dog parks.

Also, retail and office space will be developed as the residential lots fill up in the self-contained subdivision.

It's all a throwback to the neighborhoods of yesteryear.

"There's a lack of TNDs in Shelby County," White said. "We feel by bringing that online, people will very much respond to (memories of) their childhood, when they remember when everyone was out in the streets and out of the house."

Arlington mayor Russell Wiseman said the development, while by no means the only success story in this growing town, will be a feather in the cap for the area.

"As far as overall scope and size of it, when the whole thing is built out, it will be the largest subdivision in Arlington," Wiseman said. "When it's built out, it's going to be a class act."

High hopes

Officials for the builders of the Villages at White Oak understand the size of the commitment forged by its planners, who wouldn't undertake this mammoth project lightly.

"We are very excited about the opportunity to build there," said Jeff Sweeney, owner of J. Sweeney Homes. "I think it's one of the most unique developments done in Memphis in the last few years. Jon (McCreery) and Phil (Chamberlain) and Canale definitely have the wherewithal to make it happen."

With a full-scale building blitz about to begin, White Oak officials said they believe the development can serve as an economic generator. After all, it will require hordes of contractors and subcontractors being hired in the coming months and years to complete each phase.

Officials also believe that this development will serve as much more than bricks and mortar.

"Maybe this subdivision, combined with others, can catapult the housing market back to where it was," White said.

PROPERTY SALES 70 70 16,267
MORTGAGES 30 30 10,117
BUILDING PERMITS 297 297 38,841
BANKRUPTCIES 44 44 7,641