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VOL. 122 | NO. 14 | Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Development Project in Taylor, Miss., Hearkens Back to Small-Town South

KAREN OTT MAYER | Special to The Daily News

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SMALL-TOWN LIFE: This architectural drawing shows the anticipated result of a development in tiny Taylor, Miss. -- Image Courtesy Of Main Street Taylor Llc

Someone has to be first.

And in the sleepy town of Taylor, Miss., Campbell McCool is that person.

As the first houses take shape in the new neighborhood development known as Plein Air, McCool acts as the visible arm of his partnership with Stewart Speed of Jackson.

McCool's first project, a condominium development on University Avenue in Oxford, was completed in 2003. Through it, he found solid success as all the condos sold for more than $500,000 each, setting a new precedent in the market.

"I definitely enjoyed the entire process," McCool said. "I'll let other people decide if I was any good at it."

A golden light

Having spent years in the commercial advertising industry, McCool views building and development as yet another creative venture that means more than just dollars. Plus he has a personal love of art.

"I am not interested in building just for the money," he said. "I want to create something unique that, years from now, I'll be able to point at it and be proud of doing it."

So enters Plein Air.

On 65 acres within walking distance of Downtown Taylor, Plein Air will be the first neighborhood development centered on the arts.

Even the name was born in the company of an artist.

"I was sitting around with my artist friend, Bill Dunlap, and we were watching plein air painters, and after months of trying to come up with that right name, I said, 'That's it,'" McCool said.

Plein air is a French phrase most often characterized by 19th century French painters who worked outside to capture nature in true light. Tied closely with nature and art, the name fit with the entire development concept, McCool said.

Good is as good does

Taylor's mayor, Jim Hamilton, says local feelings are mixed about the Plein Air project.

"Some people think it's good and some think it's the end of the world," Hamilton said. "I think it's a good thing and think Campbell's doing a good job."

Raised in New Orleans, McCool knows first-hand what it means to live in a walkable, traditional setting in which residents walk to a corner grocery, and said he hopes to replicate that same feeling in the Plein Air neighborhood.

Two hundred homes will surround a town square around which a six-acre commercial district will be situated.

"We won't have any chain stores, but want to have locally owned, mom-and-pop stores," McCool said.

The site itself was originally a cotton field, so there are no large, established trees in the middle. However, the perimeter is tree-lined and 30 percent of the site will remain green.

The city required additional covenants, and McCool agreed, saying most were compatible with the concept and design of Plein Air. The neighborhood will have its own sewer system, buried utility lines, wireless high-speed Internet access for the entire site and a community shuttle offering transportation to Ole Miss and Downtown Oxford.

"Most of the restrictions were self-imposed and very little was added by the city," Hamilton said.

Nice 'n' easy

Taylor boasts about 298 citizens per the last U.S. census, Hamilton said.

Houses in Plein Air range from 1,400 to 2,000 square feet and vary in design. Mississippi-born lead architect John Tee describes the houses as "traditional Southern small-town vernacular" with tin roofs, front porches and wood. Designs encourage parking cars in the back and getting people back on front porches. Prices are less than $300,000.

Each home plan is different because five architects are involved in the design. "This neighborhood is all about encouraging interaction," says McCool.

McCool said he believes communities finally are understanding that urban sprawl has been proven undesirable.

"Municipalities are hearing the call," he said.

Taylor itself has been recognized as an artist community for more than 25 years, and today, has two dozen working artists. One planned feature of Plein Air will be an arts center, with tentative plans for the creation of a ceramics institute.

McCool is dedicated to preserving Taylor to the fullest: "This is a unique jewel. I think more people are looking for an authentic experience," he said.

Like so many other areas in North Mississippi, the growth around the Oxford area is booming in a 10-mile radius.

"Ten million dollars' worth of building permits were issued in Oxford alone during 2006 and we're only eight miles from Oxford," Hamilton said.

McCool says he hopes the first home will be finished within the next couple months, with the full neighborhood complete in about five years.

Knowing his development vision steps to a different beat than existing development philosophies, McCool remains steadfast.

"We're building homes, not selling lots," he said. "It's a faster financial route to just sell lots, but that's not what we're about.

"Maybe we're just building the slow, dumb way," he added with a laugh.

PROPERTY SALES 56 437 16,061
MORTGAGES 76 508 18,556
BUILDING PERMITS 241 876 33,390
BANKRUPTCIES 64 301 10,314