Planned communities are a growing trend all over Mississippi as they are elsewhere in the country. From Iuka to Pass Christian, residential developments offer a range of amenities and lifestyles, green spaces, various sized homes and mixed use.
“The planning commissions of most of the jurisdictions in Northwest Mississippi prefer planned communities. DeSoto County approved a residential subdivision development agreement to govern and guide developers through the planning and implementation process from initial site preparation and infrastructure installation through homeowner association creation and management,” said Greg Ryan, a broker with Keller Williams in Southaven and treasurer of the Northwest Mississippi Association of Realtors. “Only the smallest of communities are not fully planned developments here now.”
Don Alfonso, president of the Home Builders Association Mississippi Coast and owner of Alfonso Construction, says planned communities answer questions up front. “Making a move to a new location is always a little stressful. If you know where your house is and what is going to be built around it in the future, it is a big load off your shoulders,” he said. “It also provides for future growth in an orderly manner. A lot of thought goes into a planned community.”
Tradition, located in Harrison County, began in 1998 as a vision of developer and Biloxi native Joseph C. Canizaro to build a model university community incorporating a place to live, learn, work, play and shop in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable way. It is the largest master planned community under development in Mississippi, and at full build-out will be a 4,800-acre town with schools, retail shops and recreational facilities. Those plans are taking shape as the first neighborhood has grown from two to 27 homes over the past 18 months. Additional homes are under construction along with businesses, a YMCA fitness center, junior-Olympic size swimming pool and amphitheater in the Village Center. William Carey University, St. Patrick Catholic High School and two new convenience stores are located in the Town Center.
Vice president of sales and marketing Brynn W. Joachim, who is also a Realtor, says master planned communities can provide stability and structure in an unstable real estate market. “Prospective home buyers can see the long-term vision of the community and the commitment of the founder/developer to the community and its growth,” Joachim said. “Planned communities are timeless. They can provide multiple living environments that can work for whatever stage of life you are in and most budgets.”
The Township at Colony Park is in Madison County and within the Ridgeland city limits. It began in 2003 as a development of the Kerioth Corporation and is built around the concepts of New Urbanism. It includes the Renaissance at Town Park.
“The Township is moving along quite well,” said CEO Clint Herring. “We have no unsold or unleased residences in the Township. We are adding more residences and $50 million in improvements that include a children’s park.”
The community includes single-family residences, townhomes, condominiums, an assisted living facility, 250,000 square feet of retail space, 250,000 square feet of office space, three hotels, three banks, financial services firms, numerous restaurants, a medical spa and a chapel. Retail shops of all kinds are built around the town center. Soon to open is a state-of-the-art wellness center and there is space for a permanent church.
“It provides a sense of community to people. They think it’s cool to walk from home to office and to restaurants and shops,” Herring said. “It’s a walkable lifestyle, and we want meaningful green space.”
Wide sidewalks, green space and lakes are a common thread among planned communities. Brandon Pike, president and director of development of Florence Gardens in Gulfport, says the community’s best amenities are the woods surrounding the 420-acre development. There’s a woodlands preserve, park, boardwalk and lake in addition to a swimming pool and club house.
“The place demands you get outside and enjoy it,” he said, “but yet we’re very close to conveniences.”
Pike believes the degree of certainty homeowners get when they move to a development that’s well thought out is comforting. “There is flexibility in our planning, but folks have put in years of planning to make it a good place to live,” he said. “It is becoming more popular to live in planned communities, a trend that’s been nationwide for several years.”
Ryan of Southaven agrees. “More attention is being given to planned communities now than ever,” he said. “The Interstate 69 Corridor planning effort is using some of the most advanced planning tools to help guide residential, commercial and industrial development along the corridor in Northwest Mississippi with an emphasis on creating the right mix of land use.”
He says some of the best examples of planned communities already in existence are Windstone in Olive Branch, Hernando West in Hernando and Snowden Grove in Southaven. “Windstone has strict construction standards and the best mix of amenities of any subdivision in the county, and has been one of the best performing subdivisions all through the downturn with respect to continued growth and holding values,” he said.
“Snowden Grove, though lacking in amenities within the subdivision, has a mix of housing types from starter homes to mid-price homes, luxury homes and a 55-plus section. You could literally move into the subdivision as a first-time home buyer and live in a variety of housing types all the way through your senior years. Commercial services, including banking, healthcare, entertainment and foodservice facilities are within walking distance surrounding the development.”
Herring says the concept began with an Urban Land Institute study that found we keep building throw-away developments, building on land then leaving it for something newer. “We still have to do a bunch of things that cost money in both locations and that is not a healthy pattern,” he said. “The research found that people want tree-lined streets, on-street parking, buildings and houses clustered close to the street; something that makes them want to stay there and keep returning.”
He points out that if mixed use is done correctly, it must be walkable and connected. “In the best scenario, everything must be a ten-minute walk from the town center,” he said. “The average human will walk 10 minutes rather than get in his car. Fifteen hundred feet seems to be the sweet spot.”
Mare Point, north of Pass Christian, is a planned community with lots of land and access to horse trails. “It’s for people looking for enough land to have horses and stables and country living,” says developer Curt Achee. “It’s private and secure. When the gates are closed, kids can safely play outside.”
Protective covenants ensure that certain standards will be maintained, including that any outbuildings must match the houses and the minimum square footage for homes must be 2,700 square feet.
Joachim says planned communities can improve a resident’s overall quality of life by offering the ability to live, work, learn, shop and worship close to home. “Many home buyers are looking to master planned communities because they are tired of the bland cookie-cutter subdivisions,” Joachim said. “They are looking for communities that mix an old-fashioned sense of Americana with today’s modern conveniences.”
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