The Simpler Life

New developments offer lots of amenities


The Heart of the Forest development at Louisiana Polo Farms has house sites among the woods.
  • The Heart of the Forest development at Louisiana Polo Farms has house sites among the woods.

TerraBella Village sales manager Jeff Sonnenberg had a busy month. Not only did he push the Traditional Neighborhood Development's (TND) sales past the $1 million mark for October, he also helped with the Covington development's fourth annual Pumpkins in the Park event, held in TerraBella's town square with a 5-kilometer run along a lake in the community.

  "The neighbors all love it," says Sonnenberg, who adds the event was set up for youngsters. "Parents and grandparents invited friends and family to party in the town square." He says the event's easy access and shared festivity illustrate people's need "to have a community, not just a cluster of houses."

  That sense of community is what Sonnenberg and others involved in creating TerraBella Village believe will propel the 450-acre property, located 10 miles north of the Causeway, to grow as robustly as St. Tammany Parish. Created as a TND, TerraBella offers residents and businesses a simpler way of life and safety from some of the pitfalls of unmitigated suburban sprawl.

  "The thinking several years ago was, 'Everyone escape to the suburbs,'" Sonnenberg says. "But now that doesn't seem like such a good idea when you're stuck in traffic all the time, a prisoner of the highway."

  Realizing the appeal of a new lifestyle-oriented development in rapidly expanding St. Tammany Parish, Sonnenberg and his partners visited the Village of River Ranch in Lafayette several years ago and were impressed by what they saw. "Everyone who goes to see River Ranch leaves saying, 'Wow! This is fabulous,'" Sonnenberg says. Sonnenberg and his partners tapped River Ranch architect and developer Steve Oubre, who observes human psychology and applies aesthetics to make his developments more friendly. For example, he mandates that front porches be raised above the sidewalk because studies have shown people use both front porches and sidewalks more frequently when they are a different eye levels.

  TerraBella offers subsurface drainage and underground utilities — which prevented the community from losing power during Hurricane Isaac — a post office and Tony Bosco's Italian restaurant. Future plans include adding a bank, school and dental office.

  "It's a real neighborhood," Sonnenberg says. "It's a community that meets all your daily needs. You don't have to leave it."

TerraBella is a neighborhood with a town square, restaurant and post office and plans for a school and more.
  • TerraBella is a neighborhood with a town square, restaurant and post office and plans for a school and more.

  The TND now has 30 families and 11 businesses. The goal over the next decade is to expand to as many as 800 homes ranging in price from $300,000 to $3 million.

  "It just makes sense to live like this," Sonnenberg says. "It's a concept ... people really respond to."

  "The parish definitely loves these Traditional Neighborhood Developments," says St. Tammany Parish Homebuilders Association president Susan Meyer, whose business Conbeth Inc. is a builder in TerraBella. "It cuts down on the traffic, for one. The parish about five years ago invited down these smart-growth experts and really understood it and appreciated it."

  The Congress for the New Urbanism, the smart-growth advocacy think-tank created by former Milwaukee, Wis., Mayor John Norquist, champions the creation of TNDs because they have less of an environmental impact than traditional housing developments and they offer a healthier lifestyle marked by walking and an ethos that that promotes neighborliness.

  Such a need is obvious in St. Tammany Parish, which the Louisiana Parish Population Projection Series predicts will double in population by 2030, increasing from 219,870 in 2005 to 459,160.

  "If you want smart growth, [TerraBella] is smart growth," Meyer says. It's unlikely another TND will be created any time soon, however, because costs of such developments are high and the real estate market is in a lag, she says. "We all certainly hope there will be more, but I don't know when you'll see another one come along, because they are just so expensive to develop."

  In nearby Tangipahoa Parish, residents are buying homes around the Louisiana Polo Farms in Folsom. "It's beautiful land up there — plus there are lower taxes in Tangipahoa," Meyer says.

  G.R. Jones, president of Louisiana Polo Farms Inc., says he's seen a 600 percent increase in property values in Tangipahoa Parish over the last 15 years and that property taxes in Tangipahoa Parish are 40 percent less than those just a mile away in St. Tammany. Jones credits the pro-growth initiatives of parish President Gordon Burgess and the area's high ground and natural beauty for the boom.

Southern Living chose TerraBella as a location for one of its 2010 "Idea Houses."
  • Southern Living chose TerraBella as a location for one of its 2010 "Idea Houses."

  "We are 80 feet above sea level, so we're on nice high ground that won't flood," Jones says. "It's real quiet and secluded, but you're right off the main highway and minutes from everything you need."

  Jones' Louisiana Polo Farms, Heart of the Forest and Pin Oak Estates grew out of his father's (Graham W. Jones) Flying J cattle ranch. The developments contain single-family homes, with several lots still available. The land also holds the historic Carroll Road, a highway paved with bricks and oyster shells that brought American troops and munitions back to Tennessee after victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Jones says he has been environmentally sensitive in this developments and selective in cutting down trees in the virgin forest of live oaks at a Heart of the Woods home site.

  Jones says he's seen substantial growth in the area both in population and land value. "It's kind of taken on a life of its own," he says. "And with all this increase in demand, we expect that will continue."

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