Sunday, August 31, 2008

Home at Last

I has been a while since my last post and I apologize but we've been a bit busy (see Kate's post below). Between monitoring the finishing of the house to packing and moving, then closing, unpacking working out new schedules and routines...whew...well, I finally am starting to feel settled.

One balm has been the almost daily spectacle of the hot air balloons floating by in the early summer mornings. One day I'll be on one of them looking down I guess but for now it is a nice reward for getting up early.

Then come the sounds of Hauser and Church Hill workers starting in on the unfinished houses. For some that might be terribly annoying, but to me it is the sound of - completion - and I can't wait to have the houses and townhomes finished and occupied. As I tell people "I hate my neighbors", but now that another owner is moving in I can't say that any longer. It has been a trying and difficult time, certainly more challenging than I would have ever dreamed, but I feel strongly that we have turned a corner and things are only going to get better - much better.

We haven't gotten any bills yet (there has been a little glitch with the post office not handling our mail properly) but I promise to post them as they come in so we can get a sense of exactly how energy-efficient this house is. I won't make any conclusions for awhile as the season is turning, and we are still getting our house routines down, but it will be a nice long-term project.

One thing I can say is that the house (as Josh Goldschmidt had assured us) is very comfortable. It has a lovely airy feel to it, and whether the windows are open in the mornings or evenings or closed in the hotter afternoons it never feels stuffy or "artificial". It is also always a pleasant surprise to go to the top (attic) floor and have it be only a degree or two warmer than the one below.

So if you drive by in the evening and we're sitting on the porch chatting and looking peaceful it is because we are happy with where we are living.

One Month Report

Okay. As requested. Here is my one month report.

It has been exactly one month since we moved in. While the environment has been tough (no rain, subcontractors going on temporary strikes, businesses bought and sold, neighbors having to delay moving in), I have just loved living here. And we are not the first family to move here. I have met a family of crows (they are quite communicative), a herd of deer, and a flock of blue birds. Here is a short of list of the good and the bad.

The Bad first:

Living in a construction zone: It's not too bad but I don't like it much. The hammering and the generators can be loud but we knew that. And I really hate it when the construction workers whistle at me. Look, I am an old married lady (our 20th wedding anniversary is this week), definitely a maid, not a maiden, nothing to get too excited about. I run a lot, and yesterday when I ran by the crew working on the Hauser homes and I got that whistle, I thought, I am going go up close to those guys and give them a hard time. I didn't though I thought about it. I don't like that.

The Red Mud: Really, I like the mud. The tracks here are amazing, and my daughter loves the mud, too, but it gets on everything. We have to be careful to not track it into the house. Our shoes are probably going to be permanently stained (who cares?). I can't wait until the landscaping for the first phase is complete. The red mud is on the sidewalks, the grass is not growing anywhere. Ack!

Not Many Neighbors: Finally, the second home owner moved in yesterday. We can't wait for more people.

I am sure Bret has his short list, too, but over all, the development company has just been awesome, helping us every step of the way. The fiber optic communications is not in yet but the builder and developer, and the communication company Connexion, have been great.

The Good:

The Land: Whenever I think that maybe this was a mistake and I should have stayed in my private little sheltered life in Vermont, I go and sit on the land. It is a spiritual practice of mine anyway, and I have chosen a high spot on the land that stays a secret to you all because I don't want you finding me. Anyway, I sit there in the early morning in awe of the mountains and the trees. The view of the sunrise and the moonset is amazing, and then there are the hot air balloons. They come floating slowly over Belvedere and you definitely get the sense that, Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. I feel imbued with a sense of magic and awe when I am out there.

The House: The house just rocks. I can't wait until more people move in to experience the feel of the structural design, the porches, the sidewalks. The light is awesome, the window treatments have been intense; what to choose? I am not really a house person, but my husband is, and the neighbors are. I just adore listening to them love their house, too. I look forward to really being a neighborhood.

The Trails: I am out on the trails everyday. I am told that the Belvedere trail system will be revealed shortly by the developer, Stonehaus, so I won't say too much here except that Dan Mahon and the Rivanna Trail people did an awesome job with the trail through the Dunlora woods. I run and walk down there all the time. My daughter and I spend time looking at all kinds of things along that trail, from the massive mastcrop trees to the spiders to the creek system and animal tracks and sign. Bret and I run along the trails down to Dunlora. The other day, massive amounts of grasshoppers flew up ahead of me as I ran through the Dunlora field trail. I will often find sign of animal behaviors in the flood plain, like coyote kill sites and deer paths, and of course, lots of frogs. The Zone has beautiful trails, if only I could keep the four-wheelers out. There is much to explore and love about the trails and the land.

The Builder and the Developer: The builder, Church Hill, has been just awesome. Even though they have clearly struggled, they have stayed in touch and are very gracious to us. And Stonehaus, you have also been great. I ask a lot of questions, and have tried to be measured in my approach to your vision but sometimes, I can't help myself. The potential is just too amazing and I tend to be exuberant anyway. I really think things have just begun here and are going to get better.

My Yard: The Permaculture Garden is still planned. I plan to put in a fence and some more plant beds. I hope to have the fruit trees planted this fall.

Other Amentities: The Fairview Swim Club was great this summer, just walking up and jumping in the pool. I hope my kids want to be on the swim team. SOCA is still planning the soccer field house, the Village Green will one day be green with the activities promised by Stonehaus, and there are plans for classes and other health-related activities that are not my place to say just yet. I know they are coming down the pike, though.

"We Need Powerful Rain"

The day the rain began to fall, the rain barrel man, Bryan Buckley called me about our rain barrels. He said, "The blessed rain has fallen." A perfect thing for the rain man to say. We have had no rain for almost 2 months, and the drought is keenly felt in Belvedere. Our lawn is green because Bret nurtured it like a newborn calf. We had been warned and worked over by the people who put it down. Everyone was concerned about landscaping in August. The seed/straw combinations put down in Belvedere did not produce much green, and the trees are suffering.

But the words, "We need powerful rain," came from my little girl, Eleanor, age 4. My husband asked her why. "Mud," she said. She is a mud specialist and I let her revel in it. With the recent rain, she donned her raincoat and boots and went out to find the muddy places. Also, she loves frogs. I went down to the Zone after the rain and said, "Eleanor, I saw many frogs down in the Zone," hoping to pique her curiosity so that we would go down there together. "What kind?" she asked. Wow, I thought, she is mentoring me. This is a mentor's question, getting the student to think about species identification. "Mainly tree frogs, " I said, "and some leopard frogs."

"Oh," she said. "I want a green frog." She paused. "And toads. . . . they are my favorite."

She's four years old and knows the frogs. Awesome.

We Set A Record

We set a record in Albemarle County with the number of liens on our property. Our closing date was set to be July 31, a Thursday, and move-in was that day, too. We had business in New England the week previous, and we knew that something was not quite right when we began to get emails from the settlement lawyer about the title. The first title we saw had about 5 liens, all filed from subcontractors who had not gotten paid by Church Hill. By the time we went to settle, there were 19 liens on the property, a record in Albemarle County. Bill Tucker, our most excellent settlement attorney worked his legal butt off the get that title clean as a whistle, because not only were there liens for people who were owed money, there were conditions that required Church Hill to get signatures from subcontractors who had not filed liens saying they would never file liens. Church Hill had to go around and get signatures in July when many people were on vacation, and well, the delay was intense.

I was still in New England when Bret called me and said, "I just had a conversation with our lawyer that a new home owner never wants to have." I had those conversations, too. Bill Tucker started calling us the Belvedere Poster Child, and amid threats that we were not going to close, we persevered. It was difficult though. But once the papers were signed and filed, Bret and I finally could relax and really be in our home.

Now, the second home owner has moved in to Belvedere. Church Hill properties in Belvedere have been bought by Eagle and new energy is flowing into the project. Things are moving in many different ways. Our esteemed realtor, Jim Duncan, says, "Belvedere will survive." It may be awhile, but I think Belvedere will thrive. Just watch.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

We Have Met the Future

And it is us, to paraphrase an old saying.

Two recent articles in major newspapers about "development" could be about Belvedere.

Gas Prices Apply the Brakes to Suburban Migration


Gas prices drive push to reinvent America's suburbs

These say that urban development with businesses and residences are the wave of the future, Belvedere just adds Earthcraft homes, green space, community and organic garden, soccer fields, and cool nature-based activities.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

"There's Still Money"

Here are more answers to questions from people, and the big message is, There Is Still Money. If you are concerned about whether or not Belvedere is floundering, don't worry about your investment. Things have had to change somewhat, with staff and timeline changes, but the big message is all is well (or better than well, actually, Great!)

Stonehaus Development Manage LJ Lopez came and spent time with me yesterday, the day after move-in and explained a few things. It is easy to look at this unfinished place and see a project not complete or threatening to fail, but actually the opposite is true. Here are few explanations, as I understand them:

The Storm Water Park is still going to happen, but the drainage will look raw for awhile. There is a large sediment catchment area because there is huge run-off from the lots that don't have sod. Actually Josh Goldschmidt explained the value of sod to me yesterday. So, just take a deep breath and look beyond the muddy water to the tree lined path beside the levels of water and small fountains in the Stonehaus plans. That is still online for the neighborhood.

As is the Civic Core, and Belvedere's commitment to the community and the arts. The Civic Core includes the Village Green, where this fall there will be several events. SOCA is in process and committed to building the indoor facility. The other parts of the Core include the Town Hall and the Montessori School, all still planned and in the queue for building. The residents of Belvedere are going to be, in part, responsible for the programs and what is going to happen on the Village Green but I know Stonehaus is planning on music and movies. And after talking with people interested in living in Belvedere, there will be many more interesting things that might happen here.

The Organic Garden is still going to happen, and Stonehaus is going to send out more information about that this fall. They want to wait to promote until the gardeners get in there and begin to "do something" (as it was explained to me), and actually, that garden amenity has turned out better than they anticipated.

I am unsure about the Retail and Commercial Space, more the timeline than the content. I am reassured that there are many interested parties who want to support that space. We just need to move down the timeline a bit.

For those of you who came out and talked with me about the plans (not just LJ), I thank you for your honesty. LJ in particular made it clear that Stonehaus will stay with the process and will not abandon the project, and wants to more of a presence than most "development companies." I imagine that many a development firm who would want to be a part of something like Belvedere. So Belvedere remains the green gem it was designed to be, and there are peaks and valleys within the process of making it real. (Sometimes the peaks and valleys can occur on the same day, my hat off to you Churchill and Hauser for staying solid.) I have definitely felt those peaks and valleys, and bear witness to what this time in our history is doing to the perspective of so many people.

My advice to those reading the blog interested in buying a home here is to talk with many people, particularly Josh Goldschmidt, Greg Slator, my realtor, Jim Duncan, and any of the pioneer families here. This is an urban design that doesn't have much precedent.

As yes, I'm Still Tracking! And I was just down near the Zone yesterday. I am into my third season on the land here. There is someone caretaking down there, I saw the chain saw work. The floodplain vegetation is higher than myself. I just felt so grateful. Having lived connected to land, I know that it takes years to get to know and understand its patterns. I will be full circle here next winter (February), and then I can start to map and identify species and patterns. It takes time. As I ran by the field, a deer jumped into the path ahead of me, out of a line of green reeds about 6 feet high. That place is rich with wildlife and plants, and I look forward to being in relationship with that more-than-human world.

First Day in the House

Well, the first days in the house have been interesting. Move-in Day was long and dramatic, with a hustle at the last minute to get all the boxes off the truck before the staff went into overtime. Then came the collapse and the glass of wine and the deep breath. Those who have moved know that it takes a lot of work. My mother was here, bless her soul, to help with cooking and childcare while Bret and I pushed boxes around. There is a short punch list that will get looked at this week but the house is beautiful. My favorite room in the house is the front porch, or the cool space as Stonehaus calls it.

I also can't wait to make the yard my own. I have a preliminary plan that I carry around in my head, one bigger than the design handed into Stonehaus for preliminary approval. I am just back from New England where I visited the gardens of Dave Jacke permaculture assistant George Leoniak. (George is also an extremely gifted and hardworking animal tracker. We have a tentative plan to have him come to the area next spring to help me launch the Charlottesville Area Tracking Society). More on the yard and its design in a separate blog. The sod is necessary and we are all afraid it will die in the August heat, so we are watering and nursing it like it was a newborn calf.

Then Channel 29 came to do the interview for the news. That was fun! Thank you so much Christina Mora for the story on Belvedere. So many people want to know, How is it? It is wonderful to be "at home," and be able to start the process of making this house my space. The construction noise is not loud and the crews are friendly. When I look around Belvedere, I see the finished place in my mind's eye. I don't dwell on what it isn't, I groove on what it is going to be. Now that I am in my house, I know that different levels of settling are going to occur, and my projects are going to take off. The garage office is looking great, better than I expected, so I hope to be open for business next week! I will post pictures, soon. I have been hanging out with my neighbors who will be moving in soon, this month and next. We are planning the welcoming parties! I just came from the open house next door where the realtors have been busy meeting with clients. More lots have been sold and more phone calls are coming in since the houses have started going up.

I remember six months ago on a cold windy morning, we stood on our lot with Josh Goldschmidt and Jim Duncan, and Josh said to me, "You've got to like people if you are going to live here."
And I said, "Woohoo, let's get started!" (and we still have red mud stains in our van from that trip!). That was not so long ago, and now see what is here. I'll repeat what I said to people, yes, I am happy, I am excited, and I am ready to work to make Belvedere what the developers outlined to me over the last year as I expressed interest in being a homeowner and a business owner. Watching the changes in the staff of Stonehaus and witnessing what the builders have had to go through to make things happen was a little anxiety provoking, but I have received many assurances that things are going to stay on track. Stonehaus and Churchill have extended themselves to make me feel at home and confident. I thank you!

Since the newstory last night, people have been streaming into Belvedere. Bret and I have been fielding questions from passers-by. It's been awesome. Don't hesitate to ask us questions about the process if you see us out and about. I've been asked to write about being here at different intervals, so stay tuned.