Saturday, December 19, 2009

Making The Jewel Called Belvedere

I am sitting at my desk remembering the feelings of the early days of Belvedere. The design phase was extremely exciting and I became very committed to the project, every corner, every brick, every facet. Then came the execution phase, or rather the "doing," and the recession hit the new building sector as hard as it had been hit since the Great Depression. As we turned into that part of the story, I began to called the developer Jumping Mouse.

Do you all know that story? A small mouse hears a noise. It is the sound of the river that he has never seen and gathers courage to go and see it. While he is there he meets a magical frog who encourages him to have a vision and follow it. Against all pressures to stay the same and in the same place, the small mouse, now renamed Jumping Mouse, follows his vision. As he jumped, he saw the mountains in the distance and vowed to go there. But first he must cross the plain where he is vulnerable to predators. Along the way, he meets creatures that protect him only after he has made a sacrifice. In the end, he reaps the benefits of his sacrifice and gains new heights of experience and life goals.

I love this story and joked with Frank Stoner that Stonehaus was a Jumping Mouse. The developer and the builders had a vision, one that is different from the surrounding developments. Pelted by reporters, critics, naysayers, and holier-than-thous, Belvedere got started and then work stopped as the elegant builder Church Hill was folded into Eagle, and the banks halted work by Hauser Homes. Jumping Mouse, I said, you are in the plains, vulnerable to predators. Surely, there is a lot I don't know about the allies the developer found along the way. I am aware of the sacrifices as I watched Stonehaus let go employees and whittle itself down to a skeleton crew. I know that Church Hill and Hauser subcontractors also suffered. I listened to Bob Hauser passionately talk about his life as a builder at a meeting of Belvedere residents. I got tired of listening to and reading the critics of everything Belvedere, and am still hoping that one reporter will have the courage to write about the project for its innovation and its commitment to sustainability and community.

Yes, I am still here. Yes, I still think the project is going to pan out. Yes, I still believe in it. I think the project changed and is changing, adapting to the sacrifices that had to happen for the development to survive.

I have a new metaphor for you Frank Stoner and Bob Hauser, and everyone who is still here, still working, still believing, and emodying the vision. I have heard people say that Belvedere is a jewel among development projects. Yes, I agree. It is a beauty. I love the small city homes, elegant and small. They are like the old homes of the cities I travel in when I work. I see the same patterns. I love the bigger homes as well and look forward to really seeing the empty spaces fill in. Belvedere is truly not like any neighborhood I have been in anywhere. It is a beauty, at least to my eyes. It doesn't have lots of big yards that Americans are used to. But it does have sweet homes, community, green space, nature, and other amenities that really make it a home. A home is more than a house. A home is an experience.

Real jewels are a long time in the making, especially diamonds. It takes a lot of pressure to make a precious stone. And different ingredients. In the jewel metaphor, I would say that this phase of Belvedere is the pressure phase. The making of a diamond involved melting, chemistry and pressure. I think all that is here for Belvedere. The chemistry is the combination of the design and those of us that inhabit it. Committed Belvedereans put up their own playground while waiting for the design and building of the new playground. We are working on being a community with and for each other. Stonehaus and the various builders are working on new home designs that are affordable and beautiful. The original design still stands.

So, Stonehaus, keep going. I can see the outline of the jewel as it is being formed. Soon, there will be the mining phase, and critics, I know what you are going to say, and this is what I say to you: Any business owner is in business to make a living. That is, in part, what is happening here for those who are designing, building and selling. But Belvedere is more than houses, more than builders. It is a gutsy design with human development in mind, and includes a more-than-human world. I will hold Stonehaus to that if I can. I urge critics to think Big Picture. I would love to see what your creative minds can see and comment on, if you move beyond the tendancy to take apart and complain.

I pledge to write more and record more about Belvedere in 2010. AND, I need to get back to tracking!

Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

The developer and the builders had a vision, one that is different from the surrounding developments. Pelted by reporters, critics, naysayers, and holier-than-thous, Belvedere got started and then work stopped as the elegant builder Church Hill was folded into Eagle, and the banks halted work by Hauser Homes.

To be fair, those of us who criticized them did so because they promised to build an affordable housing development, as was the trend at the time. Then, when green housing became popular, they bailed on the old trend and announced that they were building green houses (abandoning any notion of affordability). I criticized the development because I didn't see any way that they'd follow through and build hundreds of houses affordable to folks in the area with below-median income. It turned out that was absolutely right: they didn't do it.

KateRCST said...

Interesting. The developer says they did commit to "affordable housing." It is part of the "proffers." The carriage homes are meant to be part of the deal, and they did commit to quite a bit of making the carriage units as affordable housing. I can't remember the details but maybe one of the developers can provide all that. Being a business owner operating out of my carriage unit and having appeared before the county, I know this is a bone of contention and I also know that Stonehaus has made good on their commitment. All the language and details and understanding there-in, I am unsure of. Thanks for your post.

Jeannine @ Small and Chic said...

I live in the city, but the time is maybe, possibly near for a move to a more residential location. When I think about moving, I worry about finding the amazing neighbors I have here and I have to admit that reading your blog has me thinking the community feeling I have in my little neighborhood can be found elsewhere.

I've been following your story from the start and will continue to do so. Thanks for sharing so much of your experience at Belvedere.

KateRCST said...

Jeannine! Thanks for your comment! Please stop by and say hello sometime!

Jeannine @ Small and Chic said...

Kate, I might take you up on that offer!

I have been tempted to drive into the neighborhood a few times just to see it, but thought it'd be intrusive.

We are still a bit far from a move, but we've started to talk about things we like about where we live and where we hope to live. I have a mental list of places (even down to specific streets) that might fit us and I have a feeling Belvedere might be place to add to that short list. I really like the philosophy and attitude that comes across in your blog.

KateRCST said...


There is so much more that is going to happen, too. I have a massage studio, so come for a massage sometime! Or my neighbor is a baker and is going to sell baked goods from her home. Come buy some bread or a cake! Belvedereans try hard to make Belvedere what it is.