Don McNarama does real estate developments, and he does them right. He is the investor responsible for Dallas’ well-known CityPlace, which includes the West Village urban developments. West Village has become a virtual synonym for successful urban commercial real estate development. If I had a dime for every time a developer said to me, “we are building a West Village-type community…” I’d be, well, McNamara’s neighbor.
Actually, we were Don McNamara’s neighbor once, for about six months. We were living in a rent house on Brookview in Preston Hollow while we built our home. Please note: nice North Dallas ranch rent house, not a Mark Kreditor special. The McNamara’s had boys at St. Marks School of Texas, four houses away. They purchased two lots abutting the school and built a home so their kids could be closer and bring home friends.
In the 16 short months we lived on Brookview, our son was a freshman at St. Marks, and I learned how wonderful it was to live so close to school. St. Marks became our “town square”. Even better, I hung up my car-pool keys for good. We walked to school, too, for meetings, meets and games. When I took cookies to the football team after practice, they were warm from my oven. And I loved it when the kids all came over to our house, even though it was “the rental house” — most of my household was in storage in one of the bedrooms — so it was like we were camping. The kids sat anywhere.
That’s what the McNamaras must have wanted when they built a huge family home on two Preston Hollow lots next to St. Marks: proximity, kids and family fun at the house 24/7.
Don McNamara has also owned a private family vacation compound on Cedar Creek Lake for almost 20 years. A mammoth lake home hidden behind groves of trees on the Cedar Creek shore, there’s enough room to sleep the entire football team. Talk about toys, the “McNarosa” as they call the compound has it all: water skis, sail boats, cruisers, yachts, fishing gear, an elegant antique French water taxi, even a private golf course. Sailing into the McNamera Cove, you would think you are at the Long Island Yacht Club.
Just so happens Long Cove is right next door. It’s really a combination of all the things that Don’s family and friends have loved and enjoyed at their second home over the years. Way more than a pool, a dock and a lake, Long Cove is McNamara’s dream vacation home playland: there’s a comfortable lakefront swim club with fitness center, an outdoor kitchen, huge pool complete with a waterslide for both adults and kids, a splash and play area, and a dedicated kids pool. There is more of a sand beach than you get these days in Miami Beach. The waterfront amenities include floating community docks, beach & sand volleyball courts, sailboats and paddleboards. All of this is include in the yearly HOA’s (from $4400 to $6300 a year), grab and go. Someone can even teach you paddleboarding. A restaurant and dry storage marina are in blueprint stage, maybe even framed by now. There is even a restored historic water taxi for sunset cruises on the lake.
In a way, it’s like building that house right next to St. Marks, so the kids could be close by, and the adults can kind of be kids.
Best of all, Long Cove is a sophisticated, well-planned and executed, thoroughly researched lake home community that is just over an hour from downtown Dallas.
When it comes to vacation homes, I’m spoiled. I have seen the best. So when we first visited Gun Barrel City to see Cedar Creek Lake years ago, I was a bit disappointed. The name sounded so quaint and charming, but Gun Barrel City development was not on a par with coastal Maine towns like Kennebunkport, The Hamptons, Seaside, Watercolor, Alys Beach, or inland communities like Calistoga Ranch, Boot Ranch, or Mayacama. And where are my concierge services so I can enjoy my stay, not spend it all working?
But Cedar Creek Lake is bubbling up, as sophisticated developers finally target the fourth largest lake in Texas for planned upscale second home environments on a par with the aforementioned. There is Beacon Hill, The 505 Ranch and then, further south by about 25 minutes, closer to Malakoff and Log Cabin, there is Long Cove — Don McNamara’s baby smack next door to his over-the-top vacation enclave.
“My hope is that Long Cove gives other families a one-of-a-kind chance to enjoy Cedar Creek Lake in the way that my friends and family have for years now,” says Don McNamara, developer of Long Cove and president and CEO of Hampstead Holdings, the company developing it. “This development represents a personal passion for me, and I’m thrilled to be able to introduce Long Cove to families in Dallas who are searching for that quick, convenient getaway that can be their go-to place for getting back to the basics of family life.”
Dallas area families are taking note.
“I love how Long Cove has developed houses around a community clubhouse, ” says Cynthia Smoot, a popular Park Cities Blogger, ad exec and mother. “It really gives you the feeling that you are buying into a lifestyle, and not just acquiring a lot.”
Cynthia really likes the amenities: top-notch, she says, from the fishing pond to the sand volleyball court, boat concierge service to the community workout facility. They are just the tip of the iceberg.
“They have thought of everything,” she says. “Long Cove is just over an hour outside of Dallas, yet it feels another life away. It’s the perfect retreat from busy city life.”
McNamara spent years acquiring the land, then assembled a crack team of developers to walk every inch. They researched the most successful, sustainable, walkable vacation communities in the land to find and implement what had worked. Here is where they went first: Seaside, a Robert S. Davis/Andres Duany/Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk development heralded as the New Urbanism in its prime. Like McNamara, Davis’ grandfather purchased 80 acres along the Florida Gulf panhandle shore as a family retreat, which Davis inherited in 1979. The developer and architects studied southern towns in detail to create the perfect beach community, socially as well as physically, based on a town square center from which everyone could walk everywhere. In an interview, Andres Duany told me that Seaside was “accidentally” environmental: houses were built on stilts for drainage.
“The basic premise is you should have all your ordinary daily needs within walking distance — and a six year old could have the run of the place,” he said. “Dogs don’t need leashes — in fact the Seaside dog, Bud, lived to age 18 without ever wearing a leash.”
Those are the basics of family life McNamara seeks at Long Cove — safety, no locked doors, parked cars, sports, and an evening spent watching fireflies away from electronics. His team also studied Watercolor, a Seaside clone developed by The St. Joe Company; Rosemary Beach; Palmetto Bluff, and Horseshoe Bay down on Lake LBJ in Marble Falls.
“The idea was to create a small beach town community life style on a beautiful lake in north Texas,” says Josh Ellis, Sales Director of Long Cove Development, Inc. “Think The Hamptons. Nothing like this has ever been available before for Dallas/Fort Worth residents.”
Location is where McNamara hit the jackpot: Long Cove is just 75 miles (just over an hour) southeast of Dallas, via a pastoral drive down U.S. Highway 175, past Gun Barrel City, crossing south on 198. Here he also had the best, deepest, side of the lake. McNamara knit together 1200 acres brimming with 80-year-old Post oaks, located along six miles of untouched shoreline on the south side of Cedar Creek. Long Cove is really the last great development opportunity on the lake.
What kept this part of the lake quiet for so many years? Access and a low-lying bridge that made it difficult for boats to get under as it sat on the water line — anything bigger than a rowboat could not pass. Then the state built a four-lane arching bridge, state highway 198, which made the southeast portion of the lake much more accessible for watercraft.
The finger of the lake where Long Cove is located is itself the size of Lake Athens, and holds some of the deepest, calmest, clearest water on Cedar Creek – more coveted features of recreational lakes. Texas lakes are prone to drought, and Cedar Creek has seen the worst. But this side of the lake has the geography to keep water levels higher even during the worst five-year droughts. For one, this is the southern end, the dam is here, and water is always naturally flowing downward. This end is closer to Athens, which enjoys a rolling natural terrain of hills that slope into the lake. The Long Cove development team used recent drought conditions to influence building plans: taking advantage of low lake levels from the wisp-dry summer of 2011, they created extended and floating docks, giving homeowners boat access even in the most extreme conditions.
The first Long Cove development phase is currently under construction, located on a half-mile of shoreline that includes 33 lakefront homes. By car, homeowners enter a gated community, then proceed down a two-mile entry road winding through forest and meadows, passing by fishing ponds and over a 100 year old one-way iron bridge. Cute country signage indicates a relaxing experience ahead, the reason why owners have left the big city behind. The wooded surroundings offers a sense of privacy and seclusion, which combined with the on-site concierge service, makes owning a lake home far less of a chore, which is a basic premise of the development. Long Cove Development has partnered with John Boyd & Associates, a Dallas-based Architecture and Interior Design firm to design 22 Waterside Cottages in this phase. Buyers may also purchase one of the seven Lake Front Lots or four Family Compound Lots to build a vacation home with the builder of their choice. The development puts a two year limit on how long a lot can remain vacant before building. All these custom homesites have sold, and 8 of the 10 first offered Waterside cottages homes are gone. That leaves 14 available in this phase; Dodd’s Landing, the second phase of development, has just released 16 custom homesites, and more Cottage inventory has been released on the western horseshoe.
The Waterside Cottages are turn-key lakefront homes, offered in seven different floor plans and a “low country meets Hill country” architectural style –with customized finishes and the “Seaside” look: pastel clapboard, beach house classic made of faux cedar shakes. Custom homes will be available in one of five styles: craftsman, rustic shingle, low country, ranch, Austin stone and Hill Country contemporary. Waterside cottage square footage runs from 2000 to 3600, 3 to 6 bedrooms and pricing is from $695,000 to $1,300,000. The lakefront lots feature up to 150 feet of shoreline and are sized between 1/2 acre to 1 acre, while the waterfront Family Compound properties are sized to accommodate multiple structures, with up to 470 whopping feet of shoreline and up to 2.5 acres per lot. Prices for custom homesites — dirt only — in Dodd’s Landing (phase two) will range from $335,000 to $575,000 per lot.
Ultimately, Long Cove will be comprised of multiple neighborhoods and more than 300 waterfront properties, that’s all. Future phases include a new marina, restaurant and the excavation of major extensions to the lake that will increase Long Cove’s existing shoreline from six miles to eight miles or more, which is already underway.
In addition to lake and pool activities, Long Cove will have a toy barn, a “lending library” for every piece of on land sports equipment or water gear you could imagine for fun at the lake, modelled after life at the McNarosa. Beyond the shores of Cedar Creek, in the piney woods, regulation-sized sports fields will encourage quick football, rugby,tennis or soccer games. There are plans for a PGA quality driving range and short golf game practice area where the guys can get away to swing the clubs without feeling the pressure to play a full 18 holes of golf. There has also been discussion of bringing in horses for trail rides, perhaps even a corner where owners can raise farm-to-table vegetables to be consumed by residents or sold at a local Farmer’s Market, a touch of Prairie Crossing in East Texas, but those are not confirmed amenities at this point.
Above all, Long Cove is an upscale community where you might be wearing flip flops and shorts the whole weekend, but help will be there when you want it, if you want it. Boat valet services mean your boat is always tuned, gassed and clean. The floating docks will keep boats available no matter the lake level. Lawns can be mowed, trimmed, houses cleaned and refrigerators stocked upon your arrival.
The whole point is to relax, take it easy, and play with the kids when you get here. Even if you have to rush back to Dallas for soccer practice.
“Every consideration has been taken in the design of the Long Cove development and in the combination of amenities we offer. It’s all about putting the right ingredients in place to make for a phenomenal family experience,” said Chris Kelsey, Long Cove president. “Long Cove is unlike any other lakefront residential community in Texas, trading the traditional private golf community feel for a new idea – a luxury getaway that redefines quality family time.”