A New Urbanist Model Community In Montgomery, Alabama
Anna Lowder and her husband Harvi Sahota are the Town Founders of Hampstead, and lead the town planning, design, construction, marketing, and placemaking of the community. With over 15 years of New Urbanist development experience, Hampstead is the culmination of their effort in “Building Community Through Design.”.
Can you describe the project briefly?
Hampstead is a New Urbanist TND (Traditional Neighborhood Design) we founded in 2008 under the direction of town planner Andres Duany of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. Hampstead challenges traditional suburban sprawl and presents something uniquely different. Urban planning, architecture and civic design are essential components of this community. The result is a community built on living, working, preserving, and growing over time into a multi-generational, mixed-use community where people of different lifestyles come together.
What was the motivation to build this community?
We started out with a simple question: “Why?” Why had Suburbia become the norm in America, and why was it the only option for people looking for a new construction home in this region?
We knew there are better ways of planning and building that could improve people’s daily lives. So, we looked to older cities, new towns, revitalized areas that had been brought to life. We sought the best examples of urbanism in the United States, always asking “why does this work?” We studied the examples of planning, learning specifically how design can drive the culture, society and economy of a place. We learned from the wisdom of New Urbanists and seasoned developers, learning that there’s always a design solution to any problem.
How did you get started on this project? How is this a New Urbanist community?
We built a design team led by the world’s most experienced town planners, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ). As planners of Seaside, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach and over 300 communities and cities worldwide, DPZ’s experience has been invaluable to us. Led by Andrés Duany, we created an intricate, balanced community plan built on the fundamental urban design principles of mixed-use, walkable, cohesive neighborhoods that stand the test of time.
That “Why?” evolved into “How?” and has taken over a decade of hard work. We changed Montgomery’s zoning laws by getting the SmartCode adopted, then created Montgomery’s first mixed-use town center. We educated homebuyers and visitors how traditional planning and design fosters an unrivaled quality of life. And we battled the Great Recession. The majority of Americans now see the value of walkable, mixed-use communities. Whether led by millennials or baby-boomers or just new residents relocating from other cities, Hampstead has been at the forefront of this shift regionally.
The tenets of New Urbanism are all represented at Hampstead. Civic buildings and public gathering places require important sites to reinforce community identity and the culture of democracy. They deserve distinctive form, because their role is different from that of other buildings and places that constitute the fabric of the town. From a community farm and recreational park areas to a school and public library. The balance of jobs, shopping, school, recreation, civic institutions, housing, food production and natural places all occur at the neighborhood scale, reaffirming the characteristics of classic New Urbanist communities.
When was the community started? How many phases are now complete?
We began design work in 2005, then site work and infrastructure in 2007 before our opening in 2008. The Great Recession years slowed our original projected implementation pace, but today we’ve reached our fifth phase with over 35% of the community master plan developed. Phase Six begins in late 2021. We have completed nearly 400 homes of all sizes and types, as well as our signature amenities and community features including a lake, urban farm, Montessori school, pools, tennis center, playgrounds and our central town center.
Who is moving into this community? Are these rentals or sales?
Hampstead attracts a wide variety of residents looking for a community where they can connect with people and with nature. Many of our homeowners are moving to Montgomery from throughout the United States, and Hampstead offers a community that reminds them of other places based on traditional planning. We offer homes of various types for sale from 1,100 sf up to over 6,000 sf, plus homes and flats for rent.
Here people can enjoy all phases of life within the same community, as we focus on diversity of price points, a combination of residential, retail, work, and civic uses, and a community that fosters aging in place as well as growing in community.
What are the advantages of living in this community?
The sense of community here is real and tangible. Residents care for each other and look after each other when someone is ill or lonely or new to the community. With so many different age groups and life stages here, there’s everything from yoga and farm groups to swimming buddies and wine clubs. Neighbors meet every day over a pint of beer at the neighborhood bar or to run around the lake. Children can walk to school, or ride bikes or scooters to the playgrounds. All of this creates a place of connectivity, ease, and vibrancy.
How did Covid-19 impact the construction and sales?
As Americans focused all of their time and resources into their homes during the pandemic, we saw unprecedented interest and sales conversions for our homes at Hampstead. In fact it has brought us our best sales year ever with home sales 46% higher than the previous year.
With our average home price below the national median list price, we are a very attractive community for buyers throughout the region and the country who are eager to purchase a home while mortgage rates are at historic lows. As a New Urbanist community, we also have benefitted from homebuyers who want to escape larger city centers and live in a walkable neighborhood where they can maintain easy access to retail, dining and schools, while also enjoying outdoor amenities such as parks, natural preserves, green space, a farm and a lake.
How important were the green aspects of the community to the buyers?
While our homes feature the elements of green building, efficiency, and conservation that some buyers look for today, we go above building a green structure by offering a holistic approach to green building. This starts at the conceptual level with the New Urbanist master plan that focuses on pedestrian scale, street network connectivity, a mixture of uses to guarantee diversity and choice, and protected civic spaces that encourage wellness and green spaces. All together, “green building” permeates everything from the site planning to the home building and offers buyers a true environmentally-focused community.