After laying quiet for nearly two years, the planned community formerly known as Cascadia is coming back to life.
Now known as Tehaleh (pronounced Tay-HA-lay), plans are under way to open a new welcome center and display homes to visitors by June of this year, finally realizing a vision more than 20 years in the making.
“There’s something to this site,” said Scott Jones, Vice President and General Manger of Newland Communities, the Oregon-based company that purchased the land a year ago. “This is a very special piece of property.”
Sitting on 4,200 acres south of Bonney Lake, Tehaleh is the largest master planned community in Pierce County. The site was originally designed by Patrick Kuo to be a fully functioning community with residents, retail and an employment center, with roads lined up with views of Mount Rainier and an intricate trail system utilizing the hundreds of acres of undisturbed forest on which it sits.
Cascadia was forced into bankruptcy in 2009 when HomeStreet Bank foreclosed on $75 million in loans, despite signs on the property that advertised a summer 2010 opening.
Newland Homes purchased the land in March 2011 for $49.1 million and are moving forward with plans to build out the nascent community.
Jones credited Kuo for the work he did before the property was sold and said Newland’s plans were similar to those Kuo had laid out.
“He’s laid a great foundation for us to build off of,” jones said.
“The vision is still there,” agreed Ruth Winbauer, marketing director for Newland Communities.
Newland has scaled the project back a little, however, from a planned 6,500 houses to a total of 5,900, though that is a full build-out number spread over a 20 to 25 year timeline.
The first official phase of homes will include 1,719 units, according to plans the company filed with Pierce County, but Jones said the first wave of homes is expected to more like 390.
Jones said the company is working with multiple builders from around the region, state and country to offer a mix of homes in each of the four Tehaleh neighborhoods whose infrastructure has already been installed as a way to prevent each home from looking the same as well as offering buyers a mix of prices and styles.
“The goal is we’ll have about six builders and we’ll mix them up in he neighborhoods,” he said. “They offer different things to us and the consumers.”
But the key to the Cascadia project was not just its residential neighborhoods, but its designation as an employment center, something the Tehaleh owners said they would continue.
The current plan shows 419 acres of land designated for the employment center and Jones said the company was dedicated to preserving at least that much space for businesses to create jobs.
“We understand that significance both on the residential and the employment side,” Jones said, adding that jobs were not an “if” but a “when.”
“‘If’ is not a question,” he said.
There is a question of the site’s designation as a free trade zone, however, since the designation officially expired while the property was in bankruptcy, but Jones said Newland is working to have the designation reactivated in the near future.
Jones also said Newland is working to recruit employers to the site.
Jones and Winbauer also pointed to the job-creating effects of beginning construction again in the area. Citing numbers from Dr. Elliot Eisenberg, the economist who recently spoke to the Bonney Lake City Council about the value and jobs new homes can bring to a community, Jones estimated the first two years of construction on the site should generate 1,266 full time jobs per year in the construction trades and in the businesses that support those jobs.
In fact, there are presently 30-40 people on site every day working to clear the brush and get it ready for this summer’s opening. Much of the land that was already developed has already begun to go back to nature, including what Winbauer described as “an entire playground lost to alders in just two years.”
Jones also said once resident begin to move in, that will mean additional shoppers in Bonney Lake, since the only way in and out of the out of the site will take drivers right along the state Route 410 commercial corridor.
“One of the beauties of living here is you have everything you need 10 minutes away in Bonney Lake,” he said.
But Jones and Winbauer said there were some subtle differences between Tehaleh and the former design of Cascadia. Along with fewer homes, Winbauer said Newland has redesigned the site’s 10 miles of trails to make sure it is all interconnected through the property.
The most visible change to the site is the relocation of the welcome center. Originally planned – and partially constructed – near the entrance to the site, Newland has moved its welcome center down near the heart of the property, around the traffic circle located near Donald Eismann Elementary, the only completed and occupied structure on the site.
The goal is for the welcome center to anchor the Village Center, a small retail hub and sales point for homes in Tehaleh.
The Village Center will also serve as a focal point of the trail system.
Jones said the Welcome Center would be complete and the site’s trails and six parks would be completed for this summer’s projected opening.
The new Tehaleh owners also reiterated their commitment to make good on the mitigation promised by the previous owners, including completing work to punch 198th Avenue through to Rhodes Lake Road and work on the intersection of state Route 41 and Sumner-Buckley Highway.
Jones said the 198th project was a focus for Newland and they hope to wrap up design and right-of-way purchases within a year with the hope of beginning that project in the summer of 2013.
Jones said the company is working on plans for a sewer treatment facility in the area, but those plans were still at least four years from completion.
Jones said Newland, a national company with master-planned communities in 14 states, purchased the land because the Puget Sound market was one they were looking to get into and the timing and price on the project seemed right.
Jones said he was excited to finally get the project going.
“We think it will be well-received by the community,” he said.