Earlier this month, a group of developers finally brought forth to the public one of the most innovative communities the area has seen in decades. The long-anticipated homes of the Millville by the Sea master-planned community were unveiled at the development’s open house, giving curious homeowners and potential buyers a peek at what’s in store.
A project three years in development and production, MBS welcomed everyone to five model homes off Route 17 in Millville, at the community’s new sales center.
“We’ve just been working away, trying to get this thing started, and it’s finally here,” said a pleased Bob Harris of Gulfstream Developments, one of four lead developers on the project.
Phase 1A, the first of a number of phases in the community, introduced five home styles that future residents of the community will be able to choose from, each with their own unique flavor.
The Townsend and Charleston townhomes offer two-story luxury in a comfortable environment. The three-bedroom styles of the single-story Cedar Bay and two-story Seagrass homes come complete with two-door garages, while the quaint Sand Castle, measuring just over 1,000 square feet, still allows for a roomy interior.
In the first phase, 197 homes are available, with plenty more to come. The entire project — slated to finish with around 3,000 homes, plus commercial businesses and a cultural center, over the next 10 to 15 years — is set on a 606-acre lot.
Each of the villages within the community is patterned after a seaside town somewhere in the United States. Sand Dollar, the first village constructed in the first phase, is likely to be the most familiar to the area, sporting a mid-Atlantic style, not uncommon from the homes one would find in Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island and Rehoboth Beach.
Further into development, visitors will start to see homes with a Long Island feel to them, reminiscent of the Hamptons and Montauk area. Still other phases will resemble aspects of the Southern country-style living of Charleston, S.C. New England, Florida and California influences have made their way into the designs, as well.
“We call ourselves Millville by the Sea for a reason,” said Harris. “Whether you’re in or coastal California or you’re in Nantucket, when you’re here, you’re by the sea.”
The property, primarily nestled around Roxana, Substation and Beaver Dam roads, was annexed into the town of Millville three years ago. Harris said he is satisfied with the timely work that has ensued since then.
“Our company has been building homes for the past 25 years,” he noted. In fact, Harris’ father was a builder in the area starting in 1965. “We’re local people,” he added, “not builders coming in from somewhere else, and we believe we understand the market as well as anybody.”
Harris and fellow developers Mark Zduriencik and John and Andy Timmons, said they were pleased to announce the official opening of their project — one that had some naysayers skeptical.
“We had a good idea about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to do it,” Harris emphasized. “The opportunity came up, and we decided to put it all together. We’ve worked very closely with the town of Millville and we came up with a plan that everyone likes a lot and can agree on.”
They have included in their development a balance of commercial, residential and a variety of other services. Harris acknowledged that proposals have even been considered to include a location for Beebe Medical Center Health Campus and an extension branch of the South Coastal Library, although development of those concepts is still in “very” preliminary discussion, he said.
The developers’ drive for a community incorporating commercial areas was strongly driven by the traffic commonly seen on Route 26.
“It’s very congested,” said Harris, “especially in the summer, and there are very few places you can really bring in more commercial business. We’ve always felt that the best opportunity for commercial development was on Route 17. It’s another north-south corridor, where you have access to major towns in the area, like Ocean View, Millville, Fenwick Island and Selbyville. We just felt that this was the right place to be.”
Construction has started on an alternate to Route 26, on Burbage Road, which borders the Millville by the Sea at its northernmost edge.
“Before long,” Harris said, “it will provide another way to get to the beach besides Route 26.”
Some have been unsure of the success of a new community in the area at the size of Millville By the Sea, due to the current state of the economy, but the developers did not falter in their progress.
“The market hasn’t really affected us at all,” added Harris, “since we’ve been working toward our opening. Because we control both the development and building in the community, we can react to the market’s conditions.”
Harris said what he and his cohorts are bringing to the area is not what many people expected.
“What we’ve seen happen down here is that in 2004 and 2005, a lot of out-of-town developers came in with grandiose ideas and wanting to develop all these homes in 3,000 and 4,000 square feet,” he said.
“There’s a market for that kind of stuff,” he agreed, “but we’ve been here for a long time and we know this market. We know that people coming here are not looking for something huge. They want a beach cottage — something affordable, easy to maintain and take care of — because they’re not necessarily going to be here all year ’round. They don’t want to spend half a million dollars on a beach house or a retirement house. They’re going to want to come down here and put some money in their pocket.”
Harris insisted that the problem with the local real estate market is not in a lack of demand for homes. The demographics in the area, he insisted, have not changed with the economy.
“People are still going to come to the beach and look here for a place to retire to,” he said. “They’re looking for the same things they were looking for a few years ago when the market was booming, and those things are still there. Their needs are just not being met by today’s market.
“We think of ourselves as the first new project after what we saw in the economy,” Harris emphasized. “It’s time to start fresh and affordable. People who are buying this weekend are going to make some money on their houses for a change, and we’re going to start providing them with something new and different.”
In addition to its commercial and residential segments, the community puts emphasis on its main amenity: a 40,000-square-foot cultural center, which will serve as the social focal point of Millville By the Sea.
Building of the center is scheduled to start by next year, with completion expected by 2011. The center will include something for everyone, with an indoor pool, water park, indoor and outdoor theater, bowling alley, racquetball, basketball courts and plenty more. Harris expects the center to not only attract those living in the community, but draw a crowd from neighboring towns, even Bethany Beach.
With the cultural center and commercial development on the horizon, he’s taking everything in stride. He referenced earlier projects he was involved in with Gulfstream, including one where, in 1986, a home cost $39,900.
“We’re building what we’ve always built,” he said, recognizing that while the needs of buyers may be the same, the economy has changed over the last three decades. “For 25 years, we’ve been building beach houses for people down here. When you look for a house with us, you’re always going to find the best prices closest to the beach.”
For more information about Millville by the Sea, call (302) 539-2888, visit www.millvillebythesea.com or stop into the sales gallery and decorated model homes, located at 32695 Roxana Road (Route 17) in Millville.