Architects of a new social order

Master-planned communities are inching their way into the Atlantic provinces, giving developers the opportunity to not only create properties and buildings, but community values too.

Calling from his office in Europe, Donald Marr’s excitement about his new development streams through the phone line. “Even though we’ve been keeping it quiet, this is a very, very big story for Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada,” he says.

Marr, managing principal of Terra Firma Development Corporation, and his brother, Bradley, president of the company, are building a new community in rural N.S.: Forest Lakes Country Club. Originally from Fredericton, the brothers have become established developers in residential resort communities: master-planned developments with ornate homes, lush landscapes and enticing amenities. They were looking to get out of the spiralling European real estate market when a plot of land in N.S. caught their eye. Thinking nothing of it at first, they realized it was an opportunity with huge potential — and a reason to come home. “The more we looked, the more we liked,” says Marr. “There’s nothing like this in Atlantic Canada really.” They started assembling the land in 2007 and have been working on it ever since.
Upon completion, up to 2,700 homes will span the 1,700-acre site nestled between Ardoise and Mount Uniacke, N.S. in the municipality of West Hants. Located between the picturesque Annapolis Valley and the City of Halifax, the community will encircle an 18-hole golf course. The property includes a network of trails for horseback riding, hiking and bicycling, and a boathouse area that will transform into an ice-skating paradise in the winter. The development will also accommodate a village centre with small shops and a farmer’s market, along with condominiums and apartments. A family entertainment centre is in the works, complete with an indoor water park, bowling alley, laser tag, gymnasium, fitness centre, small food court and other activities, all topped off with a hotel.

Construction is well underway at Forest Lakes. The roads are in place, the welcome lodge and several model homes are built and the golf course is under construction. The first residents are expected to move in between May and October 2016; the whole project should be completed in about 12 years. The homes will range in price from $300,000 to nearly $5 million, but Marr assures there is something for everyone at Forest Lakes, from duplexes to stylish cottages and estate homes.

Terra Firma and their partnering companies have mostly been marketing Forest Lakes to international buyers. They have a large portion of English, Irish and German buyers, along with some from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Many residents will be year-round occupants, others will use the properties as second, even third or fourth homes. When finished, Forest Lakes will be the highest populated area within the municipality of West Hants, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 residents. “We weren’t coming to Nova Scotia to create another subdivision, the typical type of property you find everywhere,” says Marr. “We needed to be unique.”

Marr emphasizes that Forest Lakes will be an inclusive development, open to all buyers and visitors. “We emphasize clean and green, open spaces, inclusive development, encouraging people to get to know their neighbours and maybe get the kids back out in the forest a little bit, instead of in front of their devices.” Part of the plan is to incorporate tourism in Forest Lakes’ economy. “We want people to stop in and buy their groceries, to enjoy the family entertainment,” says Marr. “The kids may go in the family entertainment centre, mom at fitness or the spa and dad playing golf, people out canoeing and utilizing the trails. That’ll spur on more business in the area.”

With construction sailing smoothly, Terra Firma will have successfully built a community. But how will they build a sense of community? “We develop a sense of community by community activities and events that we hold out there and encouraging people to come together,” says Marr. “We’ll be looking forward to encouraging the Friday night bonfire where the parents go down with the kids and get to know each other again.”

Forest Lakes has made local newspapers a few times, but is not nearly as well known as it perhaps should be considering its size and potential economic impact. “Based on experience, it’s important for us to not come out screaming from the rooftops early on … not to raise false expectations. The strategy for us has worked wonderfully,” says Marr. “When people come to visit — and we do encourage people to do so — everyone says ‘wow, we didn’t know this was happening out here’.”

Filed under Forest Lakes Country Club, News