Arrested Development At Preston Lake?

Brent Finnegan -- January 22nd, 2011

Development of an expansive new urbanist subdivision east of Harrisonburg has slowed since the housing market crash in 2008. Doug Manners reported in Saturday’s Daily News-Record that The Hine Group, the developer behind Preston Lake has been “locked in a still-unsettled legal battle with its lender, Wachovia Bank,” and that the development may be headed to foreclosure.

Preston Lake illustration from the Hine Group brochure.

Preston Lake illustration from the Hine Group brochure.

I first wrote about Preston Lake in 2007, a few weeks after construction began. I ignorantly remarked that “this sort of real estate should sell like hotcakes” (although I added a dash of skepticism for good measure). A few weeks before the national mortgage crisis boiled over in 2008, developers and new residents gave the impression that Preston Lake was moving ahead as planned. On August 27, 2008, the DNR reported, “Preston Lake, the mixed-use development located at the intersection of U.S. 33 and Massanetta Springs Road, is getting its first residents. And its residents are getting exactly what they want.”

Preston Lake

One of several planned neighborhoods at Preston Lake.

But now, with only about 20 percent of the master-planned community completed as of March, and following a public notice that 124.693 acres of the Preston Lake project will be auctioned Feb. 3, residents are not getting exactly what they want. Manners reports:

“Everybody is scared to death about what’s going to happen,” said Murray Mahool, who owns a row house. “The best thing to happen would be for the foreclosure to go through and have someone else buy it and try to turn it around.” […]

Many homeowners chose Preston Lake for the community-type amenities promised, including a clubhouse, pool, parks and walking trails. Residents are still waiting for those features.

“We hope to see the development come to life,” said Debbie Huntley, who owns a detached house. “Most of us here, we love our homes and we love the community even though we’re disappointed we don’t have the amenities.”

Plans for Preston Lake’s commercial “Main Street” have yet to materialize. Clothing stores Talbots, Coldwater Creek and Joseph A. Bank were supposed to open in fall 2009, but no retail stores have located there.

But it’s still possible the foreclosure and auction might not happen. Harrisonburg Realtor Scott Rogers explained on his blog that the notice of auction “doesn’t necessarily mean that the foreclosure sale will take place, but this is a significant step in that direction.”

Rogers guessed at several different possibilities: That the auction won’t happen, and sales will continue at a snail’s pace; or another developer might buy it and continue with a similar plan; or Wachovia Bank might become the owner, and find another way to sell the subdivision, either as a whole, or in parts.

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60 Responses to “Arrested Development At Preston Lake?”

  1. Emmy says:

    I remember when I first saw the plans for this development. I thought it looked like something out of The Stepford Wives. I wonder if would have done well if the economy hadn’t gone south.

    I hope there is suitable outcome for everyone involved.

  2. Danielle says:

    I have never been a fan of the idea of Preston Lakes. I think it’s a pretentious idea. I feel badly for the people who have purchased there and have no idea what the future holds for them and their investment.

  3. Adesa says:

    Everyone has different tastes. While I personally prefer a more secluded neighborhood in the woods, and others love the hustle and bustle of living in the city, Preston Lake seems like the best of both worlds for some people. And from a design standpoint, it would have been a benefit to the area. With the housing bust, though, it’s no surprise they’re struggling. What’s surprising is that more *luxury* living projects in this area aren’t following suit.

  4. On paper, new urbanist “smart growth” communities like this are a good idea. The layout theoretically cuts down on driving, and encourages walking and biking.

    But it seems to me more like unnatural growth. My understanding of new urbamism is that it’s basically like creating a small town within a subdivision. Everything seems to depend on getting residents and retailers to move in at roughly the same time. If it doesn’t all happen fast enough, it can lose momentum, as would seem to be the case with Preston Lake.

    It’s just hard for me to imagine a small Reston a few miles from Harrisonburg. Smart rebuilding of an existing urban area over years and decades makes more sense to me.

    • Lowell Fulk says:

      I thought the Preston Lake idea to be very good when it was proposed, and still believe in the concept. The economy going South made a tremendous difference because many who wanted to settle there had houses to sell elsewhere.
      Preston Lake offered a solid alternative to Cul de Sac neighborhoods with the combination of retail/professional/residential grouping.

  5. Joe says:

    this was a horrible idea for east rockingham. brent the only place something like this works well is in a urban area…not east rockingham.

  6. Tad says:

    The final outcome of Preston Lakes will be: the current developer or another developer who buys the property will whine to the BOS that the old development plan is not cost effective and the only way to make money on the property is to build more townhouses which may or may not house college students. The BOS will give in as it always does when the developer whines and complains. This area will turn into a traffic nightmare and the residents will complain that they need a loop road around the development so they can save 4 seconds on their commute.

  7. Scott Rogers says:

    Tad – There are still plenty of townhouse lots at Preston Lake, so there won’t be any need to ask the BOS for approval for a new development plan for building more townhouses.

    Brent – I agree, the inability to get retailers into Preston Lake made it a challenge to get more residents to commit. Furthermore, the drastic decline in the commercial real estate market has made it difficult to imagine that any significantly number of retailers will commit to Preston Lake anytime in the near future.

    • Tad says:

      According to the Preston Lakes website they sell flat, rowhouse, and single family houses. I did not see the word townhouse. There is a difference. I have lived in both. I stand by prediction that Preston Lakes will become a development similar to Taylor Springs just down the road.

  8. Derik says:

    Tad – a row house or linked house is the same thing as a townhouse.
    Brent – I know this is sort of off topic but though Preston Lake has used the term “New Urbanism”, it only fits in terms of today’s “green washed” marketing. While it can be considered a “walktable” community with some sustainable design concepts, green space and with several styles of homes (row houses, flats and single family), it does not work within the infrastructure of mass transit or have a elementary school close enough for children to walk to school. One additional principle of New Urbanism that clearly is not followed at Preston Lake is the diversity of households, culture and INCOME. “New Urbanism is not about high end homes on the outskirts of town clustered around retail/commercial development. That’s called urban sprawl.
    A potential example of New Urbanism in our community could be if/when “The Query” gets built out. If it’s done right.
    All that said, the location and concept of Preston Lake is good. I have no doubt it will prosper again at some point and build out similar to its current plans if not the same and with the same developer. Preston Lake’s situation is a byproduct of a failed banking system and market conditions. Cross Road Farms has done no better under far better circumstances. It’s orginial plans had retail shops on the corner surrounding the F&M Bank on what is still open land. I don’t know the current state of those plans but certainly they’ve had the benefit of a good economy and significantly more residential homes built that you would think the retail would have followed by now. So those person that want to point fingers at the lack of success Preston Lake is having should look around at the other developments that have failed to produce on promises of their developers.

    • Thanks, Derik.

      I wondered about that. Looking at the conceptual layout, some of those neighborhoods look pretty sprawled out from the “Main Street” center.

  9. Dany Fleming says:

    That’s not off target at all, Derik…it’s right on target. Preston Lake is strictly another area housing development; a big one, at that. That’s perfectly legit and I hope it succeeds.

    However, it should not be confused with a conservation or “green”/sustainable community. That’s just marketing for the sake of selling exclusively high-end properties and not a true reflection of a higher community development ideal. Of course, that’s all fair and it is a very nice area.

    I agree, Brent, that we should be doing more “Smart Growth” development around here. Preston Lake, in no way, fits the definition of “Smart Growth.” However, there are plenty of great conservation community models out there to draw upon.

    One I’ve followed closely over the years is Prairie Crossing. It’s pretty impressive ( and even includes its own organic farm. They have 10 guiding principles, which they generally live up to:

    -Environmental protection and enhancement
    -A healthy lifestyle
    -A sense of place
    -A sense of community
    -Economic and racial diversity
    -Convenient and efficient transportation
    -Energy conservation
    -Lifelong learning and education
    -Aesthetic design and high-quality construction
    -Economic viability

    Whether this area and this time could support something like that, I have no idea. However, it’s a great model to help guide area development decisions.

  10. David Miller says:

    If anyone wants urban living with everything they need within walking distance then they need seek no further than Historic Downtown Harrisonburg. While I wish Preston lake the best, Downtown Harrisonburg is a much more viable option for all of the goals discussed above. Soon enough I’m going to have a local co-op grocery a block from my house to complete my fossil fuel free lifestyle (when I’m not lazy or cold that is).

    • Brooke says:

      Amen to that. Just about only thing we can’t walk to is Doctor/Dentist appointments, and the occasional treck to the stores closer to the Mall. I imagine even that will be less often once the Co-Op opens.

    • bazrik says:

      Gotta agree with Dave here – when Preston Lake was first advertised as having “its own downtown”, I kinda thought – wait, we already have one of those, don’t we?

      …plus Downtown H’burg doesn’t really need another draw away from it, it seems… oh well.

      • Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

        Bazrik, Bazrik, Bazrik. Preston Lake was/is in Rockingham County where property taxes are lower by design, and the Board of Supervisors laugh at the notion of a diverse community, sidewalks, or parks. This is a “downtown” for shiny, happy well-heeled white people. Even the lake is a fantasy.

  11. jim purcell says:

    This development was about 10 years too late when it broke ground. They were promising “free” everything with a purchase including full phone service, cable, internet, trash, sewer, and water among them. Plus…plus….no maintenance at all. I mean, c’mon!!
    Forget about the real estate/banking crash and the over-all economic down-turn. What has really hurt this development from the very start is that the true, real upper level socio-economic customer doesnt exist here in big enough numbers yet. Eventually, JMU will take care of that. I have always said that Harrisonburg is a minature Charlottesville. All you have to do is look at H’burg’s downtown and go look at C’ville’s.
    Dave Miller, you are right on about the downtown. That is where Hburg will really thrive. Vibrant is a word I would not have used to describe it 5 years ago…now I would and do.

    Completey off topic—I think that the co-op grocery will not survive. I really wish it would. A lot of people wanted this but there are a whole lot more that really dont need it. I just think it is being pursued a bit before the “real” customer base is there to support it.

    • seth says:

      “… I have always said that Harrisonburg is a minature Charlottesville”

      point of order, hburg is bigger than cville. i don’t mean to nitpick, but i really believe that if we do our own thing here, charlottesville will be trying to be more like hburg, as opposed to the other way around. while cville is a great town and has a ton of very cool shops, cultural events, etc, i tend to think of them more as astroturf, in comparison to our legit grass roots.

    • seth says:

      and regarding the fcfc, it’s real customer base is the folks who have ponied up $200 to buy a share. i don’t know the number off the top of my head, but i’d be surprised if these shareholders alone aren’t enough to create a strong customer base, right from the outset.

      and going back to my previous comment, cville doesn’t have a food coop (somebody correct me if i’m wrong on that, it’s been awhile since i’ve bought groceries on that side of the mountain). they have integral yoga, which is certainly an organic, hippity dippity kind of shopping experience, but i don’t think that one appeals to as broad a base as the fcfc has the potential to. this is the sort of thing that makes me believe that while cville may do well w/ regards to appearances of culture, having a large population of upwardly mobile yuppies willing to pour a lot of money into niche markets can’t compete with the real community development we have the opportunity to do here.

  12. Jim Maust says:

    Derik, can you give more info on “The Query”?

  13. jim purcell says:

    seth—newsflash—–regarding your comment–‘i tend to think of them more as astroturf, in comparison to our legit grass roots.’ Cville tends to think of “legit grass roots” as real weed-bending rednecks!

    I was born and raised here but lived in Cville for 16 years and believe me…harrisonburg is modeling Cville and it will never be the other way around.

    and last but not least, I dont mean to nitpick but the economy will dictate what happens at the co-op not allegiance.

    • JGFitzgerald says:

      C’ville and H’burg are different. For instance, when Garry Trudeau retires, his replacement might be from Charlottesville.

  14. Derik says:

    I”m with Seth on the H’burg/C’ville thing. H’burg is its own place. Now that people are starting to see that downtown is taking off.
    This is nothing personal Jim Percell, but I always want to ask this question and never do…. Where do you live now? If it’s H’burg why? If you like another place better why live here? I can only assume its family or a job.
    Aside from working to revitalize its downtown (which half the small towns in this country are doing), could you point out to me something else H’burg is doing that means we’re modeling C’ville?
    Oh and I know you just called me a redneck(which I’m okay with) but being as how you were born and raised here also; I think you called yourself one.
    Jim Maust – The Quarry ( I think I misspelled that earlier… oops!) Is a 500 home project developed by Falling Creek LLC out of C’ville. There’s a DNR article from Sept. 12th 2007 about it. From what I understand Falling Creek LLC often will do the development work and get approvals for projects like this one and then sell it having never built a single home. It’s located along I-81 just North and across Country Club Rd from the Business College and Lowes. It also boarders Smithland and Linda ln. It only represents a better “potential” example of New Urbanism in that its across the street from a school, a park, the cities mass transit system will be able to serve it and the original proposal had housing for various levels of income. I don’t have tons on info on the project. I just went to the city meeting where it was approved so I’m speaking mostly from memory.

  15. jim purcell says:

    Derrick, regarding your comments–“This is nothing personal Jim Percell, but I always want to ask this question and never do…. Where do you live now? If it’s H’burg why? If you like another place better why live here? I can only assume its family or a job.”

    I live in Rockingham county…near Criders, Va. You’ve never been there. It’s not urban enough for you and that’s why I am there. I lived in Cville due to a biz I was in with my brothers..HD Trucking…we sold it @ 5 years ago.

    I love the Valley and I moved back to be among my own kind…good ol’ Shenandoah Valley weed-bending rednecks.

  16. Scott Rogers says:

    Details on The Quarry can be found here….

    Planning Commission meeting minutes from August 8, 2007 (starting at the bottom of page 7)

  17. Derik says:

    Yeah kind of silly to assume I don’t know where Criders is but whatever. You didn’t answer my other question that is relevant to the discussion.
    “Aside from working to revitalize its downtown (which half the small towns in this country are doing), could you point out to me something else H’burg is doing that means we’re modeling C’ville?”

    • seth says:

      the 8mm film festival?
      oh yeah, cville doesn’t do that either

      • seth says:

        the international festival….
        nope, they don’t do that one either (probably because they don’t have the kind of diversity represented in our community)

        • seth says:

          (although shebeen is alright if you’re looking for american type food in an ostensibly african restaurant)

  18. seth says:

    rock lotto…..

  19. David Miller says:

    I just love listening to people, you all make me smile. When Jim accused Derik of not knowing where Criders is, it made me smile even more, Derik probably has a relative who lives there! Doesn’t the whole thing boil down to someone making an accusation that one city is better than the other and then that very person accuses the “lesser” community of modeling itself after the “superior” community? I mean really?! I love it here, that’s why I chose to live here. I know people that love Cville and that’s why they live there. btw, born and raised here and don’t know what “weed-bending rednecks” means. Anyone care to elaborate? This whole thread could be focusing on the problem of sprawl that Preston Lake personifies and could be a medium of exchange for ideas on how to limit the NVA epidemic in our beautiful valley.

  20. seth says:

    ooh, ooh,

    in all fairness though, fugazi did play trax 3 years before they came to harrisonburg….

  21. Jim Purcell says:

    No wonder 11-2010 went the way it did.

    You guys took two sentence’s == ‘I live in Rockingham county…near Criders, Va. You’ve never been there.’ == turned it into an accusation and started a parade.

    It makes me smile that y’all don’t know what the phrase/word “weed-bender” means.

    like the old adage states–Ignorance is bliss–and y’all definitely got a whole lot of bliss.

    • seth says:

      and for the record, when i google ‘weed bender,’ the results seem to have more to do with a more specific type of weed. perhaps what you think it means is what it used to mean when cville was bigger than hburg?

  22. Brooke says:

    Jim – as someone who was observing the argument, the whole tone of your post was snotty. Don’t start back pedaling now. Just own up to your words.

  23. Jim Purcell says:


    I own up to all of the words Brooke. You, of all people, should be well aware of that.

    I just didnt realize that a snotty tone would bruise the delicate thin-skins of some of you.

    Oh no….you weren’t observing again were you? I think I did it again.

  24. Brooke says:

    I’m not bruised, Jim. I was just surprised that you seemed to be playing innocent with your post, as though you couldn’t understand why anyone would have taken offense. If you’re willing to own up to it, then fine. :-)

  25. Ross says:

    I’ve noticed Brooke is quick to jump on people and tell you like it is or the way she thinks it should be. Has anyone else noticed that?
    Brooke are you on the “Blog Patrol Team”?

    • seth says:

      i think most people would agree that i’m generally much quicker to jump on people than brooke is. as i understand it, brooke was asking jim why he feels comfortable throwing around inaccurate facts (hburg being smaller than cville) and making baseless assertions (that hburg is certainly modelling cville because that’s like, his opinion man) when, in the face of reasonable questions and pretty good evidence to the contrary, he’d prefer to take a condescending tone and divert the conversation to vocabulary that he seems to realize no one has used in the last 30 years rather than acknowledge that perhaps it is possible that he could be mistaken. if jim has some sort of constructive contribution re the ways in which the burg is modelling cville, i’m interested to hear them.

      whatever it is that your’e up to, i’m not really interested at all (except for that i am curious as to where i can sign up for this ‘blog patrol team’)

  26. Emmy says:

    Also born and raised here. Spent a whole lot of time with rednecks and have no clue what the weed-bending variety is.

  27. Lowell Fulk says:

    This is an argument?
    I obviously haven’t been paying enough attention.
    Stupid me, I thought it was a reasonably good discussion.
    I especially enjoy reading Brooke’s and Jim’s thoughts on things.
    Don’t always agree with folks, but I like and respect your opinions.

  28. Jim Purcell says:

    definition–A weed bender: someone from a rural area.

    You will find this term in older books, especially those dealing with the south and/or the farming community. I first saw it in the novel ‘A Garden of Sand’ by Earl Thompson, back in the late 1970’s. Earl Thompson wrote too little and died too soon. Check him out on wikipedia. You won’t regret it.

    Hopefully, this helps some. Maybe it will even get someone to read a real book and/or to read more.

    • seth says:

      so does this mean that you don’t care to discuss the ways in which you believe harrisonburg is modelling charlottesville?

      i’m interested in your thoughts on this, because as i said before, for the sake of hburg and the surrounding rural areas, i really hope you’re wrong.

  29. Derik says:

    Jim – my skin is pretty thick. I let the “you’ve never been there” thing slide because it was a pretty ignorant thing to say and because I think you only said it to prove you’re more “rural” than me (“weed bender” also fits in here). I could care less where you’re from. I really don’t think either of us needs to prove from how far back in the country we were raised. I was asking because in your earlier posts you seemed to prefer C’ville. So I was curious what brought you back.
    I’ve asked you a question a couple times now but you’ve been pressed defending yourself and never got around to it. Any thoughts now that you’ve had a few days?

  30. Jim Purcell says:

    seth—What I mean when I say Hburg is modeling Cville is that Hburg would like to be thought of as having the same prestige and wonder of Cville. Now you may think that that has already happened but there are others who disagree. I intended it to be a compliment, something to strive for, but you seem hell-bent on turning it into an ‘I am smarter than Jim’ diatribe.

    Derrick–Please go back and re-read my 3rd comment. It’s unfortuanate you keep bringing a pocket-knife to a gun-fight but Derrick, that seems the way it will always be with you…a dull wit and not a sharpening stone in sight.

    A tip for you both—what you want to believe and what you read are not the same. Maybe one day y’all will be able to grasp that concept but I doubt that will be the case. It seems the 4th stage of Piaget’s developmental theory has been denied you both.

    • Derik says:

      Jim- maybe go back and re-read my 2nd post. The question I’ve been waiting for you to answer was the same one Seth has been repeating ever since I asked. The same one you failed to answer until the above post. You see Jim “what you want to believe and what you read are not the same”.
      The difference between you and me is that you came to a “fight” and I came to have a discussion about Preston Lake and H’burg. And yes that’s the way it’s always going to be with me.
      Oh and since you’re so sharp perhaps you could spell my name correctly the next time you care to test the thickness of my skin.

    • Derik says:

      BTW thanks for answer the question but I think you should be able to tell by now that despite your phantom sources of information, people from H’burg (or at least those on this site) would rather not be like C’ville.

  31. DebSF says:

    The data show that Cville and Hburg have as many -maybe more- differences than similarities. Both are college towns in the middle of Virginia, but have important differences in demographics, income and income distribution, and future development possibilities.

    Cville effectively markets the connection to internationally acclaimed UVA, the Jeffersonian mystique, and is largely developed. Nearly 20% of the population is Africa-American, and the estimated per capita income in 2009 is $24,438

    Hburg is more flexible and adaptable and has quite a bit of undeveloped land that, depending on the choices made over the next decade, will shape the city for years to come. We’ve got Thomas Harrison rather than Thomas Jefferson, and we’re cool with that. JMU is changing rapidly, and will look very different in 10 years. 13% of the population is Hispanic. Estimated per capita income in 2009 was $16,768.

    Cville is what it is- interesting, reverential-southern-style historical, compact, educated, liberal and affluent.

    Hburg is more conservative (in the very positive sense of the word), more middle-class, developing, changing more rapidly, adapting and learning some lessons from boom-town anything-goes growth in the past. Our roots are more from the north, especially German immigrants from PA. Local graduates are staying, starting businesses, and changing the face of the city. Downtown has been reborn, and not according to the Cville model. There’s a lot of room to make a difference.

  32. Brandon says:

    I believe the Preston Lake project was and still is a great concept. Rich had/has a vision that many of us couldn’t dream of. A project like this is monumental. Some of us would love for everything to be located in our historic downtown but that’s just not possible. Preston Lake seemed to be a well thought out and planned community for the lifestyles and the demands of today. Preston Lake does and would’ve “upscale” living much like our historic downtown. My downtown business has connected into their project and benefited significantly. I believe if a person can envision a project like Preston Lake, than they also can vision their way back from the bumps along the way.

  33. Scott Rogers says:

    The Trustee Sale (foreclosure proceedings) took place. I have posted a synopsis from my perspective here:

    Preston Lake Foreclosure Auction Results In $3.5M Sale To Wells Fargo

  34. Scott Rogers says:

    The foreclosure has been finalized at Preston Lake. Details can be found on my blog here:

    • Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

      Boy, Wells Fargo really got a pig-in-a-poke when they took Wachovia. I assume that the #3.5 million foreclosure purchase by WF pays off debtors, and the $20 M in notes on the property is a pure loss unless they can find some sucker to pay ~$25M for this moonscape of broken dreams. There is probably $10 -$15 million in site work there, most of it buried.

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