Small Town, Big Plans: New Urbanism at the Lookout

By Allison Williams August 1, 2013 Published in the August 2013 issue of Seattle Met

The state’s newest New Urbanism project isn’t urban at all—right now it’s a dirt field next to some apple orchards atop a hill in Chelan. So what does Ted Schroth, a city slicker developer from Bellevue who owns Capitol Hill’s Trace Lofts and Oddfellows building, want with it?

Schroth, along with investors, snapped up the 85 acres by the lake just outside downtown Chelan in 2011 after a traditional development sputtered to a recession-fueled halt: “Huge houses, gated community, build a hedge around your property”—Schroth calls that old style. Before he even knew what it was called, he was imagining the same principles he associated with his Pike/Pine urban-infill projects: walkability, community, accessibility.

Schroth partnered with Casey Roloff, the Oregon native who at the age of 29 began building an empty stretch of the Washington coast into the vacation town of Seabrook. Together they reshaped the first parcel of lots, shrinking each to get 52 out of the original 34, and began selling the development they christened the Lookout. Half of the owners are expected to let Roloff rent out their homes for part of the year. 

Besides having a vacation-rental system already in place, Roloff knew the name of the concept that intrigued the city-minded Schroth: New Urbanism. It applies practices like putting porches, not garages, on the street sides of houses. The design movement dates back to the 1980s, but its roots go as far back as Jane Jacobs’s 1960s campaigns against freeways and suburbs.

But what does a movement born in those New York City crusades have to do with tiny Chelan? Downtown Chelan will get a dead-on view of many of the farmhouse-inspired abodes, with their New Urbanist ideals like behind-the-house alleyways. “You won’t have, like in the Aflac commercial, the rows of minivans sitting in driveways in front garages,” says Schroth. They call the homes “cottages” even when they hold three bedrooms and baths; the model house Schroth shows off to potential buyers is a mere 1,540 square feet. 

What’s more, Schroth’s version of New Urbanism dictates that there be a communal experience every quarter mile—the distance an average person walks in five minutes. So the development will have parks, pools, playfields, a “gravity ranch” of climbing walls and trampolines, and access to the Vin du Lac winery down the hill. Bike paths will lead downtown, and Schroth and Roloff donated a million-dollar chunk of land to a group hoping to build a public recreation center. Most of the 700 feet of waterfront will be shaped into beaches and a marina for owners (or renters), but the rest will be a public landing for a downtown water taxi. That’s the New Urbanist ideal—everyone gets to share the best stuff. Even better: A funicular will run up the steep hillside to the bulk of the Lookout houses above.

That’s what the plans say, anyway; the Lookout is a 10-year project that’s barely broken ground, and the first model home just got its roof. The funicular and water taxi could be future staples of a classic Chelan vacation, and someday one might even mistake this little lake town for someplace urban.


Published: August 2013

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