MCKINNEY, Texas -- From a chapel sitting serenely on a sliver of land jutting out on a lake, to stone homes with red tile roofs clustered on winding lanes, developer Jeff Blackard is working to bring European village life to a Texas suburb.
"What we're really doing is creating a real, functioning village," Blackard said.
Inspired by Supetar, a port city on the Croatian island of Brac, Blackard began work on the "Adriatica" development about 30 miles north of Dallas a few years ago. So far, it contains about a dozen single-family homes and a row of businesses and shops, including a day spa, an Italian restaurant, a Realtor's office, a wine bistro and a Starbucks.
By the end of next year, expect a replica of Supetar's port lining the lake. Eventually, plans for the 45-acre development call for 70 or so houses, about 280 condominium units, 100 retail establishments, 100 offices and an 80-room hotel. A replica of Venice's St. Mark's Square is planned to serve as a community meeting place.
For Anne Petrasek, who has lived at Adriatica since January with her family, it already feels like the ideal European village. "It's like going on vacation every weekend," she said.
Petrasek, 52, used to live about five minutes away in a more typical suburban housing development, with a big yard on a golf course. Since moving into her new 3,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home, she said she's found the village-type life she wanted, from chatting with people from the balcony to frequenting the development's shops.
"People are more apt to just stop and say hello," she said.
Many of the homes incorporate antique architectural items from Europe, such as gates from Italy. Flowers cascade from window boxes. Colorful lights are strung above sidewalks in the retail area. There are even plans for a ship to be anchored in the harbor and serve as a coffee shop.
Blackard, a developer of about 15,000 homes during his almost 30-year career, said that after investing in a hotel in Supetar, it occurred to him that American housing developments should be more like European villages.
"Developers think they put in a fountain and a gazebo and think it's a community, but it's not," he said.
"One time I wanted to do it right at all costs," he said, adding that zoning will allow for features such as zero setbacks from houses to the road, so that, as in a European village, the homes are right off the lanes.
Lots for the homes, or "villas," begin at $40,000, and most homes are $300,000 and up, but Blackard said someone could build there for less if they wanted. "It's OK to have an 800-square-foot house. Build something that you want," he said.
Stephen Melman, economic services director at the National Association of Homebuilders in Washington, D.C., said his group doesn't keep data on themes in housing developments, but he doesn't know of anything similar to Adriatica.
"In this market, it's challenging. So if you can make your product stand out, you've got a winner," Melman said.
Edward John, a Christian pop singer from Oslo, Norway, said that when he relocated to McKinney to be near his record label, he wasn't pleased with the outer suburb. Then one day while jogging he stopped by an open house at Adriatica. It made him feel like he was back in Europe, he said, and he now plans to build a home there.
"I love this area. Coming from Europe, I'm used to the buzz and the people. When I first came here (to Texas) I thought, 'How am I going to make it?'," said John, whose record label has now moved its office to Adriatica as well.
Adriatica reminded Amparo Abeyta of her native Mexico, so she decided to open a flower shop there. "I love the style," she said.
Eventually, Blackard says, he expects somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500 people to live at Adriatica.
Bill Hight, a Dallas restaurant owner moved there with his wife in June 2008. Their 4,400-square-foot home with a patio facing the lake has European elements like arches, balconies, textured walls and a landscaped courtyard.
"I think it's just a slower, more relaxing pace," said Hight, 69.