An elegant Plan B set for golf course

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / January 7, 2010

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Two years after the housing downturn scuttled plans to build million-dollar villas at Turner Hill golf community, a proposal to build luxury townhouses could bring a new phase of residential development along the elegant links.

The $25 million development plan features 51 townhouses, priced around $500,000 to $695,000 each, to be built in the style of a small-town village, with white picket fences, wide sidewalks, and shady parks. The 1 1/2-story homes would be either duplexes or three-and-four unit row houses, overlooking the 15th and 16th fairways.

“We believe this is a product that will have broad appeal,’’ said John A. Gillis, project director for the developer, the Residences at the Hills LLC. “What we’ve found is that even in bad [economic] times, people are still interested in this property.’’

The Ipswich Planning Board is due to continue a public hearing at 7:30 tonight at Town Hall on a request to modify a special permit first approved for Turner Hill in 2002. The permit was the first approved under the town’s Great Estates bylaw, which was written to allow the redevelopment of several large parcels of land in town. The bylaw requires developers to consider open space and historic preservation as part of their plans.

“They’ve proposed a fairly significant change in housing type and the road system,’’ said Glenn Gibbs, the town’s planning director. “The original approval had several goals. One was to preserve as much open space as possible, and to concentrate the development into a small area.’’

The permit allowed for up to 182 units of high-end homes and condominiums to be built, along with an 18-hole golf course. The permit also included requirements for open space and historic preservation on the 311-acre property, the former home of LaSalette Shrine and retreat center on Topsfield Road. The original owner was Neil St. John “Ted’’ Raymond, a Boston developer who lives in Ipswich.

Raymond originally proposed 45 golf villas, a mix of single-family homes and duplexes on the Hill, the highest point on the property. The permit also allowed 132 condominiums located in five buildings, built in the style of the 19th-century brick mansion, which is the centerpiece of the property.

The mansion has since been converted to a restaurant and clubhouse for members of the private golf club.

Raymond built the 18-hole golf course, and some high-end housing. But in 2007, amid a slumping real estate market and tight financing, Raymond sold out of the Turner Hill development.

The private golf course was spun off to a separate entity owned by members of the Turner Hill golf club. The development rights to 30 acres was sold to Eyk Van Otterloo, a Boston money manager who lives in Marblehead and was an original investor in the project.

“As we took over, the real estate market started to get soft and decline,’’ Gillis said. “We looked at it as a slumber period.’’

The new owner now is betting that the market for golf-course housing will wake up. Over the next five years, the developer plans to build up to 17 buildings, with enough room for 51 town houses. Units with views of the golf course would be marketed for as much as $695,000. Others would go for about $500,000.

The developer also plans to remake an “allee,’’ or two-lane boulevard, into a single-lane road to improve traffic flow, according to the plan.

“We think this design will work better,’’ said William F. Quinn, a Salem lawyer representing Van Otterloo. “What we’re proposing would be a significantly less dense development.’’

The new development would also include four units of affordable housing. The special permit calls for 10 affordable units on the property. The other six will be built later, as part of the redevelopment of a 3-acre parcel that includes a chapel.

Plans for the chapel site are not part of the project before the board. A separate review and approval will be required for the site, Quinn said.

The affordable townhouses likely will be priced around $295,000, with some lower, according to Gillis. Area residents earning 120 percent of the median income for Essex County would be eligible to buy those units. The median income figure now is $88,100, according to the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

The new plans for the property please some residents already living at Turner Hill. “The developer has really gone out of his way to make this a good development,’’ said Tim Ford, a resident who spoke at the first session of the public hearing last month.

Construction continues on 45 high-end homes and duplexes on the Hill. Currently, 22 have been sold. Three more duplexes, priced as high as $860,000, are under agreement. A single-family home, priced at $1.9 million, will hit the market in spring.

“We expect this will take longer to sell,’’ Gillis said, standing in the home’s basement, which has leather-covered walls. “But we’ve got a great golf course. We’ve got the views. We see this housing market starting to break.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at