New urbanism thriving in Buena Vista, Colorado

Dustin Urban plays in the Arkansas river near his home in the South Main neighborhood. PHOTO BY KATIE SELBY URBAN. Click on the photo to visit South Main's Flickr photo stream.

Arkansas River, historic downtown form twin poles for new neighborhood in Chaffee County town

By Emily Palm

Hear someone mention the town of Buena Vista, Colo., and images of a huge prison and a growing number of 1-acre lot developments sprawling across the valley might spring to mind. But a cohort of New Urbanists seeks to change that with their sustainable, community oriented South Main neighborhood. The development represents growth in a manner they’d like to see, while creating a walkable space to enjoy after recreating in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness or Browns Canyon.

Adjacent to the Arkansas River and a few blocks from historic downtown Buena Vista, the walkable streets of South Main smacks of the community in The Truman Show — that is, if every car in the movie sported either a mountain bike or kayak rack. (Not surprisingly, The Truman Show filmed many scenes in Seaside, Fla., a town often cited as the first New Urban community.)

Based on loved spaces
Authenticity is required in construction, South Main property owner Allison Abdelnour said, noting the buildings are built to last. With corrugated-metal roofs and chimneys made from local river stone, the architecture and design elements of the buildings are meant to stay in keeping with the local history and architecture. Allison’s husband, John Abdelnour, said they hope the high level of craftsmanship and quality compels people 200 years from now to say, “We need to save these buildings.” Abdelnour said New Urbanism bases developments off of loved spaces.

Each building in the community is independently owned. When someone purchases a lot, they must build within two years. This helps prevent real estate speculation, pro kayaker and South Main director of marketing Dustin Urban said. It also helps ensure a sense of place by preventing vacant lots in the streetscape.

A pleasing South Main streetscape in keeping with the historic architecture of Buena Vista. Click on the image to visit the neighborhood's Flickr photo stream. PHOTO BY DUSTIN URBAN.

Pro kayakers turned New Urban developers
It all began when professional whitewater freestyle kayaker Jed Selby decided he wanted to live near a kayak park. In 2002, he found the perfect location, a 40-acre parcel up for sale right next to the Arkansas River. He approached his sister, Katie Selby Urban, about developing the land with him.

“She was definitely a ‘no’ at first,” said Dustin Urban, Katie’s husband. She finally agreed, but it had to be sustainable.

As they brainstormed about the Buena Vista riverfront property, the siblings happened upon a New Urbanist community called Prospect New Town in Longmont, where they felt compelled to park the car and walk around. Asking for the developer’s name (Kiki Wallace), they decided to follow the New Urbanism philosophy. And they’ve never looked back.

Some units were built as vacation homes, Allison Abdelnour said. But when the owners spent time here, they sold their other homes and stayed in Buena Vista. This all boils down to the innate desire human beings have to be part of a community. South Main contrasts starkly with the drive-everywhere, don’t-know-your-neighbors sprawl so prominent in suburban America.

If you build it …
South Main still has a ways to go — it’s currently at 6 percent of build out — but proponents say it’s just a matter of time. Especially, Urban said, when people see how much more their money buys them here than say, Vail.

“We believe that South Main is going to attract the people,” John Abdelnour said, describing Buena Vista as an attractive place to both live and visit with it’s river access, clean water, air quality — and the fact it is still reasonably priced. Add to that a growing population of people that work remotely, and there won’t be a shortage of interest in the town. “South Main just sweetens the deal all that much more,” he said.

Vacation destination
Currently the office of South Main manages eight vacation rentals in the development. One of which is the Abdelnour’s   Clocktower building, which they completed in August 2009. In keeping with the spirit of New Urbanism, the building is multi-functional. Along with a two-bedroom vacation flat on the top floor, the first floor includes a retail space (which they recently leased to someone opening up an artsy souvenir shop), and their home.

They initially thought of the clocktower because so many well-loved towns throughout history have had one. “We never ever, ever, ever though we’d build a clocktower,” John Abdelnour said, but when they first mentioned the idea, people wouldn’t let them forget it.

In 2004, Allison’s brother, Edward Paddock, suggested that the couple about buying a South Main lot. She was against the idea, at first. “The visions in my head were kayaker-dude central,” she said. But then she read the New Urbanism bible, “Suburban Nation,” and it changed how she viewed the development.

Editor’s note: Thanks to the supporting sponsorship of Our Future Summit and Howard Hallman, Summit Voice will launch a new series of stories on community sustainability and sustainable development. Please visit Our Future Summit online to learn more, or send Howard an e-mail to tell him you appreciate the support of Summit Voice.

For more information on New Urbanism in Summit County, visit the popular Wellington Neighborhood, in Breckenridge, online, and look for more information on the new Peak One Neighborhood in Frisco here.

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4 thoughts on “New urbanism thriving in Buena Vista, Colorado

  1. South Main is a beautiful neighborhood in a fantastic setting. We stayed in a vacation rental a couple months ago and absolutely loved our stay! I highly recommend South Main as not only for a vacation, but as an ideal place to live.

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