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Builder Goes High-End And Green In Concord

BY Emily Micucci

8/15/2012

Concord architect and planner Dan Gainsboro remembers building little villages with Legos in the dirt as a kid, and always dreamed of creating life-size neighborhoods one day.
After conquering the world of institutional construction, building schools and hospitals, Gainsboro was ready to bring his boyhood vision to life. But just as he was ready to execute, the housing market was struggling.

Gainsboro figured out a way around that problem by catering to a very specific niche, specifically, affluent buyers who care about the environment and social justice. Gainsboro calls his target market "cultural creatives."
The strategy seems to have paid off.
Gainsboro said buyers, who range in age from 30-something to 60-somethings, have snapped up the energy efficient, cottage-style homes located in the Concord Riverwalk neighborhood on Main Street.
"Someone who chooses to live in the Riverwalk community is moving towards something. It's about simplifying their life and community living," Gainsboro said.
Gainsboro has sold nearly all of the 13 new homes he built in downtown Concord two years ago, generating just under $7 million in sales for his development company, NOW Communities LLC.
The Concord Riverwalk, he said, is designed to fit the principles of smart growth, an urban planning philosophy that concentrates residential development in areas close to transportation and existing infrastructure to avoid sprawl and encourage walk-ability in urban centers.
Gainsboro, a Concord resident, said he became "enamored" with that philosophy when he learned of it. And since he views his hometown as a magnet for cultural creatives, he knew a smart growth neighborhood would be a winning proposition.
"In some respects, I almost think we have an anti-recessionary offering. However, the audience is narrower," Gainsboro said.

There's been a push to encourage smart growth projects across the state, with cities and towns like Fitchburg, Lawrence, Maynard and Somerville pursuing smart growth development initiatives.
But the Concord Riverwalk is unique. The cottage-style homes (and one townhouse unit) are designed to be capable of producing as much renewable energy as they expend in a year, and they feature high-class design and craftsmanship, with features like vaulted ceilings, large windows and generous built-ins.
All this comes at a price: the homes, which are technically freestanding condominiums with two or three bedrooms, range in price from $599,000 to $729,000. Three-to-four-bedroom homes, on much larger lots, are selling for the same price in Concord.
Gainsboro recognizes that his buyers are paying the same price for a much smaller home than they could afford, but he believes the quality of life at Concord Riverwalk makes up for it. The neighborhood is arranged like a village, with walkways connecting homes in close proximity. And it boasts a community garden and frontage on the Assabet River.
"I think our buyer is attracted to the whole-value proposition," Gainsboro said.
With just two homes still available, Gainsboro is eyeing future development in neighboring towns like Wayland, Weston, Lincoln and Sudbury. He hopes to begin construction on his next neighborhood within the next 12 months.
Gainsboro looks for towns with flexible zoning laws that allow the kind of tight-knit development he's specializing in, as well as communities that attract buyers with enough money to afford his homes. In the future, he said he may develop more affordable smart growth housing in less affluent areas, like Worcester.