NORTHLAKE — Right now, there are more pecan trees than people at developer Hillwood Communities’ new Denton County home community.
But come back early next year to the 1,200-acre Pecan Square project, off Interstate 35W, and dozens of houses will dot the rural landscape. More than 3,000 homes are eventually planned on the former horse farm Hillwood bought in 2017 in Northlake, a town 30 miles north of downtown Fort Worth that now has only about 3,000 residents.
Pecan Square is next door to Hillwood’s hugely successful Harvest development, which opened in 2013.
The developer hopes a combination of new designs and technology will draw buyers to Pecan Square, its fourth major residential development in the I-35W corridor.
“Our first homes have just started,” said Tom Woliver, Hillwood’s director of planning and design. “By the end of the year, the first people should be living here.”
The first phase includes 675 houses to be constructed by 10 builders: Plantation Homes, Ashton Woods, Perry Homes, Highland Homes, David Weekley, Drees Custom Homes, CB Jeni, Pulte, Toll Brothers and D.R. Horton.
Houses will start at just under $250,000.
“Our sweet spot will be $250,000 to $500,000,” Woliver said. “We also are building at the top end, too, because you can’t ignore that segment.”
The entry to Pecan Square off FM407 has a grand allée of trees down the center of a boulevard.
“One of the unique things of the property is the previous owner had 200 pecan trees,” Woliver said. “We designed our entire development plan around it. When you drive up, it’s a very dramatic approach.”
At the end of that broad drive is a community center that will include meeting space, swimming pools and other amenities for the residents.
When Hillwood bought the former Woodhill Farm, a big white stable building sat there, which the developer hoped to repurpose. Unfortunately, Woliver said, it was too dilapidated.
“It was the icon out here. You could see it for miles,” he said. “But when you drove up to it, it was just a metal building that you couldn’t structurally use. It was great for horses, but you couldn’t occupy it. We had to raze it, but we have built an interpretation of it.”
The new stable-inspired community building will join a 2-story office and other structures around a central square.
“It’s modeled after that classic Texas town square,” Woliver said.
A 21st century addition will be a co-working office at Pecan Square.
“In Harvest, 60 percent of residents are working from home one day a week,” Woliver said. “That gave us the idea for co-working to help anchor our town center space at Pecan Square.”
Hillwood is requiring builders at Pecan Square to mix up their home designs more with a variety of styles including Craftsman, Texas Hill Country, modern farmhouse, European romantic, American classical and transitional.
“We’ve found when we get into architectural styles, that buyers want more variety,” Woliver said. “We required each builder who signed up to have three distinct styles.”
Hillwood is piling on the amenities at Pecan Square, even though the nearby Harvest community has been a hit with buyers. Harvest spans 1,200 acres and features community gardens designed to bring residents together.
“We have probably sold about 1,500 homes in Harvest,” said Fred Balda, Hillwood Communities president. “We’ve another 1,000 to 1,500 homes to sell there.”
Hillwood is also expanding tech offerings at Pecan Square with more neighborhood connectivity and online features. It’s teaming up with Dallas-based tech company Roomored, Frontier Communications and Amazon to provide a range of services it calls Canopy.
One of the new spins on homebuying is a virtual home shopping platform where buyers can preview home styles, materials and features before setting foot onsite or in a model.
“With what’s happened with e-commerce, people want things curated for them,” said Roomored partner Chan Walker. “They want to get a sense of the product before they see and touch it. For each of the 10 builders at Pecan Square, we are creating a virtual replica of each of their homes. You can see their model months before they build it.”
Balda said the virtual home preview gives buyers the same advantages that shoppers for preowned houses already have online.
“We hope we can speed up the acquisition process of these homes,” he said. “And the builders don’t have to put this huge investment in all these different models.
“You can’t fight tech anymore, but you must embrace it,” Balda said. “The housing industry hasn’t quite caught up yet like other products have.”