STARRING ROLE IN THE COMMUNITY
Starpointe Residents Club at Estrella Mountain Ranch
With the look and charm of an East Coast seaside resort, the Starpointe Residents Club at Estrella Mountain Ranch in Goodyear, Ariz., is the new centerpiece of a community that already had a lot to recommend it. A master-planned community with 72 acres of lakes at the foot of the Sierra Estrella Mountains, Estrella Mountain Ranch isn't the sort of place you'd expect to find in the arid region west of Phoenix.
"You're driving through the desert and you come up this last hill and see the lakes, and it's like an oasis spread out in front of you," says Tami Loewen, the interior design director on the Starpointe project. "It makes you just want to be there."
Still in the early stages of its planned growth, about 8,000 residents occupy the approximately 2,700 houses built so far, with the master plan anticipating around 50,000 houses by the time all lots have been sold and construction is complete, a stage that is still some decades off. Because of the size of the community, homes are marketed to a wide variety of customers, from first-time home buyers to empty-nesters and from smaller, simpler residences to multi-million-dollar custom lots.
As with any community, one question that arose for the developer was how best to add value to a resident's decision to settle at Estrella Mountain Ranch—in other words, how to offer not just a place to live but a neighborhood with a cohesive spirit where residents interact with and come to appreciate each other. To this end, the Starpointe Residents Club was designed to serve in part as what Community Manager Tony Ledvina calls "the community living room."
"Community developers need to help create lifestyle, a sense of place," elaborates Wayne Hancock, Estrella Mountain Ranch's executive director. "That's what separates a subdivision from a real community. Recreation facilities can be part of it, but it needs to be more than recreational—it needs to be this gathering place."
The best way for a new facility to help create a sense of community, Hancock says, was for all residents to have access to Starpointe, and so membership dues were kept low and were built into the annual homeowners association fees, allowing unlimited access for two adults and all children from each house in the community. This avoided the divisions that might have arisen if membership were optional—and expensive—divisions that would have been the very opposite of the sense of community Hancock hoped to create.
"We wanted to say to the entire community that 'this is yours,'" Hancock explains. The decision to allow this access has resulted in considerable expense for the development company, at least upfront, according to Hancock, but as more lots are sold and as the population of Estrella Mountain Ranch swells, the additional homeowners association fees being paid will cover more and more of the operating costs.
Besides, there is no doubt that the community already appreciates the gift. Referring to the facility's card-based entry control system, Hancock says that since the facility's opening in July 2004, they've had more than 100,000 swipes, not including children under 10.
The center's popularity should come as no surprise. A waterpark with a simulated beachfront setting is shaded with trees and other plantings, and the 12,000-square-foot resort-style play pool features two water slides cascading from a lighthouse-themed tower. The separate children's splash play area offers two smaller slides and a tipping bucket, while lap swimmers enjoy their own dedicated pool. Indoors, residents can choose from a variety of fitness activities—classes, weightlifting, cardiovascular workout machines—or meet for coffee in the center's handsomely appointed lounge and library areas. A meeting room and multi-function room are available for weddings, reunions and other community needs.
"We wanted it to feel like a seaside resort, but active," says Loewen, explaining that interior design elements were carefully chosen to help the club feel rooted and to give it an ambience of generational history and use. Indeed, from the brick exteriors to the hotel-style front desk and ornate moldings and furniture, and with window after window offering dramatic views of the lakes, the Starpointe building doesn't feel like more traditional concrete-block recreation centers. Specially commissioned artwork shows the building as it might have appeared on a 1930s-era postcard, while the blue and gold interior color schemes contribute to the overall air of understated refinement.
Younger residents aren't ignored, either. A youth center for pre- and young teens recreates the atmosphere of the old boathouse that had previously been the gathering place for the younger set and was demolished to make way for the new club building. Roll-up doors access an outdoor activity area with basketball courts when weather permits, while pool tables, video games and other activities are available inside.
So, what have residents' reactions have been?
"I think they still can't believe what we gave them," says Hancock, remembering one resident in particular who stopped him one morning as he made his daily rounds of the community.
"I was out walking around the pool, and this one gentleman came up to me and told me how much he was enjoying everything," Hancock recalls. "He said, 'When I come down here, I feel like I'm a millionaire.'"