The development of 80 acres of rugged forestland with its own mountain in west Little Rock reflects a shift in residential real estate priorities in the wake of the pandemic.
Some of the first homes are now nearing completion in Bear Den Estates, at Chenal Valley Drive and Gordon Road. Houses under construction this spring in phase one range in price from $800,000 to about $1.4 million and sit on about a third of an acre.
The development’s hiking and mountain bike trails, natural creeks and streams and protected wooded areas create a sense of seclusion between neighbors.
“Additional greenspace and outdoor recreational opportunities within neighborhoods will continue to drive purchasing decisions,” Bradford Gaines, director of new developments for Colliers International Arkansas, said, adding that housing trends that emerged during the pandemic “played a role in the overall stability and growth of the Little Rock residential market.”
“A green-based development is key to the project,” Gaines said of Bear Den Estates, where 25% of the site will be preserved and designers have worked to maintain the terrain and natural topography.
Gaines and Drew Holbert, a Colliers International Arkansas principal and vice president of brokerage, formed the property-buying group Bear Den Development Co. LLC in 2020. It includes shareholders from Colliers and other local investors. The investors paid $1.2 million in late 2020 for the 80-acre tract.
Colliers’ development team, led by Gaines, a landscape architect, is managing the neighborhood development process.
Nearly all of the 44 lots in the first phase have sold. Prices for about a third of an acre range from $85,000 to nearly $120,000. There are more than a dozen homes under construction, some custom and some by local builders. Maintaining a rustic, natural veneer is a priority.
Required building specs include, for example, brick, masonry or natural stone. No faux or vinyl siding is allowed. Other types of building materials, landscaping and fencing are also restricted.
Rustic farmhouse designs are a popular choice for builders, Gaines said.
About 2 miles of hiking trails that lead up to the craggy Bear Den Mountain summit, where wild turkeys and hawks roost, are manicured with wooden bridges over creeks. Some are outfitted for mountain biking, a sport that experienced an exponential growth in equipment sales during COVID-19, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm in New York.
Gaines said he believes Bear Den Estates is the only residential development in Little Rock with its own mountain bike course.
Downtown Little Rock is visible from the peak. Grocery stores, restaurants and other shopping are only a few minutes’ drive.
“When people get home, they want a little more seclusion and privacy,” Gaines said. “A lot of building plans we review have home offices, but people still want community and not to live on 40 acres, 45 minutes outside of town.”
Realtors, architects and builders across the U.S. note demand for larger houses with room for a gym and an office as well as more private outdoor spaces, requirements driven by being stuck at home for months during the past several years.
“The decoupling of workplace location and residential preferences suggest that home buyers may prefer homes in smaller and less dense counties that offer lower living costs and larger living spaces during and even after the pandemic,” Brookings Institution researchers wrote in 2022 analysis of suburbanization trends driven by COVID-19.
Three more phases of Bear Den Estates are slated for development later this year and into 2024. One includes a more exclusive, gated community with property on the side of the mountain. Homes there will have views of the city. The lots will be larger, about three-quarters of an acre.
Once all phases are built out, there will be 110 residences in the neighborhood, Gaines said.
“It is right in the center of the city,” he said. “But you feel like you are out in a state park.”