SAN FRANCISCO — Peter McMahon, president of Kennecott Land, a company that specializes in master-planned communities, said it is appropriate to look to the past when discussing designs for communities of tomorrow.

Lucca, Italy, for example, a town that was founded by the Romans in 180 B.C., has maintained much of its original community plan. There are rectangular blocks, a system of roads, public and private buildings, a theater and an amphitheater. And, of course, high walls to fend off attacks.

During “21st Century Master Planning,” a panel discussion at the annual PCBC home builders’ conference Wednesday at Moscone Center in San Francisco, McMahon said that Lucca “is a reminder that many of the elements of success in this business are timeless and we shouldn’t ever forget that.

“The communities of the future will embody things that were done in Lucca.” Then again, invasions by Ligurians are not a worry these days as they were for the people of Lucca. But you get the point.

McMahon emphasized some factors that builders of new communities must take into consideration: conservation, higher-density development, and local partnerships.

“We live in a world where water and energy use are going to drive everything. The ‘where,’ the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of what we’re going to do is really going to be influenced very significantly by the way we use water,” he said.

Water can be stored and reused in creative ways, he noted. Likewise, modern technology can enable the construction of energy-efficient homes that do not suck power from the grid.

Another sign of the times: “Density is destiny,” he said. As land values rise and affordability becomes a growing problem, builders must build more compactly, he said. “Developers who are stuck at (building) three houses an acre are really condemning themselves to a difficult future.”

McMahon’s company is building out Daybreak, a master-planned community in Jordan, Utah, which encompasses 4,000 acres. The project, which began in 2004, is expected to contain about 13,600 homes and 9.1 million square feet of commercial space by about 2020.

Meanwhile, plans for another massive master-planned community are taking shape on historic ranch land at the far northern end of Los Angeles County.

Randal Jackson, president for The Planning Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., a company that is assisting with those development plans, said it has been decades since Southern California has had a new town. The project, called Centennial, is proposed on about 13,000 acres of land that is part of the 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch land. Construction is expected to begin within a few years.

Environmental issues are a top concern for the project, he said, and developers seek to protect many of the natural qualities in the development area, including trees, drainage corridors and mountain slopes. “Instead of mowing them down we’re going to protect them. Less than 50 percent of the land that’s been allocated will actually be developed on.” The remainder will be open space, he said.

The project will include a network of trails and an array of schools, including extended education centers. Also in the plans are dedicated roadways for “neighborhood electric vehicles.”

Jackson said the plan is to promote “one-car communities” and “walkability” within the development area. “Eighty-percent of all development will be within a five minutes’ walk of 80 percent of the activities,” he added. An estimated 100,000 acres of the Tejon Ranch acreage is expected to be set aside as a permanent wildlife reserve.

The housing market “has fundamentally changed,” said John Martin, principal for Martin & Associates LLC, a strategic marketing firm based in Newport Beach, Calif. But the slowing market can be a good thing for master-planned communities, he said.

“This business is cyclical and we’re in it now. This industry does its best work now,” he said. The housing boom led some builders to be content in “squirting out the same stuff” rather than focusing on new approaches to building, he said. Builders must keep up with trends in minority and baby boomer home buyers, and with infill development.

He also reminded the audience that master-planned communities are “less about the house” and more about the community. “We do not need to reinvent, we just need to readjust to different market dynamics.”

The people of Lucca might have some words of advice, too.


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