Back in 2000, the rural intersection where Woodmen Road ran into U.S. Highway 24 felt like a good start toward Kansas.
“Woodmen was still just two lanes and there was nothing out there,” said Ty Olson, director of sales for Classic Homes.
Classic CEO Doug Stimple asked him to get in the car — they were going to go out and look at some lots.
“He didn’t say anything more. We’re driving and I’m thinking, ‘Where are we going?’” Olson said.
Meridian Ranch seemed like the end of the Earth the first time he saw it. But the area in northeast El Paso County has grown up a lot since then.
More than 1,100 families are living in Meridian Ranch, says marketing director Shelley La Judice. That’s between half and two-thirds of how many will be there when the development is complete.
“And the houses are selling like hotcakes,” she said.
As the market has rebounded, the planned community near unincorporated Falcon is picking up steam. While it still seems like a long drive from the Interstate 25 corridor, it’s close to Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases.
That’s what Jenny Tchang Frost’s father, Paul Tchang, noticed about the swath of land he saw on the Colorado plains in the early 1980s.
“He liked that growth there was limited to the west by the mountains and that it was close to the bases,” Frost said.
Tchang could see that the city would grow out to it.
Frost has taken over her father’s homebuilding and development business, Techbilt, which had constructed homes in Southern California and still does.
But Tchang started looking to diversify out of California in the 1980s, and the 2,650 acres where Meridian Ranch sits today was the first piece of ground he bought outside the state.
It would be years before the city would grow enough for anyone to think of reaching that far to the east for property, but Tchang predicted it would happen. And he was right. Woodmen Hills, another golf neighborhood, started to come out of the ground in the 1990s.
But Techbilt had more land. It would be a bigger development and the owners wanted it to stand out and sustain momentum.
When Techbilt decided to start developing the property in the late 1990s, it was the first chunk of ground the company developed without also building on it themselves.
“You have to have a lot of vision for that kind of thing,” Frost said. “My dad is kind of a visionary.”
They started looking at the amenities they would need to put in if they were going to attract people out of the city. They put in a large-scale recreation center, swimming pool, golf course and clubhouse before anyone started building houses.
“If we didn’t put it in, we figured no one would come,” Frost said. “A lot of homeowners are used to hearing about what amenities developers are going to put in and then they never come.”
The amenities are a big part of what attracts buyers to the neighborhood, La Judice said. There’s a big outdoor swimming pool and large recreation center with a full-size gymnasium and planned indoor pool that Techbilt will start construction on once the community reaches 1,200 families.
But La Judice said she thinks the biggest reason the community has been so successful is cost.
“Our price points are $50,000 to $70,000 less than they are anywhere else in the city,” she said.
That’s how Classic ended up buying into the development.
“When we got out there, I wasn’t sure,” Olson said. “But then they told me the price point we were going to be at and I thought — OK, we can probably make this work.”
The development started with Classic, Vanguard Homes, Richmond America Homes and Majestic Custom Builders. All four are still building there.
Some national builders contributed in the height of the market. Builders sold 278 homes in Meridian Ranch in 2005, Frost said. That was the peak.
The lots range in size from 6,000 square feet to two-acre estate parcels.
That diversity has also been a selling point for the community, La Judice said. Families buying their first home or their first move-up home can opt for a lower cost option on a smaller lot while others can get into a ranch floor plan on more land.
The community is connected with parks and trails, La Judice said, but it’s separated into different neighborhoods.
Techbilt just released about 175 newly-developed lots and expects close on 125 before the end of the year.
That was good news for Classic, which ran out of lots at the end of 2011.
“We sold our models and we were vacant out there for about three months while we built a new one,” Olson said.
Classic already is ahead of its projected sales for Meridian Ranch for the year. Olson said the company expected to sell 25 homes there all year and has closed on 27. That’s even better than the company average, which also looks like it will finish the year beyond expectations.
Olson said the company projected 249 sales in 2012 and already has 210.
Saint Aubyn Homes is one of the fastest-selling builders in the development, La Judice said. The company has sold 20 homes this year and has another 16 under construction.
“We are finding that families are appreciating the neighborhood — the master-planned community,” said Tammie Leachman, director of sales for Saint Aubyn. “The amenities, the rec center are all wonderful.”
She said most buyers are young to middle-aged families and a lot of them work at the nearby military bases. She said Saint Aubyn is selling well in the area because the builder has the biggest inventory of finished homes already built or that can be finished within 30 days.
“That’s given us a huge edge with people who want a new home, but don’t have time to wait,” Leachman said.
She added that the military buyers are often looking for that.
Even though the community is still east of the city, it’s gaining its own identity.
“One of the things that’s really helped Meridian Ranch is all the commercial activity happening out there,” Olson said.
Not far away are a Safeway, a Walmart and a few commercial developments with the necessities.
“It’s pretty self-contained now,” Olson said. “Once you’re home, you don’t really have to go anywhere.”