Meet the 'conservation community' concept

Development plan would put just 25 homes on more than 1,000 acres
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Real Estate Editor

Tommy Swearingen plans to preserve his family's farm near Bay Minette by selling 22 homesites on the property and keeping the rest of the 1,050 acres undeveloped.

Called Dauer Walden, the land on the east and west sides of Baldwin County 40 or White House Fork Road, would be a conservation community, Swearingen said. About 160 acres is already in conservation easements, he said, and eventually all the 1,000-plus acres will be permanently protected.

There will be 25 homes, three to be owned by Swearingen's family members, and 22 lots for sale, he said. The lots range in size from 3 acres to 20 acres and prices range from $240,000 to $300,000.

"Everybody wants to have 20 acres in the woods, and then they get disgusted because a trailer goes up next door and there's a wrecking yard down the road," he said. "There's no zoning."

To answer that concern, Swearingen said he plans to preserve the viewscape for all 25 lot owners. And buyers will own 1/25 share of the entire 1,050 acres, he said.

The land includes a restored 100-year-old house where Swearingen resides, barns, 16 springs, a couple of lakes and pastures with grazing horses and Scottish Highland cattle and acres of longleaf pine.

There will be strict building covenants for the lot buyers, including energy efficient features for the homes. But Swearingen said the rules should not turn off buyers.

"If they do, I don't think they belong here," he replied.

Local builders say there's a market for all types of product, including Dauer Walden.

"There's a small percentage of the market that wants that," said home builder James Ray in Daphne. "As fast as Baldwin County is growing and as many run-of-the-mill subdivisions that are popping up, he'll find enough folks who want something unique or different.

"Most people won't take their land and use it like that, they want to maximize it."

In fact, Ray and some of his friends have been looking for 40 to 80 acres to do something similar "without having 800 neighbors," he said. "To me, it's appealing, as long as it's not too far out and it's not too high-priced."

Swearingen's late grandfather, William C. Beebe, bought the land in 1937, and his family had been absentee owners since the late 1950s. Swearingen bought out family members several years ago. With a doctorate in natural resources management, he has held college teaching stints in Seattle, Wash., Maine and the University of South Alabama. But his goal has always been to come home to preserve the family farm, he said.

"Selling these lots," he said, "is the means to get there."

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