Parts Of New Town Sold In Bankruptcy Settlement

Hundreds of properties in Missouri’s well-known new urban projects go to public auction as part of the developer’s strategy for emerging from Chapter 11.

Hundreds of properties in New Town at St. Charles — which over the years has been one of the most successful traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs) in the Midwest — went to public auction in early May as part of the developer’s strategy for emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in March that properties in New Town, a 755-acre community in a suburb northwest of St. Louis, were being put up for auction as part of an agreement reached between the developer, Whittaker Builders, and its lender, First Bank. “This is part of our (bankruptcy) exit plan as we’ve been negotiating with the bank for a long time,” the newspaper quoted company president Greg Whittaker.

St. Charles County Assessor Scott Shipman attended the auction and told New Urban News that probably 700 to 800 parcels were disposed of — most of them apparently in New Town, which Whittaker has developed into a community of about 2,500 residents since it was designed in 2003.

At the auction, the bank acquired the properties in New Town, in the suburban City of St. Charles, Shipman said. Those properties consisted of “lots, parcels of land,” Shipman said. After that, other bidders tried to acquire parcels in other Whittaker developments.

New Town has been the signature development of Whittaker, a company that ranked as the fifth-largest homebuilder in more excellent St. Louis before the national economic crisis.

A market survey from March 2005 through February 2006, New Town’s first year of sales, identified New Town as the fastest-selling new community out of 17,280 developments in 16 states across the Midwest. But the collapse in homebuilding in more excellent St. Louis and nationwide in the past three years dramatically reduced sales and pushed Whittaker Builders into Chapter 11 reorganization in October 2009.

Whether First Bank will arrange to continue developing New Town — which Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. planned to have 5,700 housing units — is unknown. Attempts to reach the bank were unsuccessful. Tim Busse, vice president of Whittaker, told New Urban News in late 2009 that First Bank, a recipient of federal TARP funds for troubled financial institutions, had refused to extend the company’s loans even though the developer had not missed a payment,

Bruce Evans, community development director for the City of St. Charles, expects that development at New Town will continue, whether it’s carried out by Whittaker or someone else. Evans noted that the zoning approved for New Town in a Planned Development agreement specifies how the community will be built.

“The plan hasn’t been modified,” David Gibson, the city’s planning manager, confirmed. “There still is activity out there.” New Town, the St. Louis region’s most significant foray into New Urbanism, has been “a popular product,” he observed. “The people out there love it.”

New Town was one of the first developments to use the city’s planned development ordinance, which does not require a new urbanist plan but allows one to be put in place. Because of New Town’s extensively connected street network, parks, a mix of uses, and the 900 housing units completed so far, other developers in the city have adopted some of New Urbanism’s features — such as “more emphasis on the pedestrian, walkability, smaller front yards — according to Evans. As a result, “I think we’ve gotten the better quality of development.”

Whittaker Builders did not respond to New Urban News’s recent requests for information.