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Desert Communities:

Feature Different Design Philosophies

By Gregory V. Harris, LASN regional editor

The desert golf communities Mirabel and The Hideaway are similar in several ways: They were developed by the same company; the same landscape architect was responsible for coming up with their landscape palettes; and both communities arose from the ashes of failed projects.Despite these similar roots, the two communities are vastly different in their landscape design.


East entry hideaway: Accent trees such as the dwarf kumquat and yellow oleander, and shrubs including the Carolina laurel cherry, chaparral and sage were used in the public areas and entry ways of the Hideaway community.

Mirabel

Mirabel, located in the Sonoran desert outside Scottsdale, Ariz., is situated on 713 acres of pristine desert land at an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet. This site gives residents the beauty and pure air of the desert, creating panoramic views of Pinnacle Peak, Lone Mountain, Black Mountain, the McDowell Mountains, and the Bradshaw Range, glowing sunsets and the sparkling lights of the valley.

Mirabel started out as a public-fee course called Stonehaven, designed by Greg Norman on only 42 acres of grassy turf. The $15 million Stonehaven course was judged by many too difficult for the average golfer and the course never even opened. San Francisco-based Discovery Land Company took it over and completely rebuilt it, making it easier to play with almost twice as much turf.




The pond and garden setting at The Hideaway provides a shady sanctuary for community residents in this desert locale.

With a development price tag of $80 million, Discovery's changes to the old Stonehaven project include a $15 million Tom Fazio-designed golf course that plays to around 7,200 yards with a par of 71. The new course also features 90 acres of grassy turf. The course will remain strictly private, and the community, built on a 713-acre site, will feature 307 home sites and 37 golf villas. Mirabel's health spa offers a state-of-the-art fitness center, championship clay tennis courts, and exquisite spa and salon services. The recently opened 32,000-square-foot clubhouse is also a prominent feature of the community.

"The project was originally intended to be a master planned community with a lot of grading and padding," explained Mike Meldman, Discovery Land Company CEO. "We thought the views seen from this site lent itself to more upscale homes."


Mirabel's transformation from an incomplete private golf course to an upscale golf community of custom residential properties is almost complete, as the golf course clubhouse recently had its grand opening. Construction on the housing at Mirabel is ongoing. Mirabel has a distinctly Southwestern feel, highlighted by desert hackberry willows; and shrubs such as the brittlebush, desert honeysuckle and flattop buckwheat.

Mirabel's lots range in price from $225,000 to $700,000. Custom homes range from $2 million to $3.5 million. If homebuyers new to the community choose not to custom build their homes, Mirabel features El Corazon, a neighborhood of 35 beautifully designed homes that provides the luxury of a custom home without the time-consuming process of design and construction.

Whatever the homeowner decides, they are restricted in the design of the home and landscaping of the property. Mirabel has strict guidelines on the plant palette, limited to plants and grasses that are native to the Sonoran desert.

The Hideaway

The Hideaway in La Quinta, Calif., also was once a too difficult golf course that has been rehabilitated by Discovery.

Formerly known as the Country Club of the Desert, the golf course was a Pete Dye-designed course that Meldman said was considered too difficult for the golf market in the Coachella Valley. When Discovery bought the property, the site featured the old 18-hole Dye course and the first five holes of a planned 18-hole course designed by Clive Clark, a half-built clubhouse and an incomplete infrastructure.

The name change to "The Hideaway" was selected as a tribute to La Quinta's history as a weekend hideaway for Hollywood stars. The new Hideaway was scaled back from what the developers of Country Club of the Desert had envisioned for the site. Rather than feature 54-holes, the club has 36-holes; a 45,000 sq. ft. clubhouse, down from the originally planned 65,000 sq. ft clubhouse; and home sites are limited to around 475.

The Hideaway is set amidst nearly 600 acres with dramatic mountain backdrops, fields of wildflowers and swaying palms. The community was designed to recreate the friendly ambiance and understated luxury that drew the well-heeled of California society to the Coachella Valley in the 1940s and 50s.

The Hideaway has a mixture of custom home sites, single-family homes and golf villas, and the architectural and overall design theme is reminiscent of the Spanish Revival styles popularized early last century, borrowing heavily from the area's Spanish roots and Mediterranean influences. These homes are now under construction. Like Mirabel, The Hideaway has a rigid set of requirements for its landscape palette. Each club also features a relatively small number of home sites, giving the community a more exclusive feel.


The Hideaway, nearly 600 acres with dramatic mountain backdrops, fields of wildflowers and swaying palms, is reminiscent of Palm Springs.

Teamwork

Another staple of the Discovery Land Company is the team concept used during the design and construction of its projects. Meldman said the team concept helps to ensure that the project's philosophy is maintained throughout the course of the project. Landscape Architect Bob Thompson of Arizona-based e group said this team concept worked well on the Mirabel and Hideaway projects.

"The team included the landscape architect, architect, engineers and officials from Discovery," Thompson said. "Everything and anything was up for discussion as a team. Whenever a decision was made, we all discussed it as a group, which in the end, made the whole process better."

Thompson said it was not uncommon for the team members to "banter" back and forth about many aspects of the project.

"We would often ask, 'does this make sense,' or say 'maybe this should be done another way,'" Thompson said. "Over the long haul, this team concept keeps the project together."

Desert Landscape

According to Thompson, the site that is now the Mirabel community had been burned by a wildfire. Subsequent construction was granted with the caveat that only plants and grasses that can be sustained in the Sonoran desert could be used at the site. "Homeowners with half acre lots can only build on half of that lot and may not touch the other half," Thompson said. "NAOS (Natural Area Open Space) guidelines mandate this."

Thompson said no non-native plant species can be used in the common areas of the community, such as the clubhouse, golf course and entries, and that while individual homeowners have more freedom in what the types of species they can plant, there are still certain guidelines that must be followed. To that end, a nine page plant list outlines the plants and grasses that can and can't be used in the community.

"The landscape must be able to return to a native, natural condition," Thompson said. "It must be like the plants were already there and growing before this project was built."

Homeowners are required to submit their proposals to the community's internal design review committee before planting.

"This provides for an extra layer of review," Thompson said.

Thompson noted that the main streetscapes and golf course at Mirabel have been completed and look very good, with construction continuing on the homes. The golf course, with its added acreage of grasses, has the latest in drip irrigation technology because of the need to be sensitive to water concerns in the desert.

Traditionally, water has not been as a big of a concern in the Palm Springs area. Driving around the Coachella Valley, visitors have been amazed at the amount of green space in what is supposed to be the desert. This philosophy is evident at the Hideaway, as this community has a less restrictive plant palette than Mirabel.

The landscape palette for the Hideaway was chosen to highlight the hidden oasis nature of the community with a colorful mixture of native wildflowers and grasses, shaded groves of palms and citrus trees, and tropical accents. Although not quite as water conservation-minded as Scottsdale, city leaders in La Quinta and the Coachella Valley are beginning to take a more active role in conservation.

"Water conservation and the use of indigenous species are coming to the forefront," Thompson said. "We picked a plant palette for the Hideaway that is relatively drought tolerant."

In addition, Thompson said all of the trees are being drip irrigated and that steps have been taken to conserve water needed to keep the golf courses green.

"This community had courses with huge areas of turf," he said. "The Pete Dye course was 100 percent turf, roughly 175 acres of grass. We removed 40 percent of the grass and replaced it with a native grass palette that has helped to reduce the water consumption on site across the board."

A computer-controlled, moisture-sensored irrigation system was installed to help maintain the golf course without using the bulk of the region's water supply.

Meldman said in addition to the traditional philosophical differences between Scottsdale and the Coachella Valley when it comes to water conservation, the nature of the deserts played a role in selecting the plant palettes.

"The native vegetation is more lush in the Sonoran desert than in Palm Springs," he said. "You have to bring in more color to the Palm Springs desert, but then again, there is more water in the Coachella Valley for these plants to thrive. There are much more restrictive water requirements in the Sonoran desert."

Despite each project having similar origins: two communities rising like the Phoenix from the ashes of poor projects to become successful properties; both designed by the same landscape architecture firm and both being located in the desert, the differences in the projects' landscape designs are like night and day.

"It is mind-boggling when you think about these projects being so different," Thompson said.


Two golf courses are the centerpieces of The Hideaway. Native desert wheat grass and Indian rice grass replaced about 40 percent of the old golf course turf, which helps to reduce water consumption.

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December 7, 2019, 3:31 am PDT

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