Driving along the ruggedly beautiful Olympic Peninsula coast, newlyweds Casey and Laura Roloff expected to find a cute beach town akin to...

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Driving along the ruggedly beautiful Olympic Peninsula coast, newlyweds Casey and Laura Roloff expected to find a cute beach town akin to those on Oregon’s shore. But they didn’t, because one didn’t exist.

That, to Casey Roloff, meant opportunity.

“I want to build that town some day,” he told his bride.

Knowing he had absolutely no experience building towns, Laura humored him.

“OK, Casey, whatever you say,” she responded.

Eleven years later, Casey Roloff’s pledge is beginning to come true. A self-described dreamer who’s built beach houses in Oregon but never worked for a big developer, Roloff, 33, is building Seabrook 18 miles north of Ocean Shores.

Eventually, Seabrook is to have 400 cottage-style homes, townhomes and artist lofts, plus boutiques, an inn and sports facilities carefully laid out on a forested ridge sloping down to the ocean.

Despite little regional or national advertising, hundreds of potential buyers have contacted Seabrook. More than 200 are so sold on Roloff’s vision that they’ve signed up for homes — although until last month they had nothing tangible to see.

Prices begin at about $450,000 for a 1,400-square-foot cottage and rise to about $700,000 for a 2,500-square-foot house.

For buyers like Donna Shirey of Seattle, the allure is Seabrook’s old-fashioned neighborhood design and cottage styling.

“People are hungry for houses that have character,” Shirey said.

Hotel developers have contacted Roloff about building the inn, and merchants are inquiring about space in the shops.

County pleased

Even the Grays Harbor County government is on board. An official in its planning division says he’s thrilled at Roloff’s presence.

The impetus for this enthusiasm is Roloff’s crystal-clear vision of what Seabrook will be: a compact town built on a concept called New Urbanism, in which the architecture is traditional and the layout is, too.

So instead of today’s customary, car-dependent subdivision that often relegates services to strip malls on the periphery, Seabrook’s commercial development will have quaint shops in its core.

Instead of houses presenting large garages to the street, they will have garages hidden in back, along alleys. Fronting the street, each home will have a large porch.

Rather than being identical architectural twins, as homes in so many suburban subdivisions are, the ones here simply will share a family resemblance built on such commonalties as wood windows, wood-burning masonry fireplaces and cedar-shingle exteriors milled from trees felled on the property.

Environmentally conscious “green building” is very much a part of Roloff’s plan.

Views for all

And instead of dedicating the choicest ocean-front property to expensive, view-blocking homes, much of that land will become a ribbon of walking trails and view spots for all to enjoy.

A $100 million project, Seabrook is a series of gravel-covered roadbeds, a sales office and seven shingled, nearly finished homes. While the first 60 homes are to be built within a year, Seabrook’s completion is at least seven years away.

“We’re not building houses so much as we’re building environments and community,” Roloff said.

“The biggest thing that makes Seabrook different is [that] it isn’t so vast,” he said. “It doesn’t have 1,000 acres. It has 88 acres, so it’s basically a five-minute walk from anywhere to meet your basic needs like the store, the post office.”

About 40 percent of that acreage will become parks or be preserved in its natural state.

Response to sprawl

Conceived as a reaction to suburban sprawl, New Urbanist towns and neighborhoods are characterized by exactly the features Seabrook is espousing.

The first and still most famous of roughly 600 New Urbanist developments is Seaside, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It was there that Roloff made a pilgrimage several years ago.

He did more than study; he also recruited landscape architect Steven Poulakos to be Seabrook’s director of town development. And he’s brought in many consultants.

“If we do our job right and well at Seabrook, we will inform how the coast might be developed in a sensible way, understanding that development is likely,” Poulakos said. “I care very much about the land and what it looks like.”

Poulakos joined Portland’s Laurence Qamar, an architect by training, whom Roloff hired to be Seabrook’s urban designer and town planner.

Both men are heavily steeped in the New Urbanist philosophy and have studied under or worked for the architects who conceived Florida’s Seaside development in the 1980s.

Tradeoffs inherent

Qamar thinks they’ll be successful if potential buyers embrace the tradeoffs inherent in a New Urbanist community.

“While the home might be on a smaller lot, you have public spaces, parks, community buildings, stores, woodland promenades,” Qamar said. “It’s this transferal of the notion that you’re buying a house on a lot — and that’s all you’re paying for — to this approach that you’re buying a house in a community.”

Putting the philosophy to work meant finding land, which can be surprisingly difficult on the Olympic coast. Much of it is government or tribal land or has building issues, such as wetlands.

In 2002, in a stroke of good timing, Roloff found 30 acres a mile south of the tiny town of Pacific Beach that had gone on the market shortly after the county added water and sewer services to the area.

Until then, building in the area required large lots to accommodate wells and septic systems — hardly in keeping with Roloff’s New Urbanist plan to place cottages on individual plots just 40 feet wide.

Patient persuasion

It took him another two years to persuade nearby owners to sell him the rest of the 88 acres he wanted. The land cost a total of $2 million. (He’s since acquired more than 150 adjacent acres and will eventually develop them, too.)

Banks and private financing — plus several million dollars Roloff made by developing a smaller version of Seabrook in Lincoln City, Ore. — are underwriting the project.

Mike Ferry, the plans examiner for Gray Harbor County’s Planning and Building Division, considers Seabrook “well-planned.”

“These are people who have some experience doing these developments,” Ferry said. “They don’t come in here cold.

“They’ve done a lot of research about the people they’re marketing to. They’re playing to those strengths. I’ve got every hope it will be a success.”

Rental homes

Many of Seabrook’s first buyers are baby boomers looking for second homes. Roloff believes that allowing them to put their properties into a vacation rental pool is one key to the success. So the rental pool is an amenity, complete with rental office, as it is at his Lincoln City community, Bella Beach.

The rental feature was what sold Portlanders Marsha and Jack Gleason on buying a Bella Beach cottage.

“We wanted a beach home we could use for our family, but we didn’t feel we could afford it unless we rented it out to make the payments,” Marsha Gleason said.

“Of course, our hope is that down the road we won’t have to rent it out, but in the meantime it’s working out really great.”

The Gleasons are so pleased with their Bella Beach purchase that they’ve already bought into Seabrook.

Marsha Gleason laughs when she recalls meeting Roloff in Bella Beach’s model home.

“I have kids older than Casey,” she said “He went on and on about his project with great enthusiasm. We wondered if he was the real deal, so we asked a couple of people. They said he was.”

The best thing that can happen at Seabrook, Roloff said, “is we can make money and send a message to the region that this is the way we can develop our towns in the future.”

More information: www.seabrookwa.com

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com