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Trying Again on a Coast That Defies Big Dreams
The New York Times
PACIFIC BEACH, Wash. - Big Bold Dream No. 1 arrived on the cloudy coast of Washington State in 1905. It was called the Moclips Beach Hotel, 270 grand rooms at its peak, with a railroad depot and waves crashing beyond the veranda. Then the ocean washed it all away.
Half a century later came Big Bold Dream No. 2: Ocean Shores. Thousands of lots sold, many at $600 each, sight unseen. Pat Boone moved to town and hosted celebrity golf tournaments. Now? Ocean Sores, some call it, strip malls and sprawl. Beloved by some, but the Malibu of the Pacific Northwest it is not.
And so, on the clear and sunny Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, when summer unofficially began on beaches across the country, there was David Hughes, getting lost as he tried to deliver a sleeper sofa to 24 Primrose Lane, currently at the edge of construction in Big Bold Dream No. 3.
Without realizing that it was his destination, Mr. Hughes had arrived in Seabrook, or, as the decal on the white Jeep outside the sales office says, "Washington's new authentic beach town."
Everywhere he turned, perfect porches led to perfect front doors and perfect neo-Nantucket bungalows. Adorable children pedaled past on charming old-fashioned bicycles, no parental supervision necessary in this safe setting.
This looked nothing like the rest of the ZIP code, which is anchored by Pacific Beach, a misty mix of recreational vehicles and military families taking leave behind the concrete-block walls and chain-link fences of a Navy resort.
About 100 houses have been built in Seabrook, all of them set back across the highway from the beach, and 350 more are planned on about 100 acres. Small two-bedrooms start around $400,000 and larger houses near $1 million.
Shops and a Main Street are still to come, as is a boutique hotel and an organic community garden. Trails have been cut through the woods leading to a beautiful, endless beach. In the evenings, hot tubs and s'mores over outdoor fire pits complete the postcard.
"For me, this is about building a public place that will be here for generations," said Casey Roloff, who is developing Seabrook.
Mr. Roloff is a disciple of New Urbanism, a place-making school that is centered around small lots in walkable villages that took off with the growth of Seaside, in the Florida Panhandle. He grew up in Vancouver, Wash., but spent several years living on the Oregon coast. There he built smaller New Urbanist-style developments, Bella Beach and Olivia Beach.
But the success of those projects only increased his ambition and gave him the resources to spend about $3 million buying timber land in Washington, with an eye toward transforming a coast that has long defied developers' dreams.
"This is my baby," said Mr. Roloff, 36. "I was trying to figure out why people didn't go to the Washington coast, and basically it was the built environment."
Grays Harbor County, which includes Pacific Beach and Aberdeen, its largest city, has struggled for decades amid declines in the logging and fishing industries. The unemployment rate, while on the way down, is close to 7 percent.
Outside of Ocean Shores, the coast here is scattered with motels, the occasional estate and a few newer subdivisions. But it is mostly trees and small beach towns like Moclips, where retired postal workers and maintenance men still own little houses right on the ocean.
The rise of Seabrook, about a three-hour drive from Seattle, has prompted sneers and some tension because of the upscale market it goes after. Its impact on the water and sewer system has been a point of dispute, too.
But the development has generally won praise from local officials and residents for bringing construction jobs, increased tourism, relatively gentle treatment of the land and a sense of validation among some who have long endured as much as 100 inches of annual rainfall and ripping winter winds here.
"A million dollars for a house that is not on the beach?" said Kelly Calhoun, president of the museum of the North Beach. "We never expected that, not out here."
The sleeper sofa finally did make it to 24 Primrose Lane. Dr. Rich Krug, a surgeon from Olympia, chased down the wayward delivery truck on one of those old bicycles and provided directions. He had rented a place in Moclips a couple of years back and had seen Seabrook shortly after construction began in 2004.
"My first thought was, 'Who is the nut job who is doing this?'" said Dr. Krug, 40. "If you can't see the broader vision, you just see a few fancy-looking houses going up in the woods in a depressed area on the opposite side of the water. You think, 'who is going to by those things?'"
One answer turned out to be Dr. Krug; his wife, Darla; and their five young children. Mr. Roloff walked them around Seabrook last summer, and they soon spent about $800,000 on a three-bedroom vacation home with a separate mother-in-law suite. They moved in this past weekend.
"I'm a zealot; it's the zeal of the converted," Dr. Krug said. "Part of my zeal is it's so different from what's been done to this coastline so far."
"It's a little bit like a religious movement," he said, "but I try to modulate my enthusiasm to not come off to much like a cult member."
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