Developers of major housing project promise it will connect to Desert Highland neighborhood

Developers planning a major housing project in north Palm Springs promised its potential neighbors this week that the homes would not be fenced off or face away from their neighborhood. They stopped short of being able to promise a price point many in the community need in order to afford a home in the city.

Representatives from Watermarke Homes, a Palm Springs-based company that built 500 homes in the adjoining Mountain Gate community, said they are planning a yet-to-be-named development of more than 850 units that would surround the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood and its community center.

The land is currently owned by College of the Desert and had been eyed for a satellite campus. There is no word on whether the city, which gave the land to the college after purchasing it in 2010, would allow the development as it is still zoned for the campus.

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Included in the preliminary plans, discussed during a meeting with the community Tuesday evening, are 364 condominiums and 488 single-family homes. Prices would range from the $300,000s to the $500,000s.

John Pavelak, Watermarke’s president, told residents the company is hoping to include them early and often in discussions about the project in order to listen to what they want when building the new neighborhood. He also promised to contribute to improvements in the existing neighborhood and at the James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center.

“What can we do to help?” he asked Tuesday following a discussion with the city’s new police chief about safety in the neighborhood. “If it takes cameras, if it takes an outreach building, we can do that. We can make a difference.”

Contributing to greater safety and building splash pools or dog parks is fine, neighbors of the project told Pavelak. Being able to afford the homes he’s building would be better.

“We want home ownership,” said Deiter Crawford, vice president of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association. “Me, personally, I don’t care what you put in the park. What we want is for people in our community to be homeowners.”

With potential mortgages in the $1,500 to $2,500 range, many in the audience said they would be immediately priced out of the development.

“Most folks cannot afford that in this area,” said one audience member, pointing to the fact Watermarke purposely made some homes in the Mountain Gate project affordable when it was constructed in the early 2000s.

Pavelak could not promise a similar approach with his company’s new project. But he did address another frequent concern of Crawford and others — the fact many planned developments in the area are gated and face the opposite direction of homes in the existing neighborhood, creating the feeling of exclusion.

“This will not be a gated community,” he said. “The streets will connect to your streets and the homes will face your community.”

“We are going to be part of your community,” added Dave Cooper, a Watermarke project manager. “We want you to tell us what you want us to do.”

The neighborhood is one of several development projects in the surrounding area, including one other planned by Watermarke at the intersection of North Indian Canyon and East San Rafael Drive. That is where the company hopes to complete the Palermo Townhomes project, which has languished for more than a decade. Cooper said that completion is slowly progressing, but that the company has yet to close on the sale of the land.


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