Stuffy buses. Uncomfortable van pools. Impassable highways. Congested back roads.
For the most part, Eastside commutes are suboptimal. Even potholes seem to conspire against already-frazzled drivers.
But the commute from and to the sleepy bedroom community of Black Diamond? It’s like a good dream. Traversing the winding country roads shrouded by a thick canopy of majestic conifers offers such a reprieve that the daily commute in and out of the city is — dare we say it? — almost fun.
Yet today the development of a massive master-planned community is under way in the city. When complete, the development — named Ten Trails — will include approximately 6,000 homes on roughly 2,200 acres, causing an influx of more than 15,000 residents to flock to the small, former mining town.
So how much will that change things, commute-wise? Very little, developers say. In fact, working in such a way and with such an extended timeframe that minimizes impact is all part of their master plan.
As the name would suggest, the southwestern King County city of more than 4,700 residents was founded in the 1880s as a rural coal mining hub and developed by the Black Diamond Coal Mining Co. of California.
By the early 1900s, the mine in Black Diamond was one of the largest coal mining and exporting operations on the West Coast, catapulting Black Diamond to a boomtown status as the population swelled to close to 3,500 people, many of whom were European immigrants.
More than a century later, the mine is shuttered; descendants of the miners (and newcomers alike) wield laptops instead of pickaxes; and no one has to sacrifice the view of the sky for the cold, perilous underground. Yet, Black Diamond sits on the precipice of another boom.
This time, the population explosion comes in the form of a master-planned community — a large-scale residential neighborhood that includes amenities like parks, trails, sports facilities, schools, and more that are usually constructed on previously undeveloped land.
Ten Trails isn’t the only such community of this kind in the Puget Sound. Well-established developments like Snoqualmie Ridge, Issaquah Highlands, Redmond Ridge — and even reaching into the South Sound with Bonney Lake-based Tehaleh by Trilogy — dot the region, focusing growth within pockets where the population isn’t as dense.
Issaquah Highlands, for example, was conceived in 1996 and has transformed Issaquah.
“When we moved to Issaquah (in 2004), the city had 17,000 people in it,” said Issaquah Highlands Council communication manager and resident Nina Milligan. “We now have 35,000 people — 10,000-plus live just in Issaquah Highlands. So (the community) contributed a great deal to the population growth of the city.”
Though these communities are gaining popularity among native Washingtonians and transplants alike, the Evergreen state has yet to scratch the surface of what other states are doing with these communities.
For example, Texas, Florida, and California together accounted for 64 percent of total sales among the 50 top-selling master-planned communities in mid-2019, according to a survey by Real Estate Advisors, a firm that has been compiling national MPC data since 1994. Communities in Washington don’t even rank year-over-year.
One reason for this may be that many of the Puget Sound’s master-planned communities have been focused more on slow growth.
Brian Ross, CEO of Ten Trails’ parent Oakpointe, said he expects the Ten Trails project, conceived almost 20 years ago, will take another 15 to 20 years to finish.
“My youngest daughter, who is set to graduate from college in May, was 2 years old when I started,” Ross said with a laugh. “And we’re really now just at the beginning.”
Jon Lakefish, Ross’ director of marketing, said one of his objectives is letting the community know about the project’s lengthy timeline.
“When I first started here, one of the biggest concerns people had was, ‘You’re bringing in 6,000 new homes, and it is going to destroy what is going on here,’” Lakefish remembered of the many community-response sessions he helped conduct. “But when you slow down and you think about 200 to 300 homes a year over 15 to 20 years — and we have 50-some traffic improvements that we’re doing to help alleviate what we can in the community — then that conversation changes.”
Ten Trails also plans to bring in new schools within the Enumclaw School District and build a retail village with what it hopes will be grocery and drug store anchors as well as many other small businesses from the local area.
“We’re trying to find that local coffee shop owner that will want to open up a coffee shop at Ten Trails and a local restauranteur that will want to open up a restaurant,” Lakefish said of the tenants that are being considered. “(We are) trying to steer clear of things like Starbucks and some of these big national (companies) in order to give the local guys a chance to open up in what will eventually be a pretty dominant retail village.”
In addition to the many other projects to break ground in 2020 — including an active senior community and many other smaller neighborhoods within Ten Trails being developed by different homebuilders — Lakefish said the retail village is just awaiting signatures on lease agreements before construction can begin on what he expects to be a one-year build-out.
What will these new retail outlets mean for already-established businesses within the Black Diamond community? Lakefish said he believes they will benefit from Ten Trails residents.
“Our total retail village will be 190,000 square feet, and yet, we’re going to have about 6,000 homes here, so all of those folks are going to bleed out from here and into the local businesses that are already in Black Diamond,” he said.
The development of Ten Trails crossed the minds of Eunjeong Kang and her husband, Insung, when they bought the nearby 118-year-old Black Diamond Bakery in 2018, but she said she isn’t worried by the imminent influx of new retailers, because she knows they have something special in their business.
“We have a special history, special food, and a special bakery, so I really don’t think about it,” she said. “When I decided to buy this business, I really thought about it, but my husband and I made a decision because this is a totally different (kind of place).”
In fact, the Kangs already have seen business pick up as a result of Ten Trails. Black Diamond Bakery, along with many other local businesses, are featured in Ten Trails promotional videos and gift card giveaways for residents. “We really try to promote the local businesses as much as we can,” Lakefish said.
To sustain the rhythm of 200 to 300 new homes per year, Ross said he and his team are working on fostering relationships with smaller, local builders and national builders alike — names such as Conner Homes, Ichijo, Lennar, MainVue, Rudd, and more — to bring variety into the community.
In fact, the community currently has 14 different model homes on display for potential buyers, with many more scheduled for the rest of 2020.
“Our job really is to set the table by creating the right place and then having diversity (in what we offer),” Ross said. “If you look at really thriving communities, it’s because there are a lot of different things going on; it’s not necessarily all the same type of housing that is the same price range, which attracts all the same people.
“So we try to come up with a lot of different products, and we’ll then seek out the best homebuilders within that product segment, and that’s not always easy; sometimes we’ve had to be really patient … and we have to be selective between big builders, small builders, local builders, and national builders to provide that architectural mix, pricing mix, and so on,” Ross continued.
When all the homes are built, they will take the form of duplexes, single-family homes, cottages, apartments, and condos. Lakefish estimates these homes would start around $375,000 and run up to $1 million.
This kind of variety, though possibly not to the same extent, can be seen in other communities, like Issaquah Highlands and Redmond Ridge. However, Ross said Ten Trails will set a new bar.
“If you look at the way that land gets developed in the Puget Sound area, most land parcels are pretty small. (As a result) you get these small developments, and it’s not really a neighborhood or a place; it’s more of a commodity,” Ross said. “People need a place to live, so those types of houses and neighborhoods will sell just because there are so many people moving into the area and they need a place to live. But given a choice, I think people will always gravitate toward a place that feels comfortable. Where they can get to know their neighbors, they find some things in common, even if they are from different backgrounds and have different economic strata.”