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Neighborhood growth highlights city's progress

By BY GABE SEMENZA - GSEMENZA@VICAD.COM
Sept. 20, 2011 at 4:20 a.m.

Cory Power installs cases for electrical outlets during construction for a BJ Davis Home in the Lake Forest subdivision on Friday. The subdivision is experiencing a growth due to economic advancements brought on by Caterpillar and Eagle Ford Shale.

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To learn more about Lake Forest, 7988 Nursery Drive, Victoria, call 361-572-9570 or visit LakeForestInfo.com.

Jim and Marguerite DeBolt's sofa boasts a telling, embroidered pillow. "Go first class. Your heirs will," the pillow reads.

The DeBolts, a retired Victoria couple, last week toured their new Lake Forest home, a 2,900-square-foot Hill Country-styled gem complete with interior Austin limestone, vaulted ceilings and saltillo tile.

In March, the couple moved to this bustling development north of Woodway off U.S. Highway 87 North on the cusp of unprecedented growth here.

Lake Forest is yet another sign Victoria readies for a mini-boom. What started as a modest development is now growing quicker than it has since it opened a decade ago, an advancement made possible by drivers such as Caterpillar, the Eagle Ford shale and university expansion.

Jim DeBolt, a 74-year-old former Union Carbide manager, lived in one home with his wife for 37 years until building anew on a back lot that touches Lake Forest's expanding six-acre lake.

"We'd watched the neighborhood grow over the years and we always liked the style of homes, the personality of the whole subdivision," DeBolt said, moving from his spacious kitchen toward the master bedroom. "There are just a lot of good things going on here."

Lake Forest, like many sections of Victoria, bustles with construction. Developers are expanding the subdivision by 25 garden homes - or modest homes with manageable yards - eight cottage homes complete with front porches and 40 traditional lots.

Bill Davis, a 32-year builder, owner of B.J. Davis Homes and the subdivision's developer and owner, said his vision for this project is coming to fruition.

"I always wanted to live in the Hill Country, but jobs there were sparse," Davis, 72, said. "So, we tried to create that feel here."

The neighborhood opened 10 years ago with 30 homes on 26 acres. But because of Sept. 11, 2001, the ensuing war and sporadic consumer confidence, the development sputtered a bit at first.

So, Davis grew the neighborhood slowly. Now, 140 homes stand on 53 acres - with plans for an additional 73 homes on 16 more acres.

The growth timeline includes:

n Work under way now on roadways and lot development for the 25 energy-efficient garden homes.

n Similar work on the eight cottage homes and lots.

n Groundbreaking on the 40 traditional lots - or those with plenty of leg room and big backyards - in two months, and home construction there in six months. Thirty of those 40 lots are already under contract, Davis said.

Like his subdivision, Davis has grown his business impressively since becoming a builder in 1980. A former industrial plant carpenter, Davis began home building by building his own home.

When that sold quickly, without it even being on the market, he thought he could fare well in business. Since, the Victoria native has built homes all across the region and in Victoria staples such as Windcrest.

Only now he doesn't have to search for lots on which to build; he owns the land.

"An old, blind hog will find an acorn every once in a while," he said, smiling.

It just so happens this acorn seems to have fallen from the tree just as a groundswell of activity sprouted up beneath it.

Davis and his 39-year-old son and business partner, Gary Davis, say they hedged their bets to prepare for this growth.

The two watched as Victoria streets became busier, as Caterpillar erected those massive walls, as oil field workers and managers saturated the city in search of housing.

To build now, the father and son began planning and engineering work in 2006. They rode out the years since, that down-trodden economic period, and the patience could pay off.

"It's a matter of inventory," Gary Davis said. "When the inventory is low and they're moving quickly, you've got to be ready to start. For the longest time, the city didn't grow in this direction, even though it is a desirable direction. Now, we're experiencing the biggest, quickest growth here at any one time."

The family is additionally investing in garden and cottage home lots, they said, because they witnessed retirees returning home to roost.

"I felt like if we did this, it'd be a good place for grandma and grandpa to come home to retire," Bill Davis said.

If the additional 73 lots develop quickly, Davis has plenty of room to grow. He owns an additional undeveloped and adjacent 100 acres just north of the action now.

Davis gave the city right of way for the future extension of Ball Airport Road, which touches his land's northern tip. While that extension is not in current city plans, it's on the long-term radar. Such a thoroughfare would likely add to the value and convenience of this development.

At the DeBolt home, Marguerite DeBolt talked about her high-end piano, which she stores in a large sun room. The 50-year music teacher and classical pianist still offers in-home classes to students.

Her husband offered a tour of their home.

"We love everything about this neighborhood, and the direction Bill Davis is taking it in," Jim DeBolt said. "You'll notice we have a pantry with just about everything in it. We keep it full so the grandkids have something to eat when they visit."

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