Practicing Patience

Recently at the farmers’ market I visit, I came across a variety of grapefruit known as a “cocktail.” On my quest for the perfect morning citrus treat, this one, apparently a cross between a grapefruit and an orange approaches holy grail status. Wow, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have one of these in my yard. So I inquired at my local nursery for the species, and of course no one had ever heard of it. All right, move on, I thought. Then this morning, while enjoying another sweet, juicy, near-perfect hemisphere, gingerly picking out the seeds with my spoon, I thought: That’s it! I can grow one myself!

Then I thought about it a little. My goodness, however long would it take for one to actually enjoy a viable fruit from a tree planted from seed? Five years? Ten? Surely with a little investigation I can turn up a grafted plant somewhere, and get a head start on the process. This is probably what I’ll do.

However, there’s something intriguing and challenging to me about attempting to nurture a tree along from a seed to a viable bit of stock, producing one of my favorite treats in my own little plantation. Aside from needing lots of care and attention, and probably a little luck, the whole enterprise contains the germ of something I find appealing and essential: hope. To ultimately accomplish this goal will require the successful marriage of hard work and good fortune.

The abstract parallel to the business of development is striking. As I often tell my younger colleagues, the phrases of the music played in our line of work are very long. The more complex the projects are, the longer they take to bring to the finish line and the more challenges there are along the way.

I’ve been working on one mixed-use project now going on seven years. From the land assembly to the entitlement process, to the building planning and design exercises, every step of the journey has been ponderous. This six acre urban infill site was planned for four parcels, each of which could potentially be undertaken by a different entity, while the overall site would be improved by the master developer.

One of the parcels is currently under construction as a mixed-use, mixed-income property (housing and retail), and I couldn’t be more proud or excited.  I believe the building will be wonderful and a definite asset to the community. However, the other parcels are not proceeding so smoothly. The second of the four parcels has changed hands three times; the third one four times, and the current developer of those two pieces has put them on hold until next year, even though one is permit ready. The fourth remains in the possession of the master developer, and it may undergo a format change.

And yet I continue to hope for a positive outcome in the long run, even though I’m not any longer persuaded that I know what it will look like. In the meantime, it is necessary to nurture not just the first client, but those who have joined the party later, and will hopefully remain until the ultimate completion of the community. With every change that happens, our team searches for the positive purpose that propelled the original effort, and clings to it doggedly. What is the magic mix of falling construction costs and perceived market recovery that will cause the next shovel to go into the ground? We must continue to hope and believe.

Like the tree planted from seed, we will nurture, support, and tend these efforts, looking forward to the ultimate outcome—new markers on the built environment that both shape the cultural milieu and contribute to the quality of life for hundreds of households.

Will it take five years? Ten? More? We believe we will stay with the process, and in the end, the fruit will be sweet.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects)