Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, fostered a belief in his classic novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that if something “seems too good to be true it probably is”.
Adam Wright sometimes feels these words were engraved across his forehead 35 years ago. Like his father Steve, 61, he is a developer, which in Adam’s mind ranks them alongside the proverbial lawyer and used car salesman. Phew! Somehow, journalists were forgotten when they came up with that saying.
The underlying presence of mistrust sums up the overwhelming challenge the family business has faced – and met – in one of Australia’s most under-rated developments – Beyond, at Chiton. It does seem too good to be true, and it’s why it took Steve, who had this amazing vision 15 years ago, eight years to get council approval.
In fairness, you would have asked yourself too, what person or business in their right mind would allocate just 23 per cent to housing – including roads – of a development and the rest to an amazing wetlands and environmental cycle system at the expense of building another 750 houses? And pouring $2 million into the project before a spade was turned for the first foundation 12 years later? “There must be a catch,” the masses grumbled.
Sceptics may have suggested it was the result of the near-fatal motorbike accident Steve had as a 19-year-old, or maybe working as a secretary for former Premier Don Dunstan. Probably the latter, because as a 20-year-old Steve had the nerve to front up to Don’s office and convince him to turn the spectacular southern Yorke Peninsula coastal region at Innes into a national park.
It led to an impressive career trail, and eventually to this Beyond project, with unrelenting support also from his wife, Margit, an enormously respected landscape and house designer with numerous state and national awards to her credit, daughter Nadia , who is also involved in landscape design , and his brother, Bruce who does project management.
Adam also oversees the marketing, and as a resident of Beyond a day doesn’t start without seeing some of the 70 new bird species to the wetlands and feeling a sense of achievement that this project is very real. For the record, he’s among the few these days who hears frogs, for many have disappeared, including those at Inglewood in the Adelaide Hills where the Wright family journey began.
Remarkably, the concept of turning tired farmland into an environmental or ecological triumph is one of a kind in Australia, and it’s in our backyard. Adam is providing project advisory skills on two new similar developments outside of Melbourne, but neither have anywhere the low ratio of housing to wetlands.
It is easy to see why Beyond has won a total of two dozen or more national and state awards for the wetland development, construction and residential development.
Adam said Beyond had two remaining stages, which are expected to be completed in four or five years. So far the tally reads:
Sites released: 115 sites with 105 sold
Current sites remaining: 40 including 20 currently in construction
Trees planted: 250,000 consisting of more than 60 species involving direct seeding. Majority are native.
Water plants: 50 species.
Bird species: 80 bird species including 70 new species to the area.
Fish & water: The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, in conjunction with Flinders University, has rated bio-filter and stormwater system the best in terms of health in the Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu region. This has led to the introduction of rescuing rare and endangered fish species including the Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeon freshwater fish and the Pigmy Perch.
Steve has also pledged and donated land to the Alexandrina and Victor Harbor councils to build a proposed $21 million swimming pool at the back of the Beyond development, facing Waterport Road. Again, the talk was ‘there must be a catch’, but you need to understand Steve’s philosophy in life. With much humbleness, he said it all started with a love of trees and the environment.
“I wanted to create something that improved the environment and was a great place to live,” Steve said. “I would also like to think I will leave this place better than I found it. You can’t take your money with you when you go, but you can leave an impression and something for others to enjoy.”
Adam said he knew that most people didn’t rate developers as the most trusted people in the world. “They always think there is a catch,” he said. “A lot of people came in and said, ‘oh yeah, another thousand homes’. We could have planned for that many if we applied for rezoning over the whole area, but instead there is going to be 250.
“This is a model that stacks up feasibly; it will work. We want to demonstrate that a project like this is sustainable financially otherwise it is not going to influence on the way people think. It could have made Dad an incredible wealthy person, but he is not driven by that. It is just one of the reasons I admire him.
“We had to spend a lot more money up front than a developer normally would to gain the trust of the people, and I hope a lot more people have now seen our vision and really know what we are about.
“The banks also thought our design guidelines were unfavourable, but we had seen this big shift in the mindset of what people want in sustainability. The guidelines have been our greatest asset… in simple terms the houses need to be energy efficient.
“All of the blocks are designed to face solar north. We have ensured no houses will shadow each other. Every house opens up to a reserve area.
“Compared with earlier standards, the houses here have better glazing, better insulation and cross ventilation, but we are not reinventing the wheel. When people built houses 100 or so years ago they did most of these energy efficient things without the luxury.
“We had to battle the preconception that energy efficient homes were generally difficult to build, but we showed how easy it was in our guidelines to take to the builder of your choice. Now the builders are getting more requests for being more energy efficient. It’s all about smart design.”
It has been a remarkable project that has placed Beyond Today and Chiton Retirement at the forefront of sustainable living right across the nation. Upon completion, probably by 2018, it is estimated it will have cost $170m – and not counting the swimming pool.
Walk or ride along the public trails at Beyond also built by Steve and his family and spare a thought for our former premier, the late Don Dunstan. It was his faith in a young man who should have died on a motorbike 12 months earlier that encouraged him to turn around that phrase by Mark Twain; that if something seems too good to be true, go beyond the realms of possibility.