By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
We have been watching with fascination the construction of one of the new private residential communities in Huatulco. The fence that divides this new property from our Huatulco winter rental condo is only a few feet from one of the swimming pools where we exercise for a least an hour almost every day. And the newest triplex building being constructed is just a few feet away on the other side of the fence. For several years, we’ve experienced the clearing and pounding first carried out to prepare the land before building, then the constant drone of digging and cement mixing for foundations. And currently, hammering starting early in the morning and often continuing until sundown as walls rose up around the property. We watch with awe as workmen perch precariously on the partly constructed building, spend hours bending metal rebar by hand into infrastructure, line up and toss bricks man-to-man to positions readied for laying, and build wooden sections higher and higher from the ground. We’re always impressed with the appearance of the giant concrete extruder that looks and sounds like a mechanical Tyrannosaurus rex but is obviously tamed since workmen guide the mouth to the perfect place where the beast spits just the right amount of concrete to reinforce the structure.
How Does It All Get Done? Let’s Ask Greg Glassman
Although for several years we’ve experienced this ongoing construction, we realized we had little understanding of how this development and other new private residential properties come into being. So asked one of the primary people involved in developing the next-door property, Greg Glassman, who with his partner, Engineer Fernando Gonzales, founded their construction company, PROH (pronounced “Pro”) in 2016. PROH is responsible for the ongoing development of the new community named “Amanecer” (dawn/sunrise) designed by Architect Jorge Herrera. Our outreach to Greg was hardly a “cold call.” We’ve known Greg and his wife Courtney even before they moved here from California in 2005 to start their real estate company, Resort Real Estate (now in the capable hands of Valerie Verhalen and Arianna Rollo).
Greg, who was born in Los Angeles, raised in Agoura Hills, attended college in Boulder, Colorado, and earned a BA degree from the University of California, San Diego, first came to Huatulco in 1997. At that time his father was building his dream retirement home in Conejos – it was Greg’s first taste of coastal construction. When we first arrived in Huatulco in 2001, the Glassmans were already entrenched in the community and provided a warm welcome to us, as we were among the few Americans who had also discovered paradise.
In additional to Amanecer, Greg was also instrumental in building the private residential community Montecito (near La Bocana) and also a third development called the Cove at Reco that is in its beginning stages in Tangolunda. When we asked Greg for a basic tutorial on community development, he graciously agreed to answer our very fundamental questions, realizing that we and many The Eye readers had no knowledge of what is entailed.
Development Is Collaborative
Greg made very clear his involvement in Huatulco development has been through collaborative endeavors involving realtors, investors, architects, the construction company, and subcontractors including carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. The very idea of private residential communities in Huatulco arose from realtors whose clients asked about the availability of that type of living arrangement in Huatulco. Although there were a growing number of private gated condo associations and residential areas with private homes in publicly accessible areas, unlike in the U.S. there were no gated developments of private homes here, much less with ocean views.
The idea of developing such a community appealed to a developer with whom Greg had a relatively long association. Together, Greg, that developer, and architect Diego Villaseñor developed the conceptual design, which is basically an artistic concept rather than a specific design. As in the development of other conceptual designs, the team, using graphic “mood boards” discussed and identified the characteristics of potential residents, including income level, whether they are likely to be permanent or part-time residents, the life-style that would be most appealing to them and the impact on the larger community. The graphics of possible lay-outs for the proposed community used simple circles to demarcate homes and other buildings. The concept that emerged in this case was to develop a luxury community for affluent clients who desired a unique living experience by the sea. The concept ultimately was translated into Montecito (little mountain), the “private and exclusive” gated community of large villas above La Bocana. “Montecito” echoes the name of an exclusive community near Santa Barbara, California, currently home to Prince Harry and other notables.
Greg said that in general when developing private residential communities, his site selection criteria include an accessible location with good existing infrastructure such as electricity and water, a size sufficient for multiple homes, a site that faces east or south to provide ideal sunlight conditions, and an ocean view that provides an interesting perspective such as lights across a bay or other natural features, rather than just endless water. He also seeks topography that allows for creative design, and likely prevents any other structure being built that would block the view. FONATUR (Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo), the government agency that controls development in Huatulco, constrains site selection with its zoning and its schedule for when to release particular sites. After the collaborating team viewed a relatively large tract of land in the area of La Bocana that Fonatur was willing to sell, they agreed that the site met their criteria.
Design – Conceptual and Schematic
Although, according to Greg, it is usually best to have a conceptional design before selecting a site, sometimes an appealing tract of land becomes suddenly available, and a decision is made to purchase it before the conceptual design is finalized. The development of a conceptual design is more philosophical and artistic than nuts-and-bolts. The team develops overall concepts such as what the “pillars” and what the “soul” of the community will be. Informed by these concepts and of course considering the terrain of the site, the architect can begin formulating the layout of the community, indicating structures with circles rather than specific designs.
The next step is referred to as schematic design. The team, especially the architect, turn their attention to all the details of the homes, common areas, and circulation to be constructed. The process is not only art, but engineering as well. In Huatulco and other coastal areas developed by FONATUR, all designs must be reviewed by the agency to make sure that regulations established by FONATUR, including distance from the ocean and elevations, are in compliance. And all construction and engineering plans and documents must be reviewed by an independent agent who reports to the municipality. In addition, as north of the border, an environmental impact study (called MIA) must be submitted to and approved by SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, the oversight department in the Federal government) – a practice initially ignored in the early years of construction in coastal Oaxaca but now a regular procedure.
Once all government documents are signed, sealed and delivered, the actual construction process that neighbors can watch begins. The workmen whom we’ve watched with fascination preparing the land and building the triplex homes in Amanecer are a mix of construction teams either employed full time or subcontracted by PROH.
While some full-time construction workers live locally and go home at night, a substantial number are from relatively distant areas, including out-of-state residents, and live on the construction site. To serve their needs, PROH is responsible for providing shelter and dining facilities. And of course, the construction company is responsible for the purchase and delivery of all construction materials.The ongoing day by day supervision of the construction process is provided by one or more employees at the management level who are on site whenever work is being performed.
After construction is complete, the finishing touches of homes are left up to individual clients. However, because Huatulco has limited businesses providing furniture and other materials for creating a home from an empty house, PROH, in concert with an interior design team, provides furniture packages and other services, so that after taking possession of a unit in a new private residential community, the owner can simply walk into a fully-furnished and stocked home, relax and enjoy the view.
When asked when his job is done and he can walk away from one of the communities he’s involved in developing, Greg laughed and explained; “Building of the last Villas at Montecito is still in process, Amanecer just broke ground on 2 new buildings and the Cove at Reco has 17 new homes in the pipeline. The future of Huatulco is bright, I love what I do and don’t see myself walking away anytime soon.” We however will not be sorry to see the PROH workmen depart from constructing the building adjacent to our pool viewing area – knowing that they will be gainfully employed drilling, hammering, and tossing bricks at another developing private residential community.