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Originally published September 7, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Page modified September 12, 2012 at 4:38 PM

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Under construction: New city from scratch

Newland Communities starts 25-year project to develop Tehaleh in Pierce County.

Special to The Seattle Times

Tehaleh at a glance

Size: 4,218 acres southeast of Tacoma

Zoning: 419-acre business park

Builders: Benjamin Ryan, Lennar, Quadrant Homes, Richmond American Homes and Shea Homes

Phase I: 390 homes

Homes: 5,900 homes; flexible floor plans from 1,350- 3,300 square feet; prices starting at $210.000; includes 55+ community.

Amenities: 10 miles of trails, six parks along with open space.

Schools: 7 schools in the Sumner School District; Donald Eisman Elementary School completed

-- Newland Communities

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Residents of nearby Bonney Lake are waking up to something they may have been thinking they would never see: homes being built on the site of the former Cascadia Master Planned Community.

A joint venture between Newland Communities and North American Sekisui House (NASH) bought Cascadia out of bankruptcy in 2011 and re-christened it Tehaleh. Builders starting constructing model homes in July. Local leaders say they are pleased that the new developers have retained Cascadia's original forward-thinking ideas.

"The idea of combining homes and places to work within the same community was Cascadia's original vision, and Newland has a great record for that kind of master- planned community," said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.

Newland plans an ultimate build out over the next 20-25 years of some 5,900 homes, along with nearly 4 million square feet of commercial and retail space.

It is in essence building a new city from scratch.

"Tehaleh is an opportunity to create a live, work and play community in a neat environment and on a large scale," said Scott Jones, Newland's vice-president and general manager.

By neat environment, Jones is referring to the 10 miles of hiking trails, woodlands, open space and more than 1,000 acres of parks that abut Tehaleh's boundaries. Located 45 miles south of Seattle and 20 miles east of Tacoma, Tehaleh also features striking postcard-worthy views of Mount Rainier, 25 miles away as the crow flies.

False start

Tehaleh got its start back in the 1990s. Developer Patrick Kuo had grand designs for the land once owned by Weyerhaeuser timber company.

Construction began in 2005 just as the real-estate market was booming but was halted in 2008 with just an elementary school and infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks built. HomeStreet Bank foreclosed on the project in 2010 and ended up with the land.

Newland and NASH stepped in last year.

NASH, based in Arlington, Va., is the U.S. subsidiary of Sekisui House, Japan's largest homebuilder.

Phase One of Tehaleh calls for 390 homes to be built by a combination of five builders with occupancy beginning this fall. The nine homes under construction for the community's grand opening Sept. 29 represent a diversity of styles for buyers with a wide variety of tastes.

One of the five chosen builders, Richmond American, was attracted to Tehaleh by the opportunity to feature its broad spectrum of design styles, ranging from the Northwest Craftsman (gabled roofs, porches, exposed wood and stone exterior features) along with the more familiar Colonial and Contemporary designs.

"We've had a strong presence in Pierce County for the past five years," said Richmond American division president Rob Trent. "We're building homes there that reflect the lifestyle choices of the county's residents."

Located in unincorporated Pierce County, Tehaleh is near enough to the community of Bonney Lake that its mayor, Neil Johnson, one day envisions Tehaleh's annexation into community.

"We're excited about Tehaleh because we see its potential for attracting high-paying jobs to the area, such as something from the high-tech industry, as well as health-care facilities," Johnson said.

Resting with Bonney Lake atop a topographical plateau, Johnson points to the development's distance from the periodic flooding that plagues nearby areas such as the Puyallup River Valley. Less certain is Tehaleh's security from the rare but destructive potential of a Mount Rainier lahar event.

"Being on a plateau will prevent the destructive mud and debris flow of a lahar from affecting Tehaleh and Bonney Lake," Johnson said. "And we believe there are sufficient escape routes to the east of the plateau."

County Executive McCarthy says those evacuation plans are constantly being updated by the county's emergency-preparedness department.

"We are turning no blind eye to the potential of a lahar," she said. But she added: "That eye is also focused on the kind of smart, managed growth here that will help create a viable job market within the context of the county's rural character. The key is balance between growth and preservation."

The effects of a 1,000-year event notwithstanding, all involved are upbeat that this time, Tehaleh is a go.

"For builders, Tehaleh is an opportunity to gain a predictable market presence over time," says Quadrant Homes executive vice-president Mike Gray. "And the parks and trails that are a big part of Tehaleh's appeal is what 'lifestyle' homeowners are looking for."

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