Project Update: Where did the fall go?

All-sports lake in heron lake

Hard to believe that this fall has already gone, but the snow this past week certainly helped! In honor of this quick season change, and to reduce the good natured pestering that I have received about my lack of updates, I am posting another now. Those on our mailing lists already received the majority of this information but I wanted to make sure everyone is up to date. You can download the pdf attached to that mailing here:

Nov 12th – Looking South From North Bay

Since that last mailing list update, I’ve continued to have people contact me for a project updates and recent images. I’ve dropped the ball again but rest assured that our updates and frequency will be increasing. And even this past mailing list update occurred at another hectic cross roads, coinciding with the two year anniversary of commencing development work. As I shared then, this project has shown me that as we reach these milestones, Heron must adapt to meet the new needs.

What a difference 75 days makes!

What a difference from the snow picture above! Indiana only needed 75 days this year to make that happen. Above, my kids are making full use of a ‘2 person’ tube, at least as a handy swim platform. I’m not sure what it would take to pull it!

New Heron Team Members

As shared in the prior mailing list update it was obvious that Heron was demanding more time than our team could give. It was encouraging that our planning was progressing and even with the delays of a large complex project the regional impact was increasing. Since I first started pursuing the Heron project in 2013 it has grown in leaps and bounds and now it is time for our team to do the same. We announced that our team was growing!

Mike Thomas Associates (MTA) is our new residential marketing team and Xplor Commercial is our new commercial marketing team. Their collective experience and structure will provide the backbone to meet our unique needs. MTA will be overseeing and providing marketing, sales support, and perhaps the most encouraging for me is site tours! I have truly enjoyed all of the tours that I have given, meeting everyone, and discussing the details of the community planning. But it was time for me to focus on the final lake improvements, community planning, commercial start-up, and sitewide amenities. Please reach out to MTA’s Andrea Zehr or Jay Price for any information about the site or their decision to represent this community. I know that they have received a warm welcome and lots of inquiries. We are excited to have them on board!

Special Open House

MTA and Lakewood Park Christian School have a special open house this Friday, Nov 22nd from 2PM-4PM. There will be cheese and crackers with information about the school and the Heron Lake project. It is being held at the Buescher Model home on Lot 1. Having Lakewood so close to the Heron Lake project is a great positive for families looking for alternative education options for their children.

Moon rise over a foggy covered Heron Lake
Sandy beach placement within The Springs.

Beaches are in the Springs!

A number of the houses under construction were finished this fall and we are happy to have more families on-site. Other onsite activity included the beaches within The Springs being placed in anticipation of the lake restored to normal level this upcoming summer. Being able to truly utilize the space between the house and lake has always been a driving design factor in our community planning. And we are seeing large patios with yard to spare, inground pools, and other outdoor living spaces being placed in this 80ft wide strip.

Our tour pontoon got quite a work out this summer. We also included a number of tubing and skiing trips for those interested in experiencing the lake. When they are available again this upcoming year, please come for a spin.

Home of the Year

Congratulations on Bob Buescher Homes being awarded Home of the Year for the Best of Home Design contest. Come visit Andrea Zehr or Jay Price at this model home and experience it for yourself.
Timberlin house on Lot 4

Thank you everyone for your responses and feedback on our new marketing and sales team. As I said earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone during the early phases of the Heron project. It was a pleasure to share the vision and receive feedback on our planning. Your comments and thoughts did not go unnoticed. We have tried to provide the lifestyle and community that we value most. And we stand committed to that vision and those goals, regardless of the delays and Indiana weather!

The resident swan families lifting off for an evening flight

In this upcoming year I look forward to moving my family to Heron and enjoying the fruits of everyone’s efforts over these past years. It has been a concerted group effort by so many individuals and families. And it reminds me that during this season of reflection we truly have plenty of blessing for which to be thankful. I hope and pray that the same is for you this year and that you have a pleasant Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

My very best regards,

Stephen Brown

Managing Partner

Waiting for that sunny day.

These past months have been an absolute whirlwind. Between preparing construction documents for our sections to be constructed this year and trying to keep up with inquiries, we have been thankfully quite busy. However, the web update could wait no longer. Even if the sunny day that surprised us wasn’t ideal, we were going to get those drone photos that everyone keeps asking us for.

Show us the houses under construction.” This is common request and we have complied, see below.

North facing comparison

The image above shows the current homes under construction with the marketing sheet perspective for comparison to the right. Note the apparent size comparison between the houses, Bob Buescher’s model home on Lot 1 is only slightly smaller in square footage than the house on Lot 19. And Lot 19 isn’t even a third of the way up the lake! It is quite exciting seeing the house starts and we are looking forward to a few more in these upcoming weeks.

“Show us what the houses look like from the north basin.” This is another typical request. Given the length of the lake and distance to travel around, very few people make it all the way to the northern end. Unless you’ve been on a tour, you probably haven’t been on the 3 mile loop all the way around.

South facing view comparison

As you can see from the image comparison above, the other reason we don’t typically post a lot of pictures from the north end is because you can’t see the homes to the south. They are basically a mile away and quite difficult to pick out of a picture. But hopefully the comparison above will demonstrate relative sizes and new perspective for most of you.

Thanks to everyone that have provided feedback on our townhouse planning and also attended the roundabout hearings. We still have not fully committed to the roundabout but hope that it will be possible. That intersection treatment is the best solution for this unique location.

Our website and marketing package is currently being overhauled with the new sections that will be available for transfer this year. We are looking forward to sharing our updated planning and timelines soon! Join our mailing list to stay up-to-date and don’t forget to schedule your free tour. As the weather permits your tour may also include a boat ride. Enjoy the sun while it lasts!

Will winter ever give up?

Has it really been three months since our last update?!  Looking at the record low temperatures for the start of March, it feels like this winter is trying hard to hang around. And between the weather and activities on-site the past three months have flown by.

We have been exceptionally busy with construction sets and design for this upcoming year.  But we can’t wait for the weather to finally break and start the main development work. We have been doing the prep work and are looking forward to seeing the improvements happen around the site.

During a January storm one of our snow removal crews was out keeping the tour route open (Yes, we still give a lot of tours in the winter!).  They were able to capture the video below of a waterfowl fly off.  It was quite spectacular! Many people on our tours prefer seeing the varying weather as it shows the true year round beauty of the lake.

Waterfowl fly off during snow storm at Heron Lake

When the weather finally does change it will also bring about a flurry of site activity. The construction sets for the final section of the Springs and the Reserva townhouses are being routed through the City of Auburn. The second section of commercial development will follow shortly after those are completed. Keep updated here at our website. The next 8-10 weeks are going to continue to be busy, regardless of the weather!

Don’t forget to schedule your tour! The changes to nicer weather typically fills out our schedule quite quickly!

Merry Christmas!

Another hectic year is coming to a close and as we reflect on the changes at the Heron Lake site a flurry of thoughts drift through our minds.  But the overwhelming thoughts this year is gratitude for the safety of our workers, the support from the community, and for the overall progress of the Heron Lake project.  Some of the major changes around the site include new houses, preparation work for the marinas, townhouses, and park spaces.  We look forward to this upcoming year and the changes that are in store for the project as we will be performing roughly two times the amount of improvements that have already been performed.  It is going to be a spectacular year!

As is our tradition we have sent out Christmas greetings each year that feature pictures from the lake.  We didn’t have any substantial snow yet this year so we used an image from an ice storm two years ago.  The seasonal cycle at the lake can be quite breathtaking and serves as a reminder that most change can be quite refreshing.  It also serves as a reminder that nothing around us is permanent, so seize the opportunities before you and put your time where your heart is!  Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from everyone at Heron Development!   

In the past couple of updates we have highlighted a handful of recurring questions from the past few weeks.  The most common question that we’ve received is related to the roundabout.  There have been a couple news articles regarding the roundabout in the past two weeks and we will be submitting our development plans in January.  We look forward to addressing the design concerns and other factors necessary in pursuing any development work. 

The next typical question is what houses are currently under construction.  There should be 6 homes under construction shortly.  The image below highlights two of the foundations recently started.  The next major sections to roll out will be the townhouses, and the remainder of the Springs.  The Estates and Bluffs will then commence for a mid spring rollout.

Houses under construction, the foundations highlighted are a quarter of a mile apart. 

Don’t forget to schedule your tour!  We look forward to answering any questions and helping you make the best decision for your housing needs!

Another angle of the main residential entrance.  The entrance will be completed later this spring.

Heron Property Taxes & Assessments

This update is somewhat unusual as we will have a brief discussion about the property taxes and Resident Assessment at Heron Lake.  In short, combined the property taxes and Resident Assessment at Heron Lake should be cheaper than just the taxes at your current lake house.  To find out how and why we planned it this way read below.  Otherwise, skip to the last paragraph for the brief update and look for the pictures!

Two of the more common questions we receive during tours concerns property taxes and our Resident Assessment.  Typically our tour guests are used to paying taxes on a secondary residence in the public lakeband that does not benefit from a homestead exemption.  In fact, along with actual projected site maintenance expenses, the homestead exemption was a primary factor in determining the target amount for the Resident Assessment at Heron Lake.

Lot 1 under construction

We did not want any homeowner to pay more for their combined property tax and Resident Assessment than a single secondary residence tax payment in the public lakeband.  Meaning that combining houses from Allen County and the public lakeband would always result in a major reduction in property taxes but what about the other recurring costs?  We wanted the recurring cost of living at Heron Lake to be less than the public lakeband and offer so much more in return.  Remember that this Resident Assessment covers lakeshore maintenance, trail access, marina access, etc. and other items/services not being provided in the lakeband.  So what impact does a homestead have?

Springs marina under construction. The far shoreline is 3/8 of a mile away.

Here are a handful of telling data points about the homestead exemption by county in 2017.  In Allen County the nonhomestead residential taxes were 19% of the overall residential taxes.  In DeKalb County this was 26% and in Steuben County this was 64%.  That means that in Steuben County the nonhomestead residential taxes account for twice as much revenue as the homesteads!  Whereas in Allen County the homesteads are over 4 times the revenue of the nonhomesteads.  Surprisingly, the amount of nonhomestead taxes in Steuben County was greater than the total residential taxes in DeKalb County.

These exemptions are not created equal as the reduction is not the same from county to county.  In Steuben County the average difference in your tax bill caused by the homestead exemption is a 9.3% reduction, in Allen County it is 12.5%.  In DeKalb County this homestead exemption is on average a reduction of 25.3%.  By analyzing these rate reductions and our overall maintenance planning, we are able to tell those people on tours that your tax bill on a secondary house in the lake band should be greater than your combined tax bill AND your Resident Assessment at Heron Lake.  And we will save this concept for another discussion:  Your tax rates at Heron will not be treated as if you are on lakefront, because the lake is privately owned, not owned by the State.

Crushing equipment for recycling the concrete on-site.

If you made it this far through the boring numbers and tax discussion, congratulations!  Here are a couple updates to reward your persistence.  We are excited to see our recycling efforts proceeding with material piles on site.  Watching the crushing and cleanup just reinforces how far along the site has come from four years ago when we took possession.  The homes under construction continue to progress and there should be a couple more started shortly so stay tuned.  The electric, data fiber, and natural gas are all being installed now as well.  Our site has City of Auburn water, sewer, electricity, data fiber, and NIPSCO for natural gas.

Electrical and fiber work for connections to the homes.

Thank you for your interest in the Heron Lake project, don’t forget to schedule your tour!

Roundabout Planning Underway!

We are pleased to announce that two weeks ago Heron Development received provisional approval from the Redevelopment Commission (RDC) for matching TIF funds to aid in our construction of a proposed roundabout.  These funds, up to $225,000, will be used for construction pending the additional approval of the final construction plans and permitting by the various agencies.  Heron is excited about the opportunity to improve this intersection and help aid in regional development and growth.  This intersection treatment, seen below, will accommodate all forms of traffic and allow for better traffic flows in the future as they continue to increase.  This roundabout is much larger than the roundabouts on Union Chapel Road in Allen County, instead using sizing currently in practice around Indianapolis.  This will provide our primary commercial entrance and we anticipate that it will commence construction next spring and be completed by early summer.  Thank you to all that appeared at the public meetings, met with us individually, or otherwise provide feedback and comments!

Proposed Roundabout

On other news, Bob Buescher Homes broke ground with trenching footers for their model home foundation today!  This model is going in at Lot 1 in The Springs.  We are excited to see the model homes start construction.  Stay tuned for other updates and keep your eyes open for other foundations being placed.  Should you have any questions about the Buescher model home please don’t hesitate to contact them at the number shown in the picture.


The other house in the picture is a private home being built by Timberlin on Lot 5.  It quite amazing to see the homes starting to take shape.  Don’t forget to schedule your tour and see the transformations occurring around the site!

Springs – Lot 1 – Bob Buescher Homes

Lot Configuration Comparison

Over the past couple weeks we have received quite a few follow-up questions to our post about the public lake band lot size comparison.  The exhibit from that post showed the entire Heron Lake site with the 300 additional residential lots that public lake sizing would have allowed on the site.  We have received requests to see a side by side comparison of the lot sizings used for that exhibit.  You can download a PDF version of that exhibit here.

The obvious difference is the overall size.  But when you dig deeper you’ll notice that the narrower lot also restricts the flexibility in house layout.  It is impossible to place an accessory structure and the space between the house and road becomes the only parking available.  The lake yard is so small that outdoor spaces are quite restricted.  This smaller lot was intended for short term visits to a bungalow or small cabin style house.  It was not intended for everyday use but more of a vacation house with intermittent stays.  These houses must typically be multi-level just to provide enough room for sleeping and support spaces.

Heron has focused on providing lot sizes that accommodate the lifestyle that the residents desire at Heron Lake.  With the greater flexibility of lot width and depth, houses can be designed with leeway to conform to the resident’s needs (side load garages, canted houses for best vistas, on-site storage, extensive outdoor lake yard space, etc.).  The site wide amenities and outdoor spaces will allow for a variety of uses and the residents will truly be able to live, work, and play at the same house.  Don’t forget to schedule your tour and see if the Heron community is a good fit for you!

What if? Heron Lake and public lake sizing comparison

This post covers some rather detailed analysis and contrast of lakefront properties in the Heron Lake PUD and the public lakeband.  For those of you that want the abbreviated version, read the next paragraph.  Those that want the details, continue below.

What would Heron be like if it had started as a public lake?

That is a common question on the tours, people wishing to contrast what they experience in the lakeband and what this new private lake concept will be.  We are asked that so often that we thought it’d be interesting to actually represent what we had so purposefully avoided in our planning, so we laid out Heron Lake as if it had started in the “bungalow era.” And presto, a lake that looks suspiciously like all of the other public lakes to our north and west.  Without the master planning and lot sizes that matched the current lifestyle needs, this incredible site has now been burdened with an additional 332 residential lots.  For perspective the PUD itself only has 179 residential lots total.  Notice the lakefront lot size difference, this will help with understanding the true size of Heron Lake compared to the public lakeband.

You can download a PDF form of the graphic above here.

What happened?

There are now 248 lots on water, instead of the 83 lots in the PUD filing, averaging around 60 feet of shoreline per 50 foot lot, which is the lakeband average.  For comparison the PUD lake lot average is around 115 feet of shoreline per 85 foot lot.  This increase in density is also seen off-lake with the remaining off-lake ground being gobbled up piecemeal and now looks like a patchwork quilt of various developer visions.  This tangled web of housing results in 511 lots total, instead of the 179 lots in the PUD, and roughly adds one more house per acre on the entire site!  Including the water!  We have lost the commercial benefits of proximity and traffic flow patterns, with those locations now an afterthought and spread amongst the residential housing.  The island is now hidden under 10 lots instead of parkspace and a four season rental pavilion.  There are no trails snaking around and through the natural elements of the site, so there is no ready access to the 65 acre Cedar Creek park corridor or Island.  Given the current lakefront situation, there probably aren’t even sidewalks along the road, which is winding and unsafe for sharing access to pedestrian, biking, etc.  It was actually rather depressing to see Heron Lake with this packed-in, stacked-up layout given the amount of time and effort expended to avoid this type of build-out.  But one positive thing stood out to us, the lake size was more readily apparent since the lot sizes were now comparable and relatable to those on the public lakeband.  For those that have been having issues visualizing and comparing the true size of the lake, this exhibit may help you immensely.

What is typical lakefront sizing?

If you’ve been on a tour then you know that we discuss the tens of thousands lake properties to the north and west.  This region is typically called the lakeband and is generally limited to Steuben, LaGrange, Noble, and Kosciusko Counties.  During our due diligence and planning we performed extensive studies on the typical lakefront lots and what was required for that lifestyle.  What we found provided the basis for our planning and hopefully helped us avoid the pitfalls of current public lakefront issues.  Those issues can be: elongated house spaces due to lot width, need to store items off-lot, lack of garage space for cars, no appreciable front or lake yard,  sight picture encroaching from adjoining lots, no sidewalks or pedestrian options, etc.

These issues should come as no small surprise as the overwhelming majority of public lake lots were sized and designed in another era and for much different clientele.  Probably the best phrase that sums up that previous planning is “bungalow-style intermittent vacation get-aways”.  Those lots, averaging 50 feet wide and 110 feet deep, are typically much too small for our current lifestyle and housing expectations.  Since starter home lots in subdivisions are now 65 feet by 125ft it is easy to see the problems.  There is no space for garage facilities (either side-to-side or in depth of lot) and the lot itself does not allow any meaningful outdoor spaces.  The bungalow planning was not community focused so there is virtually no sidewalk inter connectivity or park spaces for pedestrian enjoyment.  The bungalow focus was solely putting the smallest possible house on the smallest possible lot at the smallest possible expense.  It was not intended to support day-in, day-out living.

But my public lake lot isn’t the typical size?

You are in the group that lies outside the average.  When you have tens of thousand of lots, there will be those that lie outside the normal range.  Generally speaking a 50 foot by 110 foot criteria would encompass over 65% of the public lakefront lots.  There are 10% smaller than 50 x 110 and 25% that are larger.  It is a telling statistic that the larger lots are much more desirable and are still usually shallower in depth than the average Heron lake lot.  The usability of the lakefront is also a key component as the public lakes are virtually all marsh based and have extensive portions of shoreline that is un-usable. The proximity to easy travel routes is also critical.  Heron Lake is around 20-25 minutes time to downtown Fort Wayne.  This is easily half of the average travel time across the lakeband.

What lifestyle does Heron support?

Heron Lake is intended to be a primary residence location where the residents can Live, Work, and Play (LWP).  This one location LWP focus allows for better time efficiency and overall lifestyle enjoyment, as shifting from Live to Work and then Play can be made at a moments notice.  The lots are sized to accommodate accessory structures and house sizes that reflect the needs of the owners.  The parkspaces, trails, and other sitewide amenities provide the framework to enjoy and experience the site in a manner of your choosing, not what you are left with or have to make do with.  The commercial options on-site should help with daily and weekly needs, hopefully limiting those last minute runs that can consume so much time.  And last but not least is the lake itself, this all sports private lake will be the lifestyle focus for many.  We are excited about the activities that everyone will be doing!

We hope you enjoyed the exhibit and discussion above.  It is intriguing (to us at least) to think about what Heron Lake would have looked like during the bungalow era.  The many families that still enjoy the secondary residence aspect of lake life must contend with those limitations on a weekly basis.  But the draw of the water and enjoying nature outweighs those problems.  And for many it is also a family tradition and opportunity to spend time together.  Take advantage of those moments as you can.    Hopefully Heron Lake will enable our residents to focus more on the enjoyment and leave some of those headaches behind.   Don’t forget to schedule your tour and experience Heron Lake first hand!