Oak Lawn area suits developer

Andy Carnahan was in his mid-20s when he began developing townhomes in the Oak Lawn area in 1998. Now 32, he has shifted his focus to boutique condominiums — think “Melrose Place” — and has grown his business, Foresite Development Ltd., into a $35 million operation.

Carnahan’s third condo project, Vallera, a Tuscan villa-style complex on Holland at Oak Lawn Avenue, will break ground in 30 days. Nine of the 27 units, which range in size from 1,300 square feet to more than 1,800 square feet and in price from $199,000 to $355,000, have already been sold.

All are two-bedroom flats, some with an extra study. Standard features include bamboo and hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and travertine floors.

Construction will wrap up in early September on The Sullivan, a 30-unit development at 4343 Gilbert Ave., where all but five units have been sold. They start at $185,000 and go up to $320,000 and range in size from 1,100 square feet to 1,600 square feet.

First success

Foresite’s first condo development was a 19-unit complex called The 19, also on Gilbert Avenue.

“It was a first-generation product, and no one had ever done anything like it in the area,” Carnahan said. “Eighty percent of the units were sold at completion of construction, and the others sold within a few months thereafter.”

Al Coker with Dallas-based Al Coker & Associates is overseeing sales of Carnahan’s projects. He said they’re successful because the price point is hitting the market dead-on.

“It’s like people are getting a Mercedes 450 SL but only having to pay for a 300,” he said. “They’re still getting the quality design and the engineering and the location but, because the developments are smaller, construction time is shorter and pricing is better.”

Underground parking helps Foresite increase density. It also helps attract single women and other safety-conscious buyers. The fact that each of Carnahan’s projects have a different look helps protects investments, Coker said.

“One might be Mediterranean and another might be inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, so someone can’t just walk down the street and find another development just like it,” he said.

Fewer building sites

With land near Oak Lawn becoming scarce — and pricey — Carnahan is eyeing East Dallas for future developments.

“Oak Lawn is almost built out,” he said. “Everything is boxed in by the highways; it has just been a matter of filling in the middle.

“We really like the neighborhood and are going to try to stay as long as we can. They just don’t grow 150-year-old trees anymore. But we’re also starting to look to the east; it’s where everything is going next, geographically.”

The challenges of building in Uptown, known for its rigorous approvals process, have helped keep competitors at bay, Carnahan said.

“Many lessons have been learned by new guys coming into Oak Lawn,” he said. “Once you learn how to do it, it’s a nice barrier to entry. The size of our projects also helps. The big guys don’t have any interest in building 30 or 40 units, but it works for me.”