Wired Housing Is A Test Case

HOLLAND — Plans for a “wired” housing project connected to a fiber-optic network looping through the area could provide a model for future ventures to come, parties to the arrangement say.

Bosgraaf Homes Inc. has struck a unique arrangement with the Holland Board of Public Works and local Internet service provider EagleNet for the $25 million Cobblestone development that will feature direct fiber-optic connections to each dwelling, which residents can use for high-speed Internet service and a myriad of high-tech “smart home” services in the future.

The project will serve to gauge the local interest among consumers to have high-speed data transmission lines built directly into their new homes, said Michael Bosgraaf, president of Bosgraaf Homes.

With wireless Internet service and technologies now beginning to emerge, the housing development industry has yet to reconcile which direction to go to satisfy the tastes of today’s technology-savvy consumer, Bosgraaf said.

“It’ll be interesting and it’ll be a test case,” he said. “The debate is still out there.”

Cobblestone, Bosgraaf said, “represents an important step in how forward-thinking residential projects can be designed in a manner that grows with technology and with demands of the market.”

The Cobblestone development, as it’s known, will feature 88 single-family homes and 22 townhouses on acreage located on Holland’s south end, at Graafschap Road and 40th Street. The development will feature a “new urbanism” design, with wide sidewalks, narrow streets, garages in the back of the home accessed through rear alleys, a community pool and a central community park for residents.

Homes will sell for between $190,000 and $375,000, Bosgraaf said. Townhouses will start at $150,000. Sixteen of the 26 new homes planned in the development’s first phase are already sold, with the first residents scheduled to move in around Nov. 1.

Wiring the homes with fiber-optic lines will enable residents to install high-tech amenities such as digital television, remote Web-controlled heating, cooling, lighting, irrigation, and video security systems and appliances, as well as local and long-distance telephone service.

The Holland BPW will install fiber-optic lines throughout the development and provide the needed equipment and support for residents to connect to a network the utility first deployed throughout the city during the 1990s and continues to expand.

The BPW in recent years has begun to lease out space on the network to businesses and individual residents seeking access to a high-speed transmission system, General Manager Tim Morawski said. Bosgraaf was the first developer that sought to have an entire housing project connected to the system, Morawski said.

If Bosgraaf Homes finds strong market reaction, the BPW will likely see further interest from residential developers for similar arrangements, he said.

“This is probably a trend,” Morawski said. “I don’t know if there’s a demand out there yet, but I do think it will occur.

“A lot of developers are going to be watching this.”

EagleNet, a division of Grand Rapids-based ISP Iserv Co., will provide Cobblestone residents free high-speed Internet service and plans to develop future applications designed to take advantage of the high-speed data network.

“We expect great opportunities for Cobblestone residents,” Iserv Co. Chief Executive Officer Vic Shepherd said.

Bosgraaf Homes, after finding out the fiber-optic network ran nearby, worked with the Holland BPW for two years to work out plans and have lines extend to the development site, Mike Bosgraaf said.

The developer sought to have the project wired with fiber-optic lines to satisfy the kind of tech-savvy, upscale professional clientele it serves, he said. Connecting the development to a high-speed network provides Bosgraaf Homes a unique amenity with which it can market homes.

“Consumers are definitely demanding it,” Bosgraaf said. “It’s one thing to have it available in the community. It’s another thing to have it into the houses and usable.”

Accessibility to a high-speed data network right now remains a perk, he said. In the future, as consumers become more accustomed to using the technology and aware of its potential applications, they eventually will see it as a necessity, Bosgraaf said.

“As people get used to it, I don’t think they’re going to be willing to live without it,” he said.           

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