Many builders would leap at the opportunity to build in a community like Fort DuPont.
Built on the site of an old military post along the Delaware River, the planned mixed-use community offers a rare opportunity for waterfront development in the region. Set among vintage buildings and homes dating from the 1800s, as well as water recreation activities, the project is a few minutes’ walk from the small town of Delaware City, Delaware, and offers easy access to Wilmington, Delaware; Philadelphia; and South Jersey.
“We love that it’s kind of private and pastoral,” says Greg Lingo, president of Rockwell Custom, the builder constructing 83 homes in the community’s Canal District and Officers Row neighborhoods. “What’s attractive to the customer is that they feel like they walk back in time, but at the same time they feel like they’re getting new product, which is cool.”
But while the community would be a dream for any builder, Lingo and Rockwell Custom had a special advantage when it came to jumping on the opportunity: experience and familiarity with propane.
Meeting the demand for gas
Because Fort DuPont is off the beaten path and never had a dense population — it’s close to, but not on, a direct commuter route — the area never had access to natural gas. But buyers in this market have a strong preference for gas heating and amenities. Lingo knew from experience that there was an easy alternative. He had previously worked on communities built with propane, including a 24-townhome community in the Philadelphia suburbs and the 563-home Carriage Hill community in Plumstead Township, Pennsylvania.
“Some of our competition may not be as comfortable with propane as we are,” Lingo says. “It probably availed the community to us when it may not otherwise have.”
Rockwell Custom’s work began with renovating several old officers’ quarters that, along with some nearby office buildings, already used propane. The 83 homes in the Canal District neighborhood are a mix of attached and detached single-family homes and will be built out in 2020 and 2021. For now, the homes are fueled by individual propane tanks. The development team is evaluating using a community propane system — an option Lingo is familiar and comfortable with from his work on Carriage Hill — and will make a decision in the spring of 2020.
Propane heating and in-demand amenities
Being able to offer gas heating in an area where it’s more cost-effective than electric heating was a key factor for Lingo in turning to propane. Delaware’s climate experiences common cold snaps in the winter. “We feel like forced-air gas heat is just the most comfortable way to live for our buyers,” he says.
The Canal District homes will also offer other propane amenities as options or standard features. Rockwell Custom’s buyers prefer gas-fueled water heating, and with propane available, they’ll also have the option of choosing a tankless water heater instead of the standard tank-style unit. The homes will offer propane cooking and fireplaces as options. “As we’re building a comfortable community, it’s more than just a perception of comfort to sit around a fireplace,” Lingo says.
Outdoor living is a major attraction for the riverfront community, and some of the homes include large decks overlooking the water. The homes will include an outdoor propane line that homeowners can use to fuel an outdoor grill without the need to monitor or replace a portable tank.
Selling homes faster and better
As more phases of the Fort DuPont master plan are constructed, natural gas may be available in the community in the future. But as Rockwell Custom kicked off construction, it was still going to be at least 18 months before the gas lines arrived. Without propane, that delay would have been a deal breaker, Lingo says. “We wouldn’t be there. No question.”
Instead, with propane amenities, Lingo expects the homes to sell quicker and for a better price. “We see that offering to our customers as essential to being able to sell the houses for what we want to sell them for,” he says.
Those high expectations make it easy for Lingo to be excited about being part of the next step in the evolution of this remarkable piece of land, he says. “It has rich history from the military standpoint, and just being part of that land is really pretty cool.”