Published by Detroit Free Press

RED-HOT AND RURAL: Metamora Village and Township are postcard-pretty and ready to take off

BY SUZETTE HACKNEY
FREE PRESS REAL ESTATE WRITER

It's about an hour's drive from downtown Detroit, but for the people who live in Metamora -- a small, rural area in southern Lapeer County with rolling hills and a weekly fox hunt -- that's the appeal.

Metamora Village and Township are a slice of farm country, complete with grassy knolls and historic, weatherworn barns. The wooded areas are virtually untouched. It's a place where hawks and bald eagles circle and deer, wild turkeys, pheasants and those previously mentioned foxes call home.

But much of that could change in the next several years as Metamora evolves into one of southeast Michigan's hot spots for real estate development.

Currently there are five major subdivisions under construction. They are:

The Estates of Metamora Country Club: About 270 homes around the Metamora Golf & Country Club range from 3,600 to 5,000 square feet. They are being constructed by Delcor Homes of Milford (248-969-8300) and will cost between the low-$300,000s and $500,000.

Steeplechase Properties: About 145 homes on 250 acres will measure 2,600 to 3,800 square feet. They are being developed by a private landowner, Dr. Don Klein, a radiologist, (248-885-2535). Lots cost $94,000 to $115,000. Various builders put up the first 19 homes. They cost $500,000 to $900,000. Marquis Builders of Metamora (248-830-4966) is now building three spec homes on the site.

Highlands of Metamora: 19 homes ranging from 2,000 to 2,400 square feet on one-acre lots. They are being built by Fritz Builders of Romeo (586-752-6593). Prices start at $450,000.

Fox Hollow Condominiums: A 78-unit condominium complex -- the first ever in the village. Ross Building Group Inc. of Metamora (810-678-2700) is constructing the condos. They'll range from 1,490 to 1,550 square feet and cost from $250,000 to $315,000.

Village of Metamora Country Estates: An exclusive, gated community of eight homes on land from 3.2 acres to 4.45 acres. They will be developed by Brechtwood Development (810-664-4399); Homewood Building Corp. of Metamora (810-664-0713) is constructing the first home, a 2,100-square-foot house with a 2,100-square-foot finished basement for about $300,000.

Maintaining the space
For a growing number of metro Detroit baby boomers and families who crave more land, Metamora -- an American Indian name meaning "among the hills" -- has become a rural destination. Developers and builders are constructing affordable condominiums, $2-million mansions, and renovating old farmhouses -- all this tucked away in a quaint 36-square-mile area where everyone knows their neighbors. Even if those neighbors aren't within walking distance.

Zoning restrictions limit the number of homes that can be built in a particular area. For example, in most of the township, there is a 10-acre minimum, meaning you have to buy at least 10 acres to build a home on the property.

"The appeal is you've got the beauty of the countryside, and everybody knows who your neighbors are, though you're not on top of each other," said Carole Porretta, an agent at Willowdale Realty and Development Co. in Metamora. "There's a big push to come up here because it's still quite affordable, and people are willing to migrate from Oakland and Macomb counties because the taxes are better here."

Porretta said there is a comfortable price range for people who are interested in Metamora -- from about $160,000 to $2 million. Houses that cost between $250,000 and $400,000 are the most common sellers. Typically, homes are selling for $140 to $150 per square foot, she said.

Zoning restrictions were waived to allow for subdivisions and the condominium complex. Ross Building Group, the condominium builder, is offering 2- and 3-bedroom ranch condos intended for retirees. Called Fox Hollow Condominiums, the development offers three floor plans and the flexibility of a custom design in which a buyer can select many amenities.

The condos are built adjoining the woods and offer breathtaking views from their balconies. Many trees were preserved and the decks were cut and built around them. Standard features include granite countertops and backsplashes, cathedral ceilings, gas fireplaces with ceramic tiles and recessed lighting.

"I don't think we have to be cheap when building these condos," said Lisa Ross, vice president of the Ross Building Group. "We're not here to be charitable, of course we're here to make money. But we want to build something we can be proud of. A lot of people want to downsize from acreage but still have a view and luxury living."

Stylish downsizing
Bill and Mary Jo Lytle are just such couple. They own a 3,300-square-foot-home in Leonard, just north of Rochester. The house sits on 12 1/2 acres. They closed on a custom-designed, $315,000 condo in Metamora's Fox Hollow last December, and are simply waiting to sell their house -- they're asking $589,000 -- before they settle into their new home.

"For us it's really a matter of us being in our 50s and having a much larger home on a lot of acreage," said Bill Lytle, 58, owner of a management consulting business. "We love the country, and that's the reason we built in the county and have lived there for the last 10 years. We wanted to downsize so we could think about having more freedom and less upkeep, but we never wanted to leave our country setting.

"Metamora has a very wonderful, laid-back culture," he said. "It's still very agricultural. It really fit us beautifully."

Traffic crawl followed
It seems unlikely that someone working in downtown Detroit would make the commute from Metamora. But it's done. And the tranquility of country living is not without nightmarish traffic congestion. On a recent Friday, traffic on northbound M-24, or Lapeer Road, was stacked and unmoving for at least 5 miles.

"You really have to love it sometimes to live here," said Porretta, who has sold $55 million in Metamora real estate since 1997. "The roads are a bit of an issue for all of us. With the appeal and attraction of Metamora, something has to be done to improve the roads."

Porretta said a lot of her customers work in Automation Alley in Troy, or commute to Auburn Hills, Birmingham or Southfield.

Patty Banfield, president of the Metamora area Chamber of Commerce, said there are plans to widen M-24, but the project could be another 2 to 3 years away. Meanwhile, people continue to shift farther north, even from neighboring Oxford and Lake Orion, because they feel crushed by urban sprawl, she said.

"We have a very large equine community, and people are moving because of that," Banfield said. "A lot of younger, more affluent families are moving here because they want to get out of the city. They are feeling crowded."

Because of zoning restrictions, those who want to live in the heart of Metamora -- the heart of the hunt, as it's called -- must pay for at least 10 acres, and then the cost of building a home. Land in Metamora is selling for $17,000 to $22,000 per acre, Banfield said. The smallest homes being built on acreage in Metamora are 1,800 to 2,000 square feet.

"For the most part people realize if you want to live in the heart of the hunt, you're going to pay the price," Banfield said. "There is some prestige to having the 48455 Zip Code.

"We have the zoning restrictions in place, and the people in the position of power and influence all feel the same, that they want to preserve our appeal and quaintness of the area," she said. "We'd like to keep the open fields and the wildlife. I think people are moving out here because you can't always control where you work, and you may work in the middle of a zoo, but you can control, based on your resources, where you live."

A Metamora lifestyle
Historically, Metamora has been a happening place in metro Detroit because of its horse-friendly environment and foxhunts that take riders through the rolling hills of the region. The Metamora Hunt, an organization that has existed since the 1930s, has redcoat-wearing members who go on hound-led searches for foxes. Coyotes are hunted, too. The animals are not killed; it's all about the chase.

On hunt days, various landowners will allow the hunters to ride along their property. Before the festivities begin, the hunters gather at the hosting farmhouse for orange juice, sherry, scones and biscuits.

Others enjoy Metamora for the horse trails and the numerous stables and barns where they can keep their horses even if they live nearer the city. Then there are the lake properties that sit on Lake Metamora and Lake Lapeer.

Vintage homes and historical buildings also are a draw, said Pat Hackney, an agent with Coldwell Banker Whitman-Pope in Metamora. One cannot possibly visit Metamora without going to the Historic White Horse Inn, a restaurant that dates back to 1850 and has a menu that boasts tenderloin filet mignon, grilled baby lamb chops and chicken picatta.

Homes in the village mostly date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. They've undergone some renovations, but owners pay to keep the integrity of the homes intact. Many of the houses were built for wealthy people who traveled to these weekend homes from the Grosse Pointes, the Bloomfields and Birmingham.

Though the houses don't go on the market too often, Hackney is listing one on Casey Road. It's a 3,300-square-foot house with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths, sitting on 12 acres. The Greek revival-style home was built in 1838, and was renovated to add a skylight, slate kitchen countertops and wide crown moldings throughout. The asking price: $649,900.

The Casey Road home is one of five houses, all built between 1838 and 1890, that will be on the Lapeer Historical Society annual tour on May 22. (For more information, call 810-664-4428) Though it's been on the market since February, Hackney said she doesn't know how long the Casey Road home will remain there.

"For someone who wants a Metamora lifestyle, it's perfect," she said. "While there are no sidewalks for children to ride bikes down here, there are all kinds of other things they can learn about. They can go find those frogs in the pond and raise flocks of chickens themselves or have their own gardens. Living here just gives you opportunities you don't have in the city or in more populated areas."

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WHERE WE LIVE: Metamora Township & Metamora Village Lapeer County

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