How to build a town from scratch, Casey Roloff '95

Adjacent to Pacific Beach, Wash., about 18 miles north of Ocean Shores, Casey Roloff’s new beach community, Seabrook, is abuzz with activity. Construction workers come and go in mud-splattered pickup trucks. Pallets of building materials litter the sidewalks. A street sweeper rumbles down recently paved roads.

Architecturally, the boxy, shingled houses resemble ones you’d see in the North End of Tacoma, or somewhere on Cape Cod. Yet there’s also something surreal about Seabrook.

None of the house lots have lawns. Fences are barely waist high, and sidewalks snuggle up to front porches—inviting easy conversation among neighbors and passersby. Streets are narrow, seemingly more suited to people than to cars.

On one street, a ready-built lemonade stand sits vacant, waiting for an entrepreneurial youngster to set up shop. Old-fashioned bicycles are everywhere. A public green space sports a communal fire pit, stocked with firewood.

Is Seabrook a residential community? A vacation resort? Actually, it’s both.

“There are so many subtleties to town building,” says Casey, who’s built two similar, smaller developments on the Oregon coast.

In its short history, Seabrook, which eventually will comprise 400 homes, has already been championed as an example of “new urbanism”: a walkable community built using environmentally sustainable practices and “green” construction materials such as reclaimed lumber and low-VOC paints, which release fewer toxins into the air.

But, in Casey’s opinion, green is “an overused buzzword right now,” and many self-professed new-urbanist developments out there don’t quite get it right.

The keys, he says, are to have everything one needs within a five- to 10-minute walk—a community that’s built “on a pedestrian scale rather than an automobile scale”—and to use materials that will age gracefully.

“There’s nothing greener than building houses that will last hundreds of years,” Casey says.

Humble yet self-assured, Casey has long been interested in real estate and development. He graduated from high school with a 1.34 grade point average and attended four different colleges before following his future wife, Laura Pfeifer ’97, to Puget Sound. He was denied admission twice before finally getting in.

While in college, he started a painting business, then got his real estate license. Later, he discovered Seaside, Fla.—a visionary community built by Robert Davis, considered a landmark in the new-urbanist movement and named Design of the Decade in 1990 by Time magazine.

Washington communities like Oysterville, Port Townsend, Port Gamble, and Tacoma’s North End—places built largely before the automobile was introduced—also served as inspiration.

“We’re not reinventing anything,” Casey says of Seabrook. “We’re just learning from the past.”

Future plans for Seabrook include a town center, featuring restaurants, retail shops, a grocery store, a bank, and more, without “a ‘big box’ in sight.”

By keeping many of the houses as vacation rentals, and the town and beach open to the public, Casey hopes Seabrook will serve as “a model of a walkable town,” of what new development could be, prompting more pedestrian-oriented communities.

— Andy Boynton

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