Oklahoma developer carves out luxury amid the trees

Near the elbow formed by Interstate 35 and the Kilpatrick turnpike is a nature reserve where visitors can hike seven different trails, picnic in a gazebo and fish in a stocked pond.

They can also, if so moved, purchase a lot and build a home in what has become one of the area’s most distinctive developments.

Developer David Yost delicately carved Stonemill, an addition that first opened to homeowners in 2002, from 130 wooded acres. Yost is widely recognized for his environmental protection efforts and for his design of communities and neighborhoods.

Stonemill Park, 13 acres of trails and shaded glades that form the backbone of Stonemill, is home to the plants and wildlife that Yost has always wanted to be the centerpiece of his development.

Sightings of opossum, raccoon, beaver, bobcat, white-tail deer and other species are not uncommon, he said.

Close to nature

For Kathy Steffen, who has called Stonemill home for almost three years, the proximity of nature had a lot to do with the location she chose on Watermill Road.  "I loved how we were surrounded by vegetation,” Steffen said.

Like Yost, Steffen was diligent in her approach to building in Stonemill. "We took a couple of years to do the drawings,” she said. "I guess you could say I’m picky.”

Yost would say the same thing.

"I’m very strict about plan approval,” he insisted. "We’ve turned down quite a few if they were inappropriate for Stonemill.”

The preservation of the property’s tree population was Yost’s foremost concern when he first purchased the land that became Stonemill in 1993.

"The property was almost totally wooded,” said Yost, who has been named builder/developer of the year by both the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association and the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association. "I immediately began meeting with an urban forestry consultant to understand how our tree resources should be factored into development plans.”

Tree locations determined street right-of-ways in the addition, as well as utility placement. Both Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Oklahoma Natural Gas bored under certain trees to prevent their removal.

Even the exact placement of the entry gate was deliberate.

"We selected the entry location based on larger trees that could remain part of the entry island,” Yost said.

The final landscaping of that spot, and of much of the rest of Stonemill, features trees transplanted from Yost’s onsite tree farm and from a 300-acre tree farm Yost operates near McLoud.

Yost said that all lots in Stonemill require a 10- to 15-foot "tree preservation area” between the road and landscaped areas of the home, creating a continuous verdant canopy that lines the streets, joining home sites.

Landscaping rules

In addition to the tree preservation area, Yost has instituted landscaping requirements to subtly blend a home site with its environment.
Even for a 14,500-square-foot home being prepared for occupancy this fall, builder Wayne Griffiths has placed boulders and transplanted native trees to create an effect of undisturbed natural surroundings.

"The home includes a garage for a huge RV and an indoor basketball court — but still, it blends right in with the surrounding forest,” Yost said.

The Steffens purchased their Stonemill lot about three years before ultimately moving in.

"I’d built before so I know you have to get it right on paper first,” Steffen said. "That way you eliminate a lot of headaches.”

The Steffen home fits in with the overall Stonemill gestalt in its Old-World styling, in its reliance on geothermal heating and other energy-saving features.

And in its respect for trees.

Overhead beams in the living room, which add to the rustic charm of the home, are timbers reclaimed from a factory in Philadelphia.