Vacation Homes: Same as It Ever Was

  • Jennifer Hall

Like many private resort communities in the South, the recorded history of Hampton Island Preserve involves an indigenous tribe, plantation owners, and, eventually, developers. But unlike other Southern resort communities, Hampton Island Preserve—a 4,000-acre parcel located 35 miles south of Savannah, Ga.—will remain private and largely pristine.

The project broke ground in 2003, but development has been gradual and calculated, with two of the community’s largest assets—the 16,000-square-foot Hampton House and the Davis Love III–designed golf course—slated for completion this fall. The developers chose not to build a hotel, which means that only members and homeowners will have access to the island.

While the development is exclusive by design, the island is exclusive by nature. The ice cream cone–shaped parcel, which is technically a peninsula, is secured on the west by government-protected marshlands that merge with the Atlantic Ocean, guaranteeing that nearby beaches will remain deserted and undeveloped. A two-lane bridge at the preserve’s only entrance, near Interstate 95, crosses a creek to rugged limestone-gravel roads that run throughout the community and its 370 homesites. These tracts range in size from one acre to 100 acres and in price from $450,000 to $3.8 million.

In keeping the density at about one home per 10 acres, the developers are, in part, fulfilling the dream of the parcel’s previous owner, a retired money manager named John Morgan. Morgan purchased the acreage in 1997 to build a retreat, "but also to preserve and protect the property and its charm," writes Roger S. Durham, the author of Hampton Island: In the Midst of History, one of several publications—including an extensive wildlife-management plan—that Morgan commissioned upon purchasing the plot. Morgan sold the entire estate six years later to developers who planned to construct an exclusive, low-density community that would maintain the integrity of Morgan’s preserve.

By 2005, when they completed the initial building phase, which included a 16-acre organic farm and farmhouse, a multisuite guesthouse, and two open-air spas, the new owners had sold fewer than 20 homesites, and only one home had been completed. In 2006 they hired Ronald S. Leventhal, the president of Atlanta-based Tivoli Communities, to get the development back on track.

In his role as managing partner, Leventhal completed the $8.85 million equestrian center, which includes 12 stalls equipped with ceiling fans and automatic water dispensers, and continued work on the golf course and Hampton House, both of which will open in 2009. Hampton House will offer accommodations for 16, a 30-seat dining room, and a wine cellar designed by Rob Mondavi (grandson of the late Robert). The community provides such amenities as a seaplane to transport residents to secluded beaches and a variety of boats for deep-sea or lake fishing.

Since Leventhal’s arrival, the developers have sold 32 additional homesites, and four new homes have broken ground. Because the preserve does not allow destination clubs to purchase homes or memberships, and the community places restrictions on renting, Hampton Island will likely remain exclusive for years to come.

Hampton Island Preserve, 912.880.8888, www.hamptonisland.com

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