PodcastMaster-Planned Communities

Building the Perfect Place One Home at a Time

Dean Wehrli

Dean Wehrli

December 30, 2022

Placemaking is as much art as science, maybe more. The lay of the land, the surrounding environment and uses, and the hopes and dreams and demands of your would-be buyers all must be served as you attempt to transform a location into a place.

Rancho Mission Viejo is one of the most experienced master plan developers in the country, making places in the very demanding Orange County, California market for decades. Kris Maher, Senior Vice President of Design at Rancho Mission Viejo, heads up a “creative collective” that guides their master plan placemaking. Join us for some of the lessons Kris has taken to heart, and her thoughts on placemaking—not just next year, but ten years from now.

Some highlights are:

Featured guest

Kris Maher, Architect and Senior Vice President of Design, Rancho Mission Viejo

A Visual Tour

Join us as Kris leads the way on a mind’s eye tour of what makes a great master-planned community. (We are on e-bikes, by the way.)

  • You speak to your buyers at the front of your community. Great monumentation sets that tone. You can vary characteristics throughout the master plan, but never stray too far from the overall theme and vision.
  • The first neighborhood in your community also sets this tone. The architecture, the home type, everything.
  • Amenities then should fit the scale of your community. Whether they are centrally located or dispersed—or both—will be defined by the scope of the community, your buyers, its geography.
  • Every place is different, even the ones you make, and knowing your target buyers should guide everything.


  • Rancho Mission Viejo looks to apartments as well to diversify their master plans and widen the user pool.
  • Sometimes your neighbor is not ideal—think railroad tracks or oil wells. Even cell towers can irritate. The best way to deal with not-so-great adjacencies is to “turn your back” to them. Keep the focus internal and buffer when you can, but sometimes those neighbors will impact your pricing.
  • Ultimately, you must make the best choice you can. Sometimes that will mean a retrofit. The market will tell you if you were right.

Planning Ahead

  • A great community can be created anywhere, not just in suburbia.
  • As the market turns you can adjust on the fly, but a master-planned community must be planned years in advance. Have confidence in your choices and that you know your market and your buyers. Trust the fundamentals of a place; the market will be different by the time your place is made.
  • Kris and her colleagues and consultants search the nation for great ideas to figure out what comes next not just next year but years from now.
  • Sometimes the next thing is outside the box. What about unmanned commuter aircraft? Will we really have autonomous vehicles? What does that mean for how we park and plan our communities? Where will work from home have taken us in ten years?
  • Kris thinks we will be more home-oriented—fitness, entertainment, socializing, work. Get the right technology that makes those trends work for your residents.
  • We will continue to push densities even in suburban spaces.
  • Keep your ear to the ground to predict the next pickleball, the next hot must-have. Be flexible, be ready, and strike—because the one constant is change.

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About The Author

Dean Wehrli
Dean Wehrli
Dean helps housing sector clients figure out not just what might work and what might not, but why.

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