Ten years and nearly 500 homes later, Greg and Brad McCall are pleased with the housing development they named after a significant piece of Billings history.
“Josephine Crossing is a riverboat that paddled its way on the Yellowstone River in the 1870s to Coulson,” Greg McCall said. “Had that river boat not been able to make it this far, Coulson, and then ultimately Billings, never would have been founded here.”
The past is linked to more than the name of the southwest Billings subdivision that borders Mullowney Lane. The builders' philosophy harkens to a time when neighbors stepped out on their porches for chats and children played together in nearby neighborhood parks.
Josephine Crossing focuses “on human beings first, not their automobiles,” Greg said. It’s based on the idea that in the right environment, people can more easily connect than in traditional housing developments.
The subdivision is complete with 369 single-family dwellings, 86 townhomes and 43 cottages. And the McCalls are beginning work on Annafeld, their new development west of Josephine Crossing on Elysian Road.
At a crossroads, the two brothers reflected on how their first Billings subdivision came to be and how they plan to build on what they’ve begun.
How homes changed
In the 1950s, when people emigrated from cities to suburbs filled with cookie-cutter homes, part of what drove the evolution was increased mobility. In the post-war era, more families could afford cars, and homes away from busy cities were all the rage.
Over time, neighborhoods became stratified, Brad added. They were segregated into “subdivisions that were either first-time, first move-up or the house you always really wanted.”
“And those could not co-mingle,” he said. “That was the conventional wisdom.”
Until Josephine Crossing, the McCalls went the same route as other developers, focusing on how many lots could fit into a subdivision and constructing streets to accommodate the vehicles. Garages were built in the front, for the sake of convenience, and the kitchen was situated in the back, to keep an eye on children in the yard, Greg said.
“In most conventional new subdivisions, the only thing you know about your neighbor is what kind of car they drive or the lawnmower they use because the only door opening in the front is the garage door.”
But something changed for the McCalls when they began work on their first Billings subdivision. They decided to go a new direction, a sort of “Back to the Future” that incorporated all the best features of a close-knit neighborhood with modern touches, such as energy-efficient houses.
They brainstormed about what they wanted Josephine Crossing to contain.
“We needed to really focus our attention on how people live in community and what that looks like,” Greg said. “We had to guess ‘what if you put a sidewalk this close to the front porch, socially will people say hello to each other’ or stay inside?' "
If you included semi-private pocket parks in the neighborhoods, would people congregate and play games and have barbecues and encourage children to play together? Would a larger gathering space with a spray park, a playground and an amphitheater bring the whole community together?
Those were questions that they asked as they designed Josephine Crossing.
The top priority
“Everything was based on walkability within an area,” Greg said. “We had to make sure sidewalks were in the right location. If they were too long, if it was difficult to walk, people would just drive.”
To put porches on the front of houses, the garages were placed in the back.
“The cars use the backdoor, the neighbors, the front,” he said.
Smaller lots made way for pocket parks. And diversity was a priority, Brad said, so different types of housing were incorporated in the design. That included town homes, small cottages and larger single-family homes.
“We wanted a wide range of sizes and types of houses so we had houses for different stages of life,” he said “So we have single-level homes that could work for families or empty-nesters and we have two-story homes for larger families.”
For the exterior look, the McCalls chose what’s called a builder’s style, a more traditional architectural design that uses craftsman, bungalow and farmhouse styles. To vary the look, similar plans and color schemes had to be kept a certain distance apart.
In addition to everything else, the brothers were committed to constructing energy efficient houses. Josephine Crossing was home to the first Energy Star certified energy-efficient home in the state.
The McCalls closed on the property in fall 2005, and the first house was constructed in spring 2007. Homes range from just under 1,000 to 5,000 square feet and cost anywhere from less than $200,000 to more than $600,000.
Not for everyone
They did more than design and build Josephine Crossing. Brad and Greg and their families live there.
“It’s interesting to see how kids who live there experience their day-to-day life compared to how kids in typical suburban neighborhoods do,” Brad said. “Our kids can go from street to street and house to house and play together in parks and you feel like they’re safe.”
Both brothers agree Josephine Crossing isn’t for everyone. One man said he’d rather spend time with his dog than talk to a neighbor.
“But for some people it’s exactly for them and nobody else has it,” he said. “You should never make something for everybody because it if it’s for everybody, then it’s for nobody.”
Josephine Crossing has developed some annual traditions, including sponsoring a summer concert series, putting on an annual Easter egg hunt and celebrating the Fourth of July. Every summer, a weekly concert series brings in a variety of bands that draw a crowd, both residents and the public.
As for the Fourth of July, teams of neighbors get together for what Greg calls a serious corn-hole competition.
“As soon as it’s even decent weather, the champs are outside practicing,” he said.
The next step
Planning is complete and work is now starting on Annafeld. It will have an even greater mix of housing types, including apartments for rent, Brad said. And it will incorporate a retail center, with the design mimicking downtown Billings’ historical buildings.
It will have a small-town feel, Greg said, with all the modern amenities. The north section of the subdivision that is twice the size of Josephine Crossing will be denser with a more urban feel, and closer to the river will be the larger lots with single-family homes.
“One of the things we learned with Josephine is once you get to a certain number of human beings in a particular area, you begin to lose a sense of place,” he said.
So Annafeld will have a number of distinct areas, likely called quarters, he said, that will have their own identities.
The McCalls brought in five architects to do intense planning for Annafeld, to focus on livability.
“The buildings shape the street and the streets shape how we live,” Greg said.