Come summer, Eric Kingsley of Westford likes to sit out on the porch of his vacation home, catching a breeze. He enjoys watching his children splash in the pool and taking them fishing in the nearby pond. Pickup basketball is always fun and so is mingling with the other "summer people" he and his wife don't see in the cold-weather months.
Mostly, like a lot of vacationers, Kingsley wants to get away from it all and not have to give any thought to home. And for the most part, when his family is at the cottage they bought last year, they forget about their year-round residence.
Except when they go grocery shopping and drive past it.
It's not a stay-cation, exactly - to use the trendy new term for taking time off but enjoying the attractions right at home. It's more of a partway-cation: choosing a summer home less than 30 minutes from one's primary residence.
Why? It's simple, said Kingsley, whose fam ily is one of 86 at last count to have bought a cottage at the two-year-old Summer Village at the Pond development in Westford. "My wife and I realized that as our kids got older, they were only going to have more activities scheduled around home. By vacationing so close by, they don't have to miss out on baseball games or dance recitals or anything like that."
It is exactly this kind of response that developer David Guthrie was banking on when he developed the gated Summer Village at the Pond, comprising some 275 seasonal cottages centered around a recreation facility with two pools, a fitness center, and numerous other amenities.
Guthrie had reason to be optimistic about his prospects: A business partner had done the same thing in Wells, Maine, with good results. Similar planned cottage communities have recently cropped up in Point Sebago, Maine, and in Ipswich. And a place like Summer Village offers the kind of neighborhood ambience that so many suburban families say they no longer find in their own communities these days.
"The kids here ride their bikes together all day long," said Kingsley. "You don't see that anymore in most neighborhoods."
Indeed, the orchestrated sense of community comes up frequently when cottage owners talk about why they like the concept. The grounds at Summer Village include numerous gathering spots where residents can congregate to enjoy one another's company.
Like many of the other residents, Margaret Ann Gray, an administrator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, never intended to buy a summer place so close to her Belmont home; when she decided that she would like a second home for vacations, she started looking in New Hampshire and Maine.
"Last summer I spent three weekends in a row driving two or three hours north," she recalled. "And then I realized that even if I found something, I didn't want to spend my summer weekends driving."
She bought her Westford cottage on speculation, and she and her 8-year-old son began enjoying the pool and recreational activities during daytrips to Westford even as they watched their new home being built.
The compound is open to residents only from April to October - an important factor that helped the developer obtain permits from the town of Westford.
Ensuring that the cottages will be used only half the year means that the impact on town services, especially the schools, will be minimal. As far as how that translates to a tax break, Guthrie said that the cottages, which sell for an average of $200,000 in wooded areas (price is more than $289,000 for waterfront units), are assessed for taxes based on the understanding that they are usable only some of the time - and therefore are worth less than year-round homes would be.
Richard Cuoco, a semiretired engineer, still laughs when he recalls the day he and his wife took a drive and ended up at Summer Village, just 20 minutes from their Tewksbury home.
"The last thing on my mind that day was buying a summer cottage!" he said with a laugh. "My wife had seen the ads and said she wanted to see how the units were decorated. Once we started looking around, we noticed everything the place had to offer. We always wanted to have a summer home, but we come from a large Italian family, and there's always a reason we can't take off to Maine or the Cape - a christening, a Little League game, a birthday, or anniversary party. When we found the place in Westford, we realized we could go there in the middle of the week if we wanted to."
Cuoco said that the price of gasoline - now at about $4 a gallon, and climbing - was not a pressing concern when they bought their cottage last year, but now the awareness of the money they are saving makes it all the more appealing.
"We get so much more use out of it than we'd get out of a place on the Cape," he said. "Our grandchildren love it. They play basketball and ride bikes. My grandson caught a 12-inch bass in the lake last weekend."
And it wasn't just the Cuocos who were enchanted. They asked their adult daughters to come take a look, and one of the daughters phoned her husband on the spot to say, "You gotta come see this," according to Cuoco. Now the daughter and her family own a cottage just two doors down.
"Everybody is so busy," offered Guthrie. "My two kids have activities all summer long. So do other families. Sometimes my friends talk about feeling handcuffed to their families' schedules. When you vacation close to home, you don't have to plan it around everyone's other commitments."
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.