When George P. Emerson Jr. and nine partners set out to develop The Highlands community in Chesterfield County, they were thinking big: lots of land and lots of amenities. They bought the first parcel of land – 2,000 acres – in 1988 from Continental Can Co., a diversified container packaging company.

“They were one of the largest timber companies in Virginia, at the time,” Emerson said.

A 2,000-acre, master-planned community would be among the largest in Chesterfield. The site posed risks, though. It was zoned for agricultural use, rather than residential use.

“If you buy a piece of land and it’s not zoned, you don’t know if you can build,” Emerson said. “It’s a crapshoot.”

Because the parcel had significant road frontage, Emerson and his partners could have built along the edge of the parcel, but that would have left a lot of it undeveloped.

“That was our fallback plan, but we didn’t want to do it,” Emerson said.

Emerson and his partners presented to the county a plan that included a golf course, a clubhouse, a swimming pool and a playground, and county officials rezoned the land for residential use in 1989.

“When you’re young, you don’t have a lot of fear,” Emerson said with a laugh.

Emerson’s group began developing The Highlands, which is located at the intersection of Nash Road and Highland Glen Drive, in 1990. They built a 65-acre lake that year and began work on the golf course, as well. They also opened the community’s first neighborhood.

“Some of the partners bought lots on the lake, and that’s how we got the money to develop the neighborhood,” Emerson said.

Early sales were strong, and the partners continued to buy adjacent parcels. Eventually, the development covered approximately 3,100 acres.

“As far as I know, it’s the biggest acreage of any development in Chesterfield County,” said Emerson, who is one of six partners still associated with the development.

“I’m the majority owner now,” he said. “Thirty-five years is a long time.”

Today, The Highlands has 1,277 homes. And the number is growing.

“When it’s built out, it will have approximately 1,600 to 1,700 houses,” Emerson said.

Approximately 30 builders have been active in The Highlands since construction began in 1990. Builders who are active there now include Carson Homes, Coynerco Custom Homes, DanRich Homes, HHHunt Homes, LifeStyle Home Builders, Quest Construction, Ridout Construction, Ryan Homes and Schell Brothers.

Because construction has stretched across nearly 30 years, architectural styles in the development are wide ranging. They include Colonial Revival, Transitional and – more recently – Craftsman.

Home sizes range from 2,200 to 8,000 square feet, and most of the lots are 1 to 2 acres, although the largest is 10 acres. Home prices range from $300,000 to more than $1 million.

In addition to the 18-hole championship golf course, swimming pool and playground, amenities include the Reserve at the Highlands restaurant, a fitness center, a pavilion, tennis courts, walking trails and four miles of sidewalks.

Generous lot sizes and the extensive amenities have helped to keep new-home sales and resales strong in The Highlands, said Matt Cullather, a real estate agent with Hometown Realty and a Highlands homeowner.

Many buyers aren’t new to the development, either.

“A number of families end up moving within the community,” Cullather said. “I did it myself, and I’m working with two clients like that now. It happens all the time. My father-in-law owns a house in here, and so do my brother and my mother and father. It’s a great mix of young professionals, young families and retired empty nesters.”

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