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Canadian Developer Makes City-like Homes For 'Tele-Community'

IN a new suburban site north of Toronto, a Canadian developer has brought the city, and its wizardry, to the country.

On 250 acres of farm field, Marvin Green has built houses that are city-scale - taller, thinner, on smaller lots - and that come complete with innards ideal for the electronic home office.

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"What we're offering here is an alternative to suburban sprawl," says Mr. Green, president of River Oaks Group, which is building the development on the outskirts of Orangeville, Ont.

Eventually, 500 houses are expected to fill this growing community. Out of the 70 houses sold so far, 60 are occupied.

"People who are buying houses outside the city are looking for places that are more intimate, that have more of a sense of community than they find in the usual suburban subdivision," Green says. He has given them an additional incentive as well.

"We've added the layer of telecommunications, which allows people to work at home or in their neighborhood either full or part time," Green says. "Putting the infrastructure in at the beginning allows people to keep ahead of technology. It also should attract residents who are interested in using the technology."

While not everyone who has bought here is sold on the concept of the electronic cottage, freelance writer and consultant Peter Howard finds it is perfect for him. Mr. Howard can look out over a tree-lined view and press a button to zing out the work he's just finished over his second telephone line.

"This is the perfect home office. The other's I've had seem like closets," says Mr. Howard, who this summer moved into the development 60 miles north of Toronto.

"We've designed this more as a place to live than as a bedroom community," says Green, who lives in downtown Toronto, in one of the city's most crowded neighborhoods. "We've also made it a tele-community. If your house is wired, you can stay there rather than head to the city every day."

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Howard says electronic connection helped seal the choice for him. "I don't know much about technology, but I use it constantly in my work."

Green has carefully thought out the details of his wired village. The telephone company has a new switch that can handle complicated connections that require a lot of bandwidth, or electronic capacity, such as sound and video. The electrical service includes a surge protector, so computer data can't be harmed by the flicker of a power outage.

People in the community can subscribe to ISDN (the equivalent of three telephone lines in one) from the local phone company, which expands the phone line to high-speed digital service so voice data and fax can all go out at the same time on the same line, Green says. "We also provide a local Internet site. People who plug in can find relevant local information as well as being able to connect to the world."

Last week, Bell Canada and Internet providers met with a group of residents to explain advanced telecommunications systems to them.

Green's houses are unlike other suburban houses in other ways, too. Instead of putting garages and parking in the front, Green built them in the back. Running into the basements are the underground electrical service, built-in coaxial-cable television wire, and a telephone line. Inside the walls, pipes carry the electronic world to any room in the house.

The people who live here still have to drive to Orangeville to get everything from a newspaper to groceries. But Green has plans to make his project a self-sufficient island.

"In the fall, our main street will be built. It's a place for small scale and medium business and offices. This is where the fiber-optic cable and telecommunications will come in," Green says. "Then it will be more like a village."

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