By Kelly McCall Branson
Owning a home represents a far larger picture than just the house and the yard it sits on; it’s about the neighbors; it’s about the sidewalks that connect the neighbors and the open spaces that homeowners and their neighbors enjoy — together. And the close-by places where people gather to relax and recreate and be healthy and active. It’s about shared interests experienced with family and neighbors, and about easy access to all the things day-to-day life requires. It’s about a sense of place and belonging and a lifestyle that just makes sense for you and your family. This is what the master planned communities of the 21st century strive to achieve. “Our communities are about so much more than just homes,” says Shannon McSwiney, marketing director for Newland Communities in the Carolinas, developer of Wendell Falls in East Wake County. “There is so much backend work that goes into the planning of the homes, the neighborhoods, the amenities, the tie-in to the community. We are extremely committed to the entire process and expect to be around 10 years or more, seeing it through.”
Small town vibe
In a very real sense, the modern master planned community functions much like the small towns of yesteryear, with people at all stages of life — young singles to newlyweds to growing families to empty nesters to retirees — living together and interacting. A real connection to the place and the people formed by common and shared experiences. “One of the main things that defines our communities,” says David Mason, vice president of the Carolinas for Landeavor, developer of 12 Oaks in Holly Springs,” is the variety of product types, designed to meet the needs of multiple generations and lifestyles.” At 12 Oaks, 13 builders offer a wide range of new-home options. Likewise, at Wendell Falls, six different builders allow for uniqueness and diversity within the community, much like any small town. Creekside at Bethpage, a new 55-plus community near Brier Creek, will offer single-story homes ranging from 1,200 to 2,400 square feet.
At Hidden Lake, a 600-acre master planned community near Youngsville, all of the homes are truly custom-designed. “Every homeowner meets with our architects and interior designers to build a home that reflects their values, their lifestyle, their specific requirements,” says Rusty Ange, of Ange Signature Homes, developer of the gated community.
At Fendol Farms, a master planned community in the Brier Creek area, homes range from one-story ranch models to spacious two-story homes to low-maintenance townhomes.
Many of the Triangle’s master planned communities have been thoughtfully designed to honor their unique heritage and place. “You won’t find exactly what we’ve done here at Wendell Falls in any other location we’ve developed,” says Newland Communities’ McSwiney. “We saw here a great opportunity to pay homage to the small town heritage that the people here are so proud of — with a modern twist.” At Fendol Farms, the 1850 farmhouse of the site’s longtime owner, Fendol Bevers has been preserved, and the community garden and orchard honor the agrarian legacy of this land.
At Hidden Lake, the developer, Ange Signature Homes sought to preserve the rural setting of the 1850s Joyner family farm and later the farmstead of Dr. Walter Thomas and his family, focusing the entire community on the private spring-fed lake created by Dr. Thomas. “This majestic, rolling terrain and the beautiful, peaceful lake,” says Rusty Ange, “it called for a neighborhood of spread-out homes and expansive natural areas.”
Amenities, amenities, amenities
Like any small town, these master planned communities include places for residents to enjoy the many things that people want to do when they’re not working. Unlike a traditional subdivision, master planned communities include a myriad of amenities, carefully designed to appeal to the lifestyles that residents are looking for. Large community gathering spaces are often the heart of these communities, with an array of recreational facilities and outdoor features designed to promote healthy active lifestyles.
Golf is the focal point at 12 Oaks, but this master planned community also offers resort-like amenities like a two-story water slide and a spray tower at the main pool and lane swimming at a second pool. Tennis courts, a fully equipped fitness center and a clubhouse with casual dining round out the offerings here.
The clubhouse at Creekside at Bethpage includes social rooms, a pool, tennis courts, bocce courts and a fitness studio.
At Hidden Lake, the beauty of the natural environment— especially the 75-acre lake — inspired the roster of amenities. A country-elegant community lake house is complemented by an open-air stone and wood pavilion with a huge stone fireplace. A matching lakeside boathouse shelters community canoes and kayaks for leisurely paddles or early-morning fishing expeditions on this exceptionally well-stocked lake.
Likewise, Wendell Falls offers outdoor amenities. In addition to The Farmhouse — a community center with a pool and fitness center — The Tobacco Barn is a gathering space for community events on The Festival Lawn. The lakeside pier and fire pit will provide opportunities for quiet reflection and social celebration.
The hallmark of the modern master planned community, it seems, is the connectivity and the invitation to get outside and be active and interactive on miles of trails and sidewalks, pocket parks, gaming fields and dog parks. Jog, walk, bicycle, play soccer, have a picnic or fly a kite. Find solitude or find your neighbors. Embedding this network for a healthy lifestyle and a place where neighbors connect is a must for any master planned community. The more than 10 miles of trails and sidewalks at Wendell Falls will offer an even greater connectivity, linking, via greenway, to the renowned Mountains-to-Sea State Trail that bisects the entire length of the state.
And the latest, wildly popular addition to master planned communities’ array of amenities is the community garden. The farm-to-fork locavore movement has found its way home in master planned communities in the Triangle.
Creekside at Bethpage plans a community garden, and Fendol Farms cultivates an orchard along with their garden. At 12 Oaks, a master gardener can assist homeowners, who may reserve one of 60 raised planters in the community garden. “These beds were all reserved last summer,” says Landeavor’s David Mason. “This offers a unique opportunity for families to have their own garden, but in a setting that creates social interaction, with the added bonus of advice from a knowledgeable gardener.” Not to mention someone to water the plants when you go on vacation.
Another feature on the rise in master planned communities is the coffee house. These informal gathering places are becoming the heart of many of these communities as a place to drop in and almost always find someone you know. “Our Grounds Café really is the central hub of Wendell Falls,” says Shannon McSwiney. “It’s a place to get outside the home, interact with neighbors, grab a cup of coffee and even get some work done.” Landeavor’s David Mason echoes that sentiment, “We wanted to create that café experience at 12 Oaks, a welcoming space for all residents to drop by and relax, visit with neighbors, read the paper or set up a computer and work.”
Organizing the lifestyle
“If you build it, they will come” doesn’t always quite work out, which is why so many of today’s master planned communities incorporate programming along with their built environment. “Programming is all about the residents,” says AV Homes’, David Mulac. “We have a lifestyle director on staff at Creekside at Bethpage to help generate interest and facilitate whatever lifestyle residents are seeking.” At 12 Oaks, their lifestyle director coordinates everything from golf and tennis clinics to movies, poolside parties to craft beer nights. “We call her the director of fun here,” laughs Landover’s Mason. “Her job is to create the opportunities that residents are looking for within the many facilities we have available.” At Wendell falls, the activities calendar is packed with wine tastings, farmers markets, concerts and Tobacco Barn movie nights.
Everything you need, right at your doorstep
Another important, and growing, component of the master planned community is the incorporation of retail and commercial spaces within the neighborhood. Restaurants, shops, services, offices and medical facilities within or adjoining the community create a very real small-town sense. Wendell Falls has been zoned and approved for some two million square feet of commercial space. “As we identify demand and potential uses for this space,” says Newland Communities McSwiney, “we will partner with commercial developers to meet these needs.”
Creekside at Bethpage also has space zoned for retail and office development. The location of master planned communities like Creekside at Bethpage and Fendol Farms, with their proximity to Brier Creek, as well as the airport, major entertainment venues and world-class medical facilities, brings a level of convenience to living there.
Whether you’re looking for your own slice of rural heaven, the golf club lifestyle, active adult living, center-of-it-all convenience or small-town charm, the Triangle’s master planned communities have carefully and thoughtfully designed the neighborhood to make those wishes come true.