Northern Exposure: Living, Working and Playing North of Raleigh

Home | Northern Exposure: Living, Working and Playing North of Raleigh

By Kelly McCall Branson

Featured Photo: White Street in Historic Downtown Wake Forest; Photo by MT Bostic/

The secret is out; the Triangle is a great place to live. Excellent jobs, an affordable cost of living, abundant recreational and cultural opportunities, good schools and mild winters are drawing folks to the area like bears to honey. Just ask the nearly 30,000 people who move to the Raleigh metro area every year.

But when we say “Raleigh,” we’re actually talking about more than just the city’s limits. These days, when folks move to Raleigh, they’re more than likely moving to the outer edges of the city or one of the many small towns that surround it. But these areas are more than just suburbs of Raleigh; they have their own history, identity, landscape and amenities — new neighborhoods, springing up in old towns, for the best of both worlds.

One of the fastest growing of Raleigh’s outer circles is the northeast corridor up US 1/Capital Boulevard. As Raleigh grew, and home builders looked further afield for land to build new homes, some 20 years ago, the northern reaches of Wake County began, to take off, with the development of large master planned communities like Wakefield Plantation, Bedford and Heritage Wake Forest. These neighborhoods offered a little more (brand new) house for the money, maybe a bigger lot and loads of amenities, like golf courses, walking trails, swim clubs and pocket parks.

Waterstone Reserve; Photo Courtesy of The Jim Allen Group

And, as the saying goes: “if you build it, they will come.” Well, come they did. And along with all the new places to live, also came lots of new places to shop and dine, do business and play. The completion of the first quadrant of the I-540 Outer Loop made for easier connectivity with the greater Triangle.

The 2002 opening of Triangle Town Center brought next-level retail to the area. And the construction of WakeMed North meant a full-service hospital, including an emergency department, surgical facilities and pregnancy and childbirth services, was much closer to residents of these new/old communities. And of course, where there are hospitals, so too are doctors’ offices and medical complexes.

The A.E Finley YMCA, one of the biggest Y’s in the region, was renovated in 2011 and includes indoor and outdoor pools, basketball courts, full workout facilities and day camps. The Northeast Regional Library of Wake County, completed just over five years ago, is a state-of-the-art 20,000-square-foot facility adjacent to Wakefield Plantation.

Wake Forest Grows Up

As Raleigh neighborhoods spread north, the town of Wake Forest was likewise growing, and growing fast.  Founded in the 1800s, with the opening of the Wake Forest Institute, which would later become Wake Forest College, the town has seen unprecedented expansion over the last decade.

Now with more than 42,000 residents, Wake Forest has become the hub of northern Wake County. Residents of North Raleigh and nearby towns are as likely to head to Wake Forest for shopping, dining and services now as they are to downtown Raleigh.

Despite its exponential growth, Wake Forest strives to maintain the integrity and vitality of its historic downtown. The Renaissance District, encompassing some 220 acres, is home to coffee shops, breweries, locally owned restaurants, like the 100-year-old Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs, and specialty shops, as well as the Renaissance Center for the performing arts. There’s a year-round farmers market downtown every Saturday too.

The Factory, just south of downtown, is a colossal sports and recreation venue housed in an old street sweeper plant. The complex features ice skating rinks, an indoor golf simulator, axe throwing, indoor soccer, a basketball academy and a skateboard park.

Camberly; Photo Courtesy of The Jim Allen Group

“Because it can draw support from the surrounding towns of Youngsville, Rolesville, Franklinton and North Raleigh, Wake Forest has a little bit of everything,” says Jim Allen, president of The Jim Allen Group, who handles the sales and marketing of Perry Farms, Jackson Manor, Camberly, Waterstone Reserve and Wexford Reserve, all located in Wake Forest. “It’s a shopping hub, with mom-and-pop shops and big-box stores like Target and even a Wegmans. I would put the food up at Over the Falls deli downtown against any other restaurant in Raleigh,” laughs Allen.

Wake Forest is also home to the private Thales Academy and multiple charter schools, as well as award-winning Wake County Schools.

The 117-acre Joyner Park, just north of downtown, features a 1,000-seat lawn amphitheater, a water garden, miles of paved walking trails and fishing.

Neighborhoods in Wake Forest offer a broad array of new-home options, from townhomes to country estates. “There’s such a diversity of home buyers in the area,” says Patty Sloan, director of sales and marketing for McKee Homes, “from starter-home buyers to growing families to empty nesters.”

Townes at Gateway Commons; Photo Courtesy of McKee Homes

McKee Homes is the builder of Townes at Gateway Commons, just south of historic downtown Wake Forest. “This is a true live-work-play community of townhomes,” says Sloan. “It’s an easy stroll to shopping, dining, and services. There’s even mini-storage with a wine cellar.” These townhomes also feature flexible work-from-home space with a finished ground floor that can be outfitted for a home office or learning environment.

Further Afield

As Wake Forest expands, new-home builders are looking to the surrounding towns and once-rural areas to satisfy the housing demands for a fast-growing population. The town of Rolesville, just up US 401/Louisburg Road from Raleigh (and southeast of Wake Forest), was the fastest growing town in North Carolina over the past decade.

This once humble farming community is the second oldest city in Wake County and now earns accolades as a great place to raise a family. “People are drawn to the area because of price,” says Jim Allen, who handles sales and marketing for Barrington Townes in Rolesville. “I think they are also attracted to the idea of fewer rules and restrictions than the larger cities.”

Rolesville preserves its small-town ambience with a revitalized downtown. Main Street Park has a gazebo, four shelters, an open play field and over a mile of greenway trails. Warehouse Athletics, also on Main Street, is a more than 9,000-square-foot indoor training facility for baseball and softball players.

Mill Bridge Nature Park, northeast of downtown, is home to a 200-seat amphitheater that hosts the town’s spring concert series, Music at Mill Bridge. And in the opposite direction, the 100-acre Fantasy Lake Scuba Park has been named the scuba diving mecca, for its crystal-clear 80-foot-deep lake.

“The area offers the best of both worlds,” says Carla Chirico, marketing manager for Meritage Homes. “There’s the small-town charm of Rolesville, the proximity of Wake Forest and all it has to offer and Raleigh and RTP are an easy commute.”

Meritage recently announced plans for the Preserve at Louisbury, outside of Rolesville. This 61-acre property, just south of US 401/Louisburg Road, will offer 152 homesites, with homes ranging from 1,900 to 3,000 square feet. “This is a great opportunity to escape escalating rents and transition to homeownership in this fast-growing area,” says Ric Rojas, division president for Meritage Homes in Raleigh.

As more and more people continue to flock to the Triangle, the circles around Raleigh will continue to widen. Small towns, once considered sleepy outposts, will come alive as new-home builders plan ever-more innovative neighborhoods and commerce follows. So though you might be moving to “Raleigh,” your address could well be Wake Forest, or Rolesville, or Youngsville, or Franklinton…