Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Reedy Fork Ranch

Over the weekend I visited Reedy Fork Ranch, the large new housing development northeast of Greensboro, just off US 29. I've heard a lot of radio advertisements for it and seen a few billboards, too, the theme of which is "room to roam." The radio ads feature pastoral nature sounds, and the billboards show grasslands surrounded by woods. Nice.

But when I got there, what I found seemed to be an unremarkable housing development built on a formula that developers have been using and re-using for three or four decades.

The road pattern is mostly "dendritic," meaning that, from the main access road ("Reedy Fork Parkway"), residential streets branch off, finally leading nowhere, ending in loops or cul-de-sacs. The pattern is typical of automobile-oriented commuter neighborhoods, since it makes it easy to drive in and out of the development, but not to walk around the neighborhood to visit actual neighbors.

Reedy Fork Ranch has walking trails, but not sidewalks on both sides of the street. When I drove through, kids were playing in the street. I noted the missing sidewalks to the realtor in one of the model houses, and he said, "they don't do that any more," though he allowed that he liked sidewalks himself, and has an urban sidewalk route that he walks every day in Burlington. The nice thing about sidewalks is that they allow you to choose where to go; walking trails force those choices on you.



The orientation toward automobiles is apparent in the design of the houses, too. Almost all have very prominent front-facing garages, and on the smaller houses this feature absolutely dominates. It's not for nothing that these are called "snout houses;" their entrances really do look like big pig snouts.



Pedestrian access to the front door is invariably from the driveway, and those entries are miniscule compared to the garage. For the families who live here, the garage entrance usually is the main entry to the house. This design minimizes the opportunities for casual contact with neighbors.



The developers left a lot of old trees standing on the edges of the residential areas, but chose to clear-cut huge tracts in between, planting new trees on the larger lots. This gives the areas I saw a rather barren look. Landscaping on the lots is pretty thin, and I don't think this development would meet the standards of a new tree ordinance that the city of Greensboro is working on (more on that topic soon). The lots are quite small, which I think is a good thing, since it minimizes the environmental impact of fertilizers and herbicides on the watershed.



The houses aren't pretty from the outside. Vinyl siding is the rule, though upgrades of brick or stone for the facades are available. Side and rear views of the houses show that the builders' main concern is to provide inexpensive square footage; the houses are boxy and display no sense of proportion or style.



The insides of the houses, however, are quite nice. The upper-end models I looked at had 9-foot ceilings downstairs, crown moldings, and some hardwood floors. The bathrooms and closets seemed luxurious to me (but I live in a 100-year-old house where the three closets are only a foot deep, and the original bathroom was in the back yard). Many nice upgrades like granite counters, tile floors, and added interior trim work are available for those who want to pay for them.

The only problem I found on the models I toured was with the aluminum windows. I opened one with difficulty, and then couldn't get it to close and lock properly.

Reedy Fork Ranch is very close to Guilford County's Bryan Park, which has two championship golf courses and a huge soccer complex. I'm sure the residents will enjoy these amenities. Apparently a large shopping center is planned nearby, "like Friendly Center," the realtor told me.

Here is Bryan Park's clubhouse:



The development also features a 500 acre central park, a historic millpond, two community centers, and other natural areas.

Over all, Reedy Fork Ranch reminds me a lot of Adams Farm, another very popular and successful planned subdivision in western Greensboro. Prices start at under $90 per square foot, and base prices for various house models range from around $100,000 to $220,000. It seems like a good place for people who see their neighborhoods as a place to retreat from work, commerce, civic life, and even from other neighbors.

23 comments:

Rob Ainbinder said...

David-

I think you're right on the mark. I would welcome a return to more "people friendly" neighborhoods. I would dare any local developer to embrace the "New Urbanisim" with features like a central commons, garages to the rear of the home and more character that is typical of your current neighborhood. (I am partial to the Craftsman style). Unfortunately, the prevailing "it's not big, just more than you're used to" is dominating most consumers minds. If the builders' do build with more character it is at a higher price which is far from the Craftsman and Prarie schools of thought.

D. Hoggard said...

First off, I hope you were just out there with journalistic interests. If you move from Aycock I'll find you and key your car.

Secondly, I don't understand the appeal of Adams Farm and similar but they obviously sell those cookie-cutter pig snouts, too.

There is just no accounting for taste.

David Wharton said...

Hoggard, I have no plans to move to Reedy Fork -- I was just curious about the place. So keep your key in your pocket!

Anonymous said...

What a depressing housing development. Soulless. I couldn't live there. I wouldn't even want to know somebody who could live there.

Billy Jones said...

Well it's got one good thing going for it: you probably won't be able to hear the cannon being fired at the new downtown ball park.

Otherwise, having seen Reedy Fork myself-- I'm not impressed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said "soulless." I agree. I live in Adams Farm. Yes, Hoggard, no accounting for taste.

On of the things the Zoning Commission never seemed to pay much attention to was what happened AFTER a zoning case. I think some did personally, but never as a part of the process did a review take place. I did it PERSONALLY, just because I had to see, and hopefully learn, from the results.

jw
http://www.howdoyoulikeme.blogspot.com/

David Wharton said...

Good one, JW, you soulless vessel of self-aggrandizement!

I grew up in a place like this, and it was pretty nice in a lot of ways. But the emphasis of suburban design is definitely on the private sphere (inside the house) and not the public one.

Philip Bess calls suburbs monuments to the "care and tending of the autonomous self." And that's a very attenuated kind of "community".

D. Hoggard said...

JW, YOU live in Adams Farm?!? I took you for an old house gal.

jw said...

Hoggard -- NO! NO! NO!

I'm an OLD GAL with a house.

jw

john said...

David, you're absolutely right, 100 percent. But the truth is evident to all of us: New Urbanism costs more for developers to do (concrete ain't free and if you don't have to have sidewalks on both sides, then why bother?) and the market demand is still minimal.

I've always said that these communities are immune to tornado dislocation: if a cyclone picked up the whole community and dropped it in suburban Washington or Philadelphia or Minneapolis, who would notice?

People like homogeny (which explains Top 40 music.) It's comforting, reassuring, dependable (though the same can't be said for the construction.) As long as folks keep buying homogenous housing, then we can all expect more. But it allows us to be smug about how together we are, right?

Anonymous said...

"...if you don't have to have sidewalks on both sides, then why bother?"

Why not bother just for the sake of *not* creating some neighborhood that looks like it was designed specifically to nurture depression. Developments (they hardly seem like neighborhoods) like these give me the creeps, if they elicit any feeling at all.

Smug indeed! I'm goin' out for a walk now, and am giving thanks for my beloved sidewalks and trees.

Spin Dog said...

Having driven out to Greedy Fork last year I had to stop my car and puke out the window when I first heard the commercial a few days ago.
The City doesn’t enforce the sidewalk requirement because the developers don’t like it (and the City Engineering Dept. Manager works for them?). Even when they are forced to include sidewalks in a plan they don’t have to build them because they will get occupancy approval without it.

David Wharton said...

Since Reedy Fork Ranch is outside the city limits, the city's sidewalk ordinance does not apply here.

But that ordinance was so weakened by TREBIC, that I think RFR's sidewalks would probably meet its requirements. As I remember, sidewalks on one side of residential streets are all that the ordinance mandates.

It was TREBIC's contention that walking in one's neighborhood just to visit neighbors, walk the dog, ride a tricycle, etc., doesn't justify the added cost of building sidewalks.

Spin Dog said...

Reedy Fork is in the city limit. Since it is a subdivision (sprawl-division), they are only required to have sidewalk on one side of the street. Looking at your pics again I noticed the sidewalk may not be up to the 5' wide requirement. -Wider requirement in some city areas. I read the ordinance about a year ago.

David Wharton said...

Wow. I had to drive so far to get there -- and I live in east Greensboro -- that I just assumed it was outside the city limits.

Rob Ainbinder said...

As I recall reading in the N&R some years ago, the major (read: tract) builders came out AGAINST any mandate for sidewalks. I'm sure that they're only getting by with the miniumum.

"People like homogeny", yes this might be true but, it's up to the developers to *lead* the mass consumer much as the automobile manufacturers. They are doing that quite well, hence the snout. It's just a matter of the "best" direction. Sure concrete "ain't free" but, in a central commons gravel or crushed aggregate would be just as effective (and cheaper).
It's all a matter of orientation. Seems many of the builders in the Pacific Northwest and the Mid-Atlantic "get it". I guess like everything in this region, wait long enough and it'll happen here too.

Anonymous said...

Entertaining thought Rob, just like leading the sheep to be fleeced. You don’t leave planning to developers, as it happens in Greensboro. It’s very expensive for the tax payers.

Rob Ainbinder said...

Dog-

Not exactly what I had in mind. From the developers perspective I'd call it product development. I'm arguing for a more "people friendly" design.

This can be done with all the same vendors, materials, etc.

In the final analysis it's up to the customer to make the individual value judgement on their home purchase.

The true fleecing I see happening is when a developer "dumps" the neighboorhood price range in order to close out quicker and substitutes poor quality homes than were previously built.

THAT'S fleecing!

And yes, the developers need their collective chains pulled. Too much development, too little water, too little school, etc.

Let's have the developers kick $$ in for a school in every development.

Rob

Anonymous said...

Well I live in RFR and I love it so I guess I have to remain anonymous for fear of my car being keyed! People who make judgments about those who choose to live differently than themselves, come off as arrogant and smug, not at all like the dozens of families I've met in the 6+ months my family has lived here. Of course, you all must be surprised that I've met any of my neighbors at all, since here we choose to retreat. In fact, this very diverse, safe, and family-friendly neighborhood is ideal for building community. Cul-de-sacs provide a safe environment from cut-through traffic and our sidewalks which seem to be such a source of contention, provide a safe, crack-free path for strollers and bikes.
Every day I sit at the pool, I am bound to meet someone different, and look forward to spending a relaxing time with my kids. So I say thank you developers, you evil spauns of Satan. I am so very grateful that I can afford to live in such a wonderful, friendly, scenic neighborhood.

Oh, one more thing, I noticed you didn't take any pictures of house in Boxelder Landing. Guess they didn't support your description of a pigs snout?

Anonymous said...

Most of these posts seem to originate from those who own or prefer old houses. I can see both sides of the picture. Those who buy new get a more practical house with lots of square footage and predictable maintenance costs for the first 10-15 years. Old houses have a charm but at the price that they are somewhat impractical, have less sq. feet, 1 full bath usually, small closets, and higher maintenance costs. I think the lack of sidewalks is offset by central clubhouses and pool areas which are commonly not found in old neighborhoods. I believe where you live is a personal preference, and is not a black and white issue as has been written about here. (by the author)

David Wharton said...

I have a hard time seeing my post as "black and white," especially since I pointed out the greater square footage, closets, and bathrooms of Reedy Fork's new houses in my post, as well as the parks, millpond, communcity centers, and proximity to Bryan Park.

My criticisms of Reedy Fork were not based on it being new -- they're focused on the configuration of the houses, streets, and sidewalks so as to diminish opportunities for casual interaction.

But also I made clear that that's a choice that some people like.

Anonymous said...

Hi -

I think your evaluation of Reedy Fork Ranch is on point. I have periodically given my grad students in urban planning the task of evaluating the Reedy Fork development. I did so again this semester while at Cal Poly, and found your blog while researching the status of the development.

I authored Best Development Practices for the American Planning Association and Urban Land Institute. The developer approached me originally with the idea of implementing Best Development Practices on his site. I was consulting with LDR International at the time, and passed the opportunity on to them.

The resulting plan was a major professional disappointment. What follows are excerpts from an email I wrote to the lead planner for LDR back in 2001. I have, for obvious reasons, left out more personal comments.

Such a wasted opportunity!

March 2, 2001

Sean -

I have been debating how to respond to your belated letter, with completed site plan for Reedy Fork attached. To say that I am surprised and displeased with the process and product is an understatement. The developer approached me originally because he wanted a creative (non- formulaic) application of Best Development Practices to his site. He didn't want a New Urbanist plan necessarily, but rather a hybrid incorporating the best of contemporary and traditional features.

After one brief meeting at LDR, I hear nothing for seven months and then receive a finished site plan which, to my mind, falls substantially short of our original objectives. While I am not aware of the site constraints (having not been part of the planning team), I cannot believe that they are so severe as to have created this disjointed plan. On a midterm last week, I asked my students to evaluate the plan from the standpoint of Best Development Practices and Pedestrian- and Transit-Friendly Design, and even they (at their experience level), couldn't see any connection to the principles in those publications.

Reid Ewing
National Center for Smart Growth
University of Maryland

Anonymous said...

I came across this blog today and I had to post something! I moved to Greensboro October 2007. While I was looking for a place to buy, I came across a little house in Reedy Fork and fell in love with it! It had everything that I was looking for and all the extra amenities like the pool and walking trails! It was great!

Now, 8 months later, I am even more in love with it! I still love my house and all my neighbors are great! I live on one of those cul-de-sac roads you referred to and the kids do play in the road. However, all the neighbors know each other and can keep an eye on all the children too. There are plenty of community gatherings-like Friday night drive-in movies, 2 churches, a men and women groups, community watch programs and many other activities that when you get involved, you will know no stranger in Reedy Fork.

Prior to moving here, I lived in an apartment in Asheville, NC. I know more people in Reedy Fork than I did at my old apartment complex. With my "snub nosed" house, I have been able to keep my car in the garage and not have to worry about it being broken into anymore. I have gone to bed with the doors unlocked in my house and slept peacefully. My dogs have "room to roam" and play with the other neighbor dogs.

As far as the houses design that "minimizes the opportunities for casual contact with neighbors" is not the feeling I get. That is a personal opinion and is not the situation in this community. Also, I liked how you picked the dead of winter to take pictures for your blog; they make the community look rough. Perhaps you should go back and see it in the summer with the foliage on the trees and the flowers in full bloom and, yes, the neighbors gathering at each other's house for a cook out! You would be amazed to find many of your believes to be untrue!

This is my first house and I would be lucky to have my second in a neighborhood like Reedy Fork Ranch.