The town of Kernersville and a Winston-Salem developer are partnering to build the biggest mixed-use, neo-traditional enclave in the Triad. It's called Carrollton, and if the project and planned expansions to it reach fruition, it could become the biggest such development in North Carolina.
According to Jeff Hatling, Kernersville's Community Development Director, the project germinated from seeds planted in 2001, when Forsyth County adopted its long-range plan, Legacy. The plan proposes the development of nine "activity centers" throughout Forsyth, located at crucial transportation hubs, and earmarked for high-intensity residential and core business activity mixed together. The idea is to allow people to live near where they work, and to have easy access to transit. This kind of development is also called Transit Oriented Development (TOD). Greensboro's Comprehensive Plan proposes several activity centers, too.
At about the same time that Legacy was being worked up, the city of Kernersville went through a "visioning" process in which citizens agreed on what they wanted a future Kernersville to be like. According to Hatling, they decided that they wanted a "unique, high-quality community" with a "sense of place" and a "small town atmosphere." The city decided to pursue these goals by adopting a zoning overlay for several parts of town, that regulates roof forms, building forms, facade materials, architectural detailing, colors, signs, parking, sidewalks, and setbacks.
According to Hatling, the overlay districts were adopted with no opposition from the local development community. The reason, he said, was that local developers think that the overlay ordinance provides a safe environment that protects their investment.
Apparently this strategy is working, because PM Development looked at the activity center proposed for Kernersville, coupled with the town's zoning overlay, and saw not zoning obstacles to be fought, nor planners meddling with the market, but a business opportunity.
According to Paul Williams, an employee of PM, his company started pursuing the project several years ago, and it evolved from a plan for strictly residential housing to something bigger. His boss, Stuart Parks was attracted to the project, Williams said, because of his background in landscape architecture and urban planning. The first phase of the project will include a small, 7-acre commercial area along with housing. More commercial development is planned to be included as the housing is built out over the years.
According to an article in this morning's New & Record, Carrollton will have mixed housing types:
In fact, the town's overlay ordinance controls other architectural features such as roof pitches, window pane size, and trim elements.
The developers' mandate from city planners is to make mixed housing the village's dominant feature. The village must also have lots of sidewalks, making it walkable; use classic building design elements found in this region; functional front porches; and short distances from building fronts to streets. [Link]
On the national scene, there's nothing really out of the ordinary about all this. Cities and towns have been adopting a variety of overlays, fitted to their particular circumstances, in order to preserve or enhance existing neighborhoods, or to attract development.
And, contrary to a simplistic reading of free-market economics, it works. Greensboro's historic districts, which are highly regulated, have attracted millions in investment, and their real estate values have risen markedly faster than those in the city as a whole over the past two decades.
And the Southside development, which is regulated by a TND overlay, has seen fervid development and skyrocketing housing prices. Across North Carolina, other neotraditional developments like Meadowmont and Vermillion have been very successful, not only in terms of selling houses, but also in creating tight-knit communities where people live and work and in making efficient use of land and transportation resources.
But it hasn't happened in Greensboro yet. Starmount Co. had an opportunity to do something like this when it designed Reedy Fork Ranch a few years ago. But in the end, Starmount rejected the TND concept, electing instead to build on a mid-20th-century suburban model.
My prediction: if anything like this ever should come to Greensboro, it won't be done by any of our major old-line developers here in town. It will be done by someone young from out of town, who you've never heard of. He will be ridiculed as a nut by old-timers in the local real estate community, and then he will sell a lot of houses and commercial real estate and make a lot of money.