House & Home

Live, work, play and stay: the Triangle's new 'master planned communities'

The term "master planned community" (MPC) typically conjures an image of vast developments with collections of sprawling, mostly homogeneous neighborhoods. But right here in the Triangle, a new breed of MPCs are creating communities with a focus not just on where people live, but how they live -- a more holistic design approach that incorporates recreation, employment, entertainment, learning, shopping, dining, worship and especially, a sense of community and place.

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Chatham Park; Photo courtesy of Preston Development Company
Kelly McCall Branson
, writer for New Homes & Ideas

The term “master planned community” (MPC) typically conjures an image of vast developments with collections of sprawling, mostly homogeneous neighborhoods. But right here in the Triangle, a new breed of MPCs are creating communities with a focus not just on where people live, but how they live — a more holistic design approach that incorporates recreation, employment, entertainment, learning, shopping, dining, worship and especially, a sense of community and place.

Here, neighborhoods with a diverse mix of housing options are integrated with outdoor spaces, entertainment venues, restaurants, services and offices. And it’s all very intentionally interconnected. ”I think we need to come up with another name for master planned communities,” laughs Vanessa Jenkins, executive vice president at Preston Development Company, developers of Chatham Park, a 7,000-acre new community just outside of Pittsboro. “What we are doing at Chatham Park is combining the best elements urban living — walkability, community, convenience — with the best elements of suburban living.”
Reid Stephenson, CEO of Flowers Plantation, a 3,000-acre community outside of Clayton, concurs. “Flowers Plantation really will be a small village.” Stephenson projects some 30 to 35,000 people will call this community home, and they have spent more than 20 years designing a place to meet nearly all of the needs of a thriving village.

A diversity of living options

A hallmark of this new generation of master planned communities is a wide array of housing choices. True community calls for a vibrant mix of young professionals, new families, empty nesters and retirees — Gen X meets Millennials meets Boomers. Flowers Plantation will offer homes from the low $200 thousands to over $1 million, including single-family homes, townhomes and condos, as well as 400 apartment units.
Sweetwater, a new community in Apex also plans a diverse mix of housing, ranging from 1,900 to 7,500 square feet and including some 230 apartment units. And Sweetwater takes their diversity to a whole new level: “We have 37 different types of architecture for the houses,” says ExperienceOne Homes' co-owner David Schmidt, “with plenty of variation in color, while still maintaining continuity.”
Urban-vibe apartments in the heart of commercial centers are a short stroll away from townhomes around a lake, city-scape streets with homes closer together and front porches for old-fashioned neighborliness and half-acre lots with estate homes. Both Chatham Park and Flowers Plantation have plans for age-targeted and age-restricted neighborhoods within their communities, and Chatham Park includes retirement facilities in its master plan.
This brings a whole new dimension to the growing trend of multi-generational living, with Grandma living not necessarily down the hall, but just down the street. New college grads might start out in an apartment or condo, move up to a home as they start a family, grow into bigger homes as their family grows, downsize as their nest empties and transition to retirement living — all within the same community. “We really are for all lifestyles,” says Flowers Plantation’s Stephenson.

This diversity in housing not only adds to the vitality of the community, it is essential to what makes true community. People belong. People, at whatever stage they are in life, stay.

Places to play

Living in a master planned community isn’t just about your home though; it’s about lifestyle too. And today’s healthy lifestyles demand places to get outside, places to walk and run and bike and play. Places to swim and work out and practice yoga and just commune with nature. The Triangle’s new master planned communities have that covered like never before.

At Lake Castleberry in Apex, the lakeside clubhouse features a freeform saltwater pool and full fitness center. There’s a fishing pond and walking trails, playgrounds and plenty of open spaces.
Chatham Park has set aside nearly 2,000 acres for parks and open spaces. It will include more than 50 miles of trails and a 10-acre park with a splash pad, rock-climbing wall and dog park. “We have made a commitment that there will be some type of outdoor space within a five-minute walk of every home in Chatham Park,” says Vanessa Jenkins. A full-scale YMCA is also planned.
Sweetwater will offer 10 pocket parks, with gazebos, dog-watering stations, bocce ball courts, sand slides and outdoor sculpture. A 4,200-square-foot community center will include a six-lane pool, wading pools, two playgrounds and an outdoor fireplace.
Within Flowers Plantation, the new East Triangle YMCA features three swimming pools, a full fitness center, kids’ club, sauna, tennis and basketball. Four private lakes and more than 100 acres of wildlife preserve and buffers are the setting for some 20 miles of trails.
These new communities have big plans for play beyond just recreation and the great outdoors. At Sweetwater, a large event lawn and bandstand pavilion will host entertainment of all kinds, including outdoor movies, concerts, even an ice-skating rink.
Mosaic, the 350-acre mixed-used area planned for Chatham Park (more on that later), will offer a 350-seat performing arts theater, a 100-seat black-box theater, eight movie screens and an outdoor pavilion stage.
Dining options will abound within these multi-tasking communities. From fast food to ice cream shops to white-linen restaurants, a meal, a drink or a snack is right around the corner. At Sweetwater, a restaurant with rooftop dining is in the works, as well as a micro-brewery and a large coffee shop. “This is just another part of being in the community — where people might walk their kids to school and stop in for a cup of coffee and to check email before heading out to the office,” says Corey Schmidt, co-owner of ExperienceOne Homes.
At Chatham Park, abundant outdoor dining space is integral to the design. Imagine enjoying your meal under the stars while music from a concert at the pavilion wafts your way.

Getting business done

No village is complete without its Main Street — the place where people buy groceries and pick up prescriptions, get their hair cut and their teeth cleaned, and attend to all the myriad business of life. At Chatham Park, Mosaic and Penguin Place will be the mixed-use centers of retail, restaurants, services and offices, as well as living spaces and a hotel.
Flowers Crossroads and the Marketplace at Flowers, at Flowers Plantation, host a Harris Teeter (with a Publix coming soon), CVS, an ABC store, a CPA, a real estate office, florist, nail salon and financial planner, among others.
Sweetwater has designed their 45-acre commercial center, Sweetwater Town Center, to echo a historic small-town Main Street, with varied buildings and storefronts offering a grocery store, dry cleaners and bank, just to name a few.
Not only do these new communities offer places to play and shop and do business, but they also integrate space to work as well. The work part of the live-work-play concept is a major component of the Chatham Park plan. The Villages and Parks will include a tech park, medical village and an innovation park. Office space will include co-working spaces where different business disciplines coexisting encourage crossover and collaboration.
Rounding out the all-inclusive design of the Triangle’s new master planned communities are schools, churches and other places of worship and medical facilities. Two elementary schools are on the drawing board for Flowers Plantation, and UNC Primary Care and Urgent Care are up and running at Flowers Crossroads.
Sweetwater Town Center has plans to include a medical center, and Lightbridge Academy offers educational childcare.
Thales Academy has already opened at Chatham Park, and there are plans for a community church at Mosaic. A 25,000 square foot medical building is planned, to include UNC Healthcare and a 10-bed hospice facility.
The live-work-play all in one place aesthetic applies to the design of our homes too — now more than ever, since COVID-19 restrictions have us rethinking those spaces. “We’re seeing more requests to make homes work for people in new ways,” says Cosmo Muti, VP of Sales & Customer Experience at Toll Brothers, a participating builder at Lake Castleberry. “They are looking for more built-in office space, faster internet and even dedicated ‘school’ rooms. The modern approach now is listening to buyers and if someone needs something for their lifestyle and their home, we can do it.”

Connectivity is community

Beyond the abundant amenities of the built environment of these new developments, connectivity is the thread that binds it all together to create true community. Physical connectivity, in the intentional layout of roads and trails — both within the neighborhoods as well as into the surrounding environment —and also the emotional connectivity that is fostered by the careful consideration of the design and placement of homes, programming that seeks to bring residents together for shared interests, spaces that are created for gathering.

At Sweetwater, homes are intentionally closer to the street, with expansive front porches and sidewalks on both sides of the street — all to promote connection with your neighbors. “It’s a way for people to interact casually, organically,” says David Schmidt. “You’re sitting on your porch enjoying morning coffee and your neighbor, out for a stroll, stops for a chat.”
A concierge at Sweetwater will facilitate all manner of events in the shared spaces, from wine and beer tastings to car shows, concerts and farmers markets. “We will probably do as many as 75 events during the year,” says David Schmidt. “It’s a way for people to have fun, but also to literally get to know each other.”
The miles of trails at Chatham Park don’t just meander aimlessly; they are purposefully designed to connect the places where people live with the places where they play and work and worship and learn. Imagine hopping on your bike for a quick ride to the office and taking a short stroll to an outdoor café for lunch. Walk to dinner and a movie later and, all along the way, pass your friends and neighbors doing the same. This is what life can be like in the Triangle’s new master planned communities.
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