Alamance County’s planning department used to be a sleepier place than its municipal counterparts. Since the department generally serves areas that lack public water and sewer, its staff just didn’t see the sort of large, multi-part subdivisions that kept their city cousins occupied, and the projects they did get were of a more modest scale suitable to well water and backyard septic tanks.
But as residential development continues to creep farther and farther from Alamance County’s urban core, its planning department seems to have shed its old reputation as the Maytag Repairman of the planning sector.
Even before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, the county’s planning department was already beginning to see some rather prodigious residential developments show up in its in-box. These proposals have included some subdivisions within the town limits of Swepsonville, which has public water and sewer but relies on the county for its planning and development services. But a considerable number of these projects have also been slated for areas in the county’s own jurisdiction.
Tonya Caddle, the county’s planning and inspections director, concedes that the rise of these rural subdivisions has challenged the conventional notion that the county’s rural reaches are ill-suited for larger residential developments. Caddle added that this trend was already in evidence four or five years ago, although in some cases, the results are only just now becoming visible as developers break ground on subdivisions that were approved years earlier.
“Some of those started going through inspections in ‘17 or ‘18 are just now getting off the ground,” she elaborated. “But, it’s been going pretty steady [over the past 4 1/2 years].”
Since the beginning of 2017, the county’s planning department has received 52 proposals for residential subdivisions with nine or more dwelling units. Of those 52 proposals, 40 have been approved in part or in whole, clearing the way for the construction of 827 new dwellings.
Another 565 units are still making their way through the planning process while a further 240 homes have been denied by the county – at least in the form they were originally submitted, making it possible that they could still be approved with some modifications in the developer’s plans.
The proposed subdivisions which have passed through the county’s planning department include a number of rather prodigious undertakings. These larger developments include the Quarry Hills subdivision, a 285-home leviathan in Swepsonville; the Landing at Summerhaven, a collection of 125 single-family homes off of NC 119; and Kernodle Landing, a 115-home project along Gerringer Mill Road.
At this point, none of these three developments has been approved in its entirety by the county. The planning department has nevertheless given its blessing to the first 30 lots of Kernodle Landing and 95 of those slated for Quarry Hills. The department has also extended its preliminary approval to the first 38 homes in the Landing at Summerhaven, although the master plan for this project has yet to get a final all-clear from the county’s staff-level technical review committee.
The county has nevertheless cleared the way for many smaller proposals that, in some instances, have constituted the bits and pieces of larger endeavors. One case in point is the Autumn Trace development in Swepsonville, which has been submitted as five separate subdivisions since 2017. The county has given its nod of approval to each of these five components, which together comprise a total of 126 townhouses and single-family homes.
A major sticking point for some of the county’s more ambitious subdivisions has been the provision of water and sewer services for the development’s residents. This consideration has been substantially simpler for projects like Quarry Hills in the municipal limits of Swepsonville, which has the accommodations for both these utilities. Another option, at least in the eastern part of the county, has been treated water courtesy of Orange-Alamance, a private utility provider on the outskirts of Mebane.
In order to provide utilities to other areas, as well as sewage disposal within Orange-Alamance’s territory, developers have often had to rely on community wells for clean water and multi-family septic systems for sewage disposal. Caddle conceded that these measures were once a disincentive for developers to build large subdivisions in rural parts of the county. She added, however, that the current demand for more housing has made some developers more receptive to these communal utilities.
“So, when the bigger projects come in,” she said, “some of the developers are willing to put the money into community wells and septic systems.”