Newland developed a community that aligned perfectly with the area's needs while preserving valuable natural resources for future generations. Through this process, they also created a new blueprint for sustainable communities.
Briar Chapel is set within a striking natural environment. Historically farmed for tobacco, then allowed to revegetate into a forested site, the property includes multiple streams that feed Pokeberry Creek. These waters eventually reach Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina. In the middle of Briar Chapel is Bennett Mountain, a dry-mesic oak-hickory forest that’s unique for the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
In its tenth year of development, Briar Chapel is running out of room on the awards shelf. In just 2018, the community garnered more than a dozen accolades, ranging from Best Land Plan to Best Playground. All-in-all, it’s no surprise the green-focused community held the #1 spot of top selling community in the Triangle area for three consecutive years. But with a location in the middle of one of North Carolina’s largest rural counties and a grand opening that coincided with the beginning of the great recession, the road to today was not straight and narrow. Briar Chapel is a story of facing challenges head-on, and setting an entirely new precedent for the development of sustainable communities along the way.
An ordinance that sparked a sustainable community
Preservation of Chatham County’s rural character became a key component in getting the property properly rezoned. “In a unique partnership with Chatham County, the governing jurisdiction, the Briar Chapel team and Chatham County developed a unique zoning ordinance, the Compact Community Ordinance (CCO), specifically for Briar Chapel. The CCO created the mechanism that allowed for the preservation of nearly half of the 1,700 acres to be preserved in open space,” said Jody Leidoff, Newland’s Director of Pre-Development.
In total, it took five years for the ordinance to be completed and for the property to be rezoned. For the Briar Chapel team, it was an exercise well worth the time and effort.
“For me, it’s always been about delivering a high quality of life now and for generations to come. You always remember the house you grew up in. You remember the block, your street, and how you played. It’s why we’re dedicated to really delivering the best-designed neighborhoods. To Newland, that means working with the land and not against it, improving water quality, preserving green space and natural environments, and building trails and sidewalks,” Jody shared. “And thinking about the future generation that will be living in the community.”
It’s a place dedicated to sustainability from first glance. The entrance into Briar Chapel is a 2-mile roadway inspired by the historic drive into the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The drive weaves through preserved forests and around Bennet Mountain before crossing Pokeberry Creek and entering the neighborhood.
The master plan is arranged around three primary amenity sites forming a triangle of active, passive, and programmed open spaces that serve as nuclei of each neighborhood. From the three primary amenity sites, there are over 30 pocket parks, nodes, programmed parks, and passive parks within the community that provide walkability within a 5-minute walk for all residents of Briar Chapel.
“From inception, we designed Briar Chapel as a place for families to create their own legacy — to forge memories, foster relationships and build a life in whatever way they find most meaningful," explains Shannon McSwiney, MIRM, Vice President of Marketing. "While the initial plan was inspired by the land and local culture, Briar Chapel’s character springs from the families that live there. The community brims with mom meet-ups, gardening clubs, bike enthusiasts, concert fans, wine clubs, and run clubs — you name it. We firmly believe that the best-designed neighborhoods offer a springboard for people to discover a well-lived life.”
Amenities, open spaces, restaurants, pharmacies, professional offices, and retail services are all connected by trails and sidewalks, further reducing the need jump back into your car once you are home.
The CCO permitted small lot designs, setbacks that foster front porches, and alley-loaded garages, allowing streets to become an amenity of their own. A mix of block patterns and home styles allow Briar Chapel to offer a broad mix of neighborhoods from single-family homes for young families just starting out to grand estate homes.
Greener Living = Potential Savings for Homeowners
The CCO developed with Chatham County also required homes to achieve a green building certification. However, a green building program for a community of this size didn’t exist, so the Briar Chapel team created their own.
The development team took the green building guidelines developed internally to Southern Energy Management (SEM). SEM was tasked with evaluating existing green building programs and certification and selecting one that fit the requirements that could be successfully executed in a community of Briar Chapel’s size. Ultimately, the National Green Building Standards (NGBS) Program was selected for its builder-friendly design and flexible, yet impactful, checklist.
“Critical to the success of the program was the establishment of a builder onboarding process, in which all new builders received one-on-one orientations to the certification program and all homes received support and inspections throughout the construction process,” said Jamie Hagar, Green Building Specialist with SEM.
The energy savings is documented through a database kept on each home constructed within Briar Chapel. The success of this program increased market adoption of green building standards in the area, with several builders continuing to certify their homes outside of the Briar Chapel community. Briar Chapel represents 39% of all NGBS homes in North Carolina, boosting North Carolina to lead the country in single-family NGBS certifications. “More Newland communities have since adopted similar programs that deliver tangible, verified data.”
Out of the 1,600 or so occupied homes, the average HERS (home energy rating system) energy score is 54. That’s resulted in over $5 million savings in energy costs since 2008.
Engaging the Greater Community in Sustainability
At Briar Chapel, sustainability also means engaging the greater community. This was accomplished through unique collaborations with the art community, non-profit organizations, and sports community. Art was instrumental in the vision of Briar Chapel and quite literally woven into the landscape. International acclaimed artists and local craftsmen have designed artwork using materials that range from stainless steel, pottery, tile mosaics, metal, stonework, wood, and glass. The art can be discovered along the miles of trails found within the community.
Briar Chapel also fostered a relationship with the Abundance Foundation, a non-profit supporting renewable energy and the local economy. Briar Chapel is home to the Abundance Foundation’s annual PepperFest, drawing more than 3,500 individuals annually. The community also engaged Triangle Off-Road Cycling (TORC) to design and construct over 14 miles of mountain bike trails that are open to everyone in the region. Mountain bike races, TORC Fest, and cyclocross races are held throughout the seasons.
Also key to Briar Chapel’s walkability is onsite schools. The community is home to Woods Charter K-12 charter school, Margaret Pollard Middle School, a LEED® certified gold Chatham County public school, and an additional elementary school currently under construction. Central Carolina Community College is pouring the foundation for a new Health and Science campus building in Briar Chapel. This facility will incorporate a Chatham County voting center as well as a Chatham County library.
As sustainable living continues to grow, Briar Chapel will continue to benefit from a foundation of extensive research, thoughtful planning, and engagement by local community organizations. Even for the skeptics, there are tangible benefits in energy cost savings and the impact on the climate. To date, more than $5 million has been saved in energy costs and 78,178,593 pounds of greenhouse gas pollution prevented. But Newland wants to go even bigger. Sustainability is at the forefront of Newland. It’s used as a framework for everything we do.