Knightdale plans deluxe development

Town adopts new design standards in quest to scale up

Staff WriterJanuary 13, 2006 

The Knightdale of the future is an urban utopia where homes run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, sidewalks are ubiquitous and pedestrians are freed from reliance on the automobile.

Following in the footsteps of Cary, Knightdale recently adopted more stringent building and architectural standards -- and also made it known that developers should be catering to the carriage trade by building pricey homes. The town, which plans to create urban centers of mixed commerce and housing, hopes to become Wake County's next destination for people with expensive tastes.

The Knightdale of the future is described -- in exhaustive detail -- in a recently adopted 286-page document sprinkled with photographs, diagrams and charts.

"This is very cutting-edge," said Mike Frangos, the town's planning director.

The plan, which is the result of two years of study, has essentially rewritten the playbook for developers wanting to build in town.

"The problem was, we had a vision for Knightdale that wasn't spelled out," explained Town Councilman Russell Killen.

Mobile and metal structures are now prohibited, and an increased emphasis has been put on the compatibility of building styles, signs, lighting and landscaping.

Parts of the town have been rezoned to encourage the building of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods along the lines of Carpenter Village in Cary and Meadowmont of Chapel Hill. The developments offer a variety of upscale housing and are within walking distance of boutique shops and other amenities.

The overall vision in Knightdale's new planning ordinance represents a radical departure for the town.

"They're certainly pushing the limit to a great extent," said Marcus Jackson, a senior vice president with Carter, a developer that represents a Knightdale landowner.

In recent decades, development in Knightdale, which has a population of about 7,300, has been characterized by nondescript commercial buildings and cookie-cutter subdivisions.

The new Knightdale is trying to shed its reputation of affordability.

The Town Council passed a resolution last year as guidance for town planners saying that new single-family homes should have a minimum value of 85 percent of the average sale price reported by Wake County for the previous year. That turned out to be $185,000 for 2004, well above Knightdale's average housing price of $161,000.

Killen said the resolution's intent is to inform developers of the kind of new homes Town Council favors. He said the council is not able to reject a developer's proposal solely based on cost.

Knightdale officials say their document is forward-thinking and realistic.

The opening of the U.S. 64/264 Knightdale Bypass last year and the eventual arrival of the Interstate 540 extension have made Knightdale popular with developers and commuters.

The bypass has made subdivisions in Knightdale some of the easiest to reach from downtown Raleigh. The extension of I-540 will make commuting from Knightdale to Research Triangle Park similar to the commute from growing Wake towns such as Holly Springs.

Mike Hunter, a partner with W&W Partners, said the quality and price of housing in Knightdale is rising. Homes in his company's Princeton Manor subdivision along Hodge Road have been selling for more than anticipated, he said. He said much of the town's plan is attainable.

Hunter's company was also responsible for sections of Carpenter Village in Cary. He said W&W is planning a development near the eastern end of Knightdale that will mix residential and commercial in a similar manner.

While Frangos said Knightdale is not trying to become the Cary of eastern Wake, Cary was the first Wake town to adopt strict planning regulations that focused on design.

Glenda Toppe, a private planner who was Cary's planning director from 1985 to 1996, said Cary benefited from adopting its regulations in the 1970s before most development occurred. "They didn't have a lot of clutter," she said.

Knightdale is not operating with a clean slate, which could complicate redevelopment.

While land near the bypass and I-540 may be ripe for upscale projects, other areas of Knightdale could be years from drawing interest from developers who will build to the town's specifications.

Billy Wilder, a former Knightdale mayor, said redeveloping the old downtown is likely to be particularly slow. Knightdale's new plan classifies the old downtown as the "Town Center District," a place for multi-story buildings and high-density residential housing.

Today, much of Knightdale's downtown lacks sidewalks, and the area draws a crowd just once a year for the Christmas parade.

Wilder, who recently sold 85 acres in Knightdale to a developer, said pedestrian-friendly villages are great, but people must be willing to pay.

"I'm not opposed to the concept," he said. "I think it's going to be a while before this town will be ready for it."

Staff writer David Bracken can be reached at 829-4548 or dbracken@newsobserver.com.

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