North Carolina writer Thomas Wolfe claims you can’t go home again. Orange County Realtor Laura Virkler begs to differ.
Not only did Virkler return to the homestead where she grew up, but she made it better, then opened it up to share with others. She and her father, George Horton (who developed Gateway Center in Hillsborough), transformed the nearly 500 acres of gently rolling meadows and copses into Pleasant Green Farms, a gated community of 10-acre lots where families can live the idyllic lifestyle of a bygone era. “Pleasant Green Farms allows families to get back to nature and live in a pristine environment,” Virkler said. “You can sit on your porch and listen to the crickets and frogs and watch the sunset. You can enjoy farm life without having to drive a tractor.”
Virkler grew up on the land, set on the Durham side of Hillsborough, off Schley Road, where her father raised beef cattle and she and her mother raised horses. Her grandparents also lived on the farm, in a separate house. Now her children fish in the same ponds she enjoyed as a child and picnic beside the stream that runs along the northern edge of the property. When the water is high enough, they go tubing. “This land will cure any nature-deficit disorder,” she said.
In subdividing the land, Virkler arranged the 32 building sites around a 35-acre parcel of common green space so homeowners can enjoy bucolic views and feel as if they are living on a large acreage. She designated a building envelope for each lot so that houses that go up won’t affect their neighbors’ views.
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Designed with land conservation in mind, Pleasant Green Farms has 7 miles of trails looping through the more than 50 acres of protected common land. Many of the home sites can accommodate horses, and Virkler boards horses in the restored stable and has a paddock and horse jumps on site. A 5-acre pond stocked with fish has a dock to make it easier to fish or canoe. In lieu of a clubhouse, the Pleasant Green Farms Homeowners Association has a 100-year-old barn available for gatherings.
Homeowners may choose their own builder. Although the house plan must meet the architectural review criteria to maintain the value of the land, the standards do not dictate architectural style. Each home must be at least 3,500 square feet. Each lot perks for a 5-bedroom house. Land prices range from $200,000 to $325,000 for a 10- to 12-acre lot.
The opportunity to let their sons roam in a safe place appealed to Joe and Rosie Matsko, who purchased a lot last year and plan to build in the coming year. Right now they live on 5 acres in Orange County along a two-lane highway. They had been looking for a place with the safety of a neighborhood without having to give up living close to nature. At Pleasant Green Farms, Rosie Matsko said, “we have the comfort of having neighbors, but not so close. We can enjoy the quiet of being away from traffic, but you know there is somebody else out here besides yourself.”
Even though the Matskoes have not started building yet, they bring their bikes and fishing rods out to Pleasant Green Farms on weekends and enjoy the trails and pond.
“I wanted my boys to be able to go for a bike ride without having to look out for a transfer truck coming down the road,” Rosie Matsko said. “I wanted them to have a field where they can play ball with their friends.”
Another homeowner in Pleasant Green Farms, Bill Peters, wanted land where he and his wife, Pilar, could feel some space around them, he said, an open environment away from the beaten path. The properties he found in searching for the right place to build a home felt too close to the mainstream or too enshrouded by trees. He had lived in the Rocky Mountains for 15 years and loved being able to look out his window and see for miles. Though the views at Pleasant Green Farms aren’t quite as expansive as in the Rockies, “I do feel like I can see a storm coming from a distance,” Peters said, “and I love that.” His decision to buy was influenced as well by the investment value of the land.
“We were impressed by the covenants and the long-term plans for the community,” he said. “We considered the probable growth and development of Hillsborough and the relatively close proximity to Chapel Hill and Durham. As residents of Chapel Hill for the past 10 years, we enjoy what the town has to offer, and we also like the way Durham has been developing.”
Pleasant Green Farms is about a 10-minute drive west to the town square in Hillsborough and about a 20-minute drive east to downtown Durham. The land is about a half hour’s drive from Chapel Hill, Research Triangle Park and the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
The Matskoes also thought long term in their buying decision.
“We can stay here even when we’re empty-nesters,” Rosie Matsko said. “When our kids grow up, they can bring their families back and enjoy fishing in the pond and bike riding.”
Virkler concurs with that plan. Her own grandparents still live in Pleasant Green Farms, and perhaps someday, if she has grandchildren, they will return to roam the trails and sun themselves on the wide, flat rocks that protrude from the stream. In the meantime, her children have free reign inside the community’s gates.“I want my kids to grow up getting dirty,” she said.