For an 1,100-acre development that just in the past few weeks welcomed its first residents, Wendell Falls exudes a surprising degree of polish.
Wendell Falls Parkway, the road that leads into the development off U.S. 64, is well-landscaped and lined with bright signs touting Wendell Falls and its developer, Newland Communities. The one area that is complete – The Farmhouse – features a community center, pool, fitness center and a coffee shop where you can get an iced almond milk latte or, on a recent day, a grilled barbeque and pimento cheese sandwich.
“Every little detail is neat,” said Frank Sheffield, 27, noting the fireplaces strategically placed around The Farmhouse.
Early next month Sheffield, his wife, Emily, and their two children will move into a new home on Drift Falls Lane in Wendell Falls. Emily Sheffield’s parents purchased the house as an investment, and are renting it out to the couple.
“They think this is going to be the next place to be,” Emily Sheffield, 24, said. “They think it’s up and coming.”
Ever since it was first envisioned a decade ago, Wendell Falls has held the promise of being the next place to be. Until now, the project’s potential only existed in developer pitches and renderings. The original developer was foreclosed upon, and the project was owned by Wells Fargo for several years before Newland paid $34 million to acquire the property in 2013.
Newland, the largest private developer of large, master-planned communities in U.S., is now implementing its well-honed strategy to create an intricately planned town from scratch. Marketing materials for Wendell Falls describe porch-lined streets with paved trails connecting different neighborhoods, a vision intended to attract homeowners who otherwise might end up in Cary, Apex, Holly Springs or North Raleigh.
“There hasn’t really been anything like Wendell Falls – a true master plan that has all the amenities and the number of homes,” said Shannon McSwiney, Newland’s director of marketing. “That’s going to bring a very different type of lifestyle to eastern Wake County, but it has such great proximity to downtown Raleigh and to the Research Triangle Park.”
Wendell Falls could ultimately have as many as 4,000 homes. Seven builders are now constructing the first several phases, which will include about 350 lots featuring homes priced from $190,000 to $400,000.
About 30 homes are move-in ready, but only a handful of owners have closed. Newland expects 15 to 20 homeowners to close by the end of the year.
Amy Friend and her husband Keith Priest paid $207,500 for a 1,560-square-foot house that they moved into about a month ago. Homeowner dues, which include a membership to the fitness club and pool, run about $95 a month.
Friend and Priest previously owned a townhouse off Western Boulevard, and they were hoping to remain in that area of Raleigh.
“But our price point kind of pushed us to broaden our search a bit,” she said.
The couple had certain requirements, including a two-car garage, but the homes they could afford didn’t fit their needs and those that did were out of their price range. The investment Newland made upfront in amenities helped make them comfortable being one of the first people to live in Wendell Falls.
“If it didn’t have the amenities and if it didn’t feel like a community already we probably wouldn’t have pursued living there,” Friend, 35, said. “For being outside of downtown you still have a feeling of being in a town.”
It takes Friend only about 20 minutes to get to her job on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus.
Room for retail
It will likely take well over a decade to build out Wendell Falls, but Newland’s timing in restarting the project could end up being quite good. A shortage of lots and rising home prices in western Wake, Raleigh and other desirable areas of the county is forcing many house hunters to broaden their search.
Until now, much of the growth in Wake County has been spreading south to towns such as Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina. But it will eventually shift east, where large tracts of land are located.
Although Wendell Falls seems isolated, that will change. Newland is approved to develop as much as 2 million square feet of commercial and retail space near the Wendell Falls Parkway interchange.
In Newland’s other Triangle community, Briar Chapel near Chapel Hill, the commercial portion is just now being built seven years after the first homes were sold.
Newland believes commercial development could come to Wendell Falls sooner. McSwiney said the company is fielding calls from commercial developers interested in land, in part because the shops could appeal to other nearby subdivisions in eastern Wake.
The mix of homeowners buying homes in Wendell Falls could also change, with the potential to introduce townhomes or an age-restrictive community for people 55 and older.
“We’re going to be here for a while and definitely watch what the market does,” McSwiney said. “And that’s how we continue to evolve the offerings of homes and different amenities that are desired.”