Off 401 just west of Garner town limits lies what looks like a monument to recession, but is in reality it’s a marker of ambition. The partially-built but unpaved dirt main road leads into the woods, where the only signs of development are a few short, paved streets. That unpaved main road was supposed to connect to Vandora Springs at Old Stage Road, providing a major thoroughfare for the town and access to hundreds of residential units.
Now, a developer has plans to conquer the felled project abandoned roughly a decade ago. But in order to keep the project practical, Jim Anthony says he needs the town to amend the transportation plan to reduce the scope of the throughfare.
At the Aug. 26 work session, the town agreed to move toward allowing that main road to go from a four-lane road separated by a median to a cost-saving two-lane road separated by a left-turn lane.
“It’s an opportunity to get this project resurrected and moving forward,” planning director Brad Bass said.
According to traffic projection studies, that downsized road would still serve the area with an acceptable level of service until at least 2040.
Plans for the 265-acre development expected to grow to 600-800 residential units – including detached homes, town homes and apartments – will not extend the road to Old Stage.
The developer does not own some of the land required to complete the road. That possibility will remain open in the future, but the town worries that 2,000 feet of wetlands in the path of that final stretch may make the project too costly and has no immediate plans to complete the link.
The Vandora Springs Extension to U.S. 401 had been part of the town’s long-range transportation plan. A public hearing will have to be held before the town approves changes to the alterations.
‘Hope my fate is better’
At the meeting, Anthony listed off multiple people involved in the project who plans to eventually build as many as 800 residential units – including an investor, general contractor and project manager – who had died since the project first started.
“I hope my fate is better,” he said dryly, drawing laughs. “(I hope to) cleanse it of the evil spirits. We are excited about this. It has taken years to reassemble this project.”
The morbidity of Anthony’s wise-cracks fell in line with discussion of trying to bring a project back from the dead.
Bass said the original developer had plans to build some 270 lots. They didn’t get very far.
Currently there is a path gently winding eastward for about mile-and-a-half into the woods from U.S. 401. That dirt road includes some curbs in the last half-mile, but remains unpaved and uneven. At its end a subdivision road, mostly paved, carves north and then turns right, with four different paved residential cul de sacs branching off. They are the only paved roads within half a mile as the crow flies.
Bass said the project stalled in large part because the requirement of a major thoroughfare created a large capital investment requirement aside from all the infrastructure, land-clearing and house-building. The location, accessible by U.S. 401 but with little connectivity any other direction than west, also presents a unique situation.
In this iteration of the project, Anthony said the plan is to build some limited commercial use properties near the 401 intersection with apartments nearby. Townhomes would be next as you moved east with detached homes further to the back of the development toward Old Stage Road. The idea is to create a highly walkable development.
Questions still remain
Anthony does not have a site plan yet so the number of units varied, but Bass said they want zoning approval and site plans drawn up before the end of the year so construction can start in 2015. Anthony’s company is also looking into acquiring more adjacent property to expand the project’s scope.
“The total number of units planned are in flux because they haven’t completed land assemblage,” Bass said.
Since the project had been started, easements remain in place, making re-starting the project easier. The property has already been annexed as well. Anthony said he hopes that 40-50 units could be sold in year one, with more sold each year until about 120 were being sold each year.
“We have builders of a wide variety interested in coming to Garner,” Anthony said. “It would be a pretty aggressive build-out.”
The town has sought east-west connectivity to U.S. 401 in its long-range transportation plans, and would consider a number of options. An alternative to a Vandora Springs extension suggested at the council meeting was at Woodland Road, but Bass said that while that also remained a possibility the idea also presents challenges.