First it was farmland. Then it was suburbia.
A wave of single-family homes cropped up for years in Cary and throughout western Wake County as growth boomed. More and more people were attracted to the often large houses that were a short commute to Research Triangle Park.
These days, the area is seeing a different kind of housing trend – townhomes.
Cary and Apex accounted for 27 percent of the 1,741 townhouses started in the Triangle last year, according to town data and Metrostudy, a research firm that tracks trends in the Triangle.
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Townhome starts in the Triangle are up 62 percent from when the housing market bottomed out in mid-2011, Metrostudy reported. The two-year increases are partly due to townhouses in Cary and Apex.
Cary approved 323 townhomes last year, up from 267 in 2011.
Meanwhile, Apex approved 158 townhomes last year, compared to 10 the year before.
Cary is on track to far exceed last year’s figures. The Town Council has already seen proposals for a total of 343 new townhomes so far this year.
Western Wake County “is really where the concentration of townhome activity is taking place,” said Jay Colvin, regional director for Metrostudy.
Townhouses make up 20 percent of the Triangle housing market, but about 35 percent of the market in Apex, Cary and Morrisville, Colvin said.
Potential home buyers are looking more to townhomes, and sales are up.
There were 955 townhome sales in western Wake last year, up from 287 in 2012, according to Triangle Multiple Listing Services.
Young professionals continue to come to the Triangle for job opportunities, then settle in Apex and Cary because the towns have good reputations, Colvin said.
But townhomes in Cary, specifically, seem to be appealing to people in their 30s and 40s as well.
“Ten years ago, you could still find a single-family home in the $150,000s to $200,000,” Colvin said. “There’s very limited options for those now.”
Last year, new single-family homes in Cary sold for an average price point of about $442,000, Colvin said. Existing homes sold for an average price of $338,000.
New townhomes in Cary sold for about $224,000, while existing townhomes sold for about $202,000, he said.
New townhomes in Apex sold for an average price of $200,000 last year – the same average price for townhouses across the Triangle.
Towns are taking different approaches to handle an influx of townhouse developments.
Apex leaders are welcoming townhomes with open arms, especially in areas along U.S. 64 and N.C. 540.
“We love townhouses,” said Apex Planning Director Dianne Khin. “Townhomes are the best for our tax base on a per-acre basis.”
Morrisville, once known as “apartment alley,” hasn’t had any new townhome developments since 2010. The town has been revising its land-use plan to deter townhouses and encourage low-density subdivisions.
“We already have enough townhomes,” Morrisville Councilman Michael Schlink said. “They don’t appreciate as much as single-family homes.”
In Cary, residents often express worry that townhouses will increase traffic. Council members regularly ask developers to scale back their projects.
In February, the council’s request prompted developer D.R. Horton to withdraw plans for 94 townhomes on Turner Creek Road.
Recently, the council asked developer M/I Homes to scale back its plan for 152 townhomes on O’Kelly Chapel Road.
Ed Kristensen, M/I’s division president in the Triangle, pointed out that the plan calls for well short of the 600 townhouses allowed on the property under Cary’s land-use rules.
He also said Cary’s request is not uncommon, and that M/I is “actively looking at our density issues.”
“Communities are better served if we take a very long view,” he said.
Staff writers Aliana Ramos and David Bracken contributed to this report.