Johnston County

Riverwood, which spurred growth in western Johnston County, submits final plans

Developer Reid Smith, whose father Fred Smith started Riverwood 20 years ago, presents his plans for the expansive development’s final phase.
Developer Reid Smith, whose father Fred Smith started Riverwood 20 years ago, presents his plans for the expansive development’s final phase. jdjackson@newsobserver.com

The final piece of Riverwood Athletic Club, the development of hundreds of homes that helped lead growth in western Johnston County, is ready to come on line.

Walton Farms will add 190 homes and 120 apartments on a 51-acre tract along Covered Bridge Road. One of the most significant features of the new development is the second entrance it will give the neighborhood on Covered Bridge Road, a long-called-for outlet expected to ease some of the pressure on Pritchard Road.

Walton Farms will look and function similarly to the rest of Riverwood, with the boulevard entrance passing between a row of apartment buildings, developer Reid Smith said.

“We’ll try to keep this part of the development close to what already exists,” said Smith, who has taken over much of the operations from his father Fred Smith who developed Riverwood. “We’re very, very proud of what Riverwood has become. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Smith called the development ahead of its time when it was first approved in the late 1990s, offering Johnston County one of its first looks at a mixed-use development, with homes and apartment buildings with retail on the ground floor. Walton Farms would have looked identical to that plan, but Clayton’s planning department talked developers out of the retail component, fearing more shops in the neighborhood would cannibalize Clayton’s downtown and Riverwood’s existing businesses.

“We talked to the developer about this,” Clayton planning director David DeYoung said. “Through conversations we determined we didn’t want to pull away any of the tenants from the Riverwood Athletic Club, which is starting to thrive and we didn’t want to pull away any of the commercial tenants from Main Street, which is starting to thrive. So the developer agreed to remove the commercial component from this application, so the buildings will be entirely apartments down the middle.”

The new development will have a 10-foot-wide paved trail around part of the perimeter and cutting through the middle of the subdivision, one day linking up with a planned river park in Clayton. Smith said there would be pocket parks and open space throughout the neighborhood.

Riverwood is nearly halfway between Clayton and Archer’s Lodge and DeYoung and Smith said the young town to the north would be able to tie into the trail if it built its own connecting route.

“We believe open space is a key part of any development,” Smith said. “Every unit backs up to open space. We thought that was a critical part of this development. ... If one day Archer’s Lodge does make it out that far, we want to have that (connection) for them. In the effort of team spirit, we think that’s fair.”

There’s a spring-fed pond on the property with somewhat of an uncertain future. Smith called it premature to say to what extent the pond would be impacted or would be worked into a drainage plan, but pledged to follow the rules.

“We have not designed this from a construction standpoint yet,” Smith said. “There are plenty of regulatory agencies that will oversee stormwater, erosion, on down the list. We fully intend to comply with all of those. If using the pond allows us to use some stormwater in a legal and upstanding way, we will probably do so. If no, we will do it a different way.”

John House, a next-door neighbor to the proposed development, spoke out against the Walton Farms plan, saying it would make it more dangerous for him and his wife to get out of their driveway and onto Covered Bridge Road. He agreed that the second entrance would improve travel for Riverwood, but that all of those cars passing by his house would make things harder for him.

“With all this development, traffic is only going to get worse,” House said.

House brought another complaint before the planning board and brought a prop with him. With all the new homes and roads, House said he was worried about the water quality of a pond on his land. He brought a plastic water bottle filled with clear water he said came from his pond and showed videos of him sticking a rod into the water, which was clear enough show the pole several feet below the surface.

The planning board unanimously supported the development’s rezoning request and subdivision plan, but passed along concerns about water quality to the town council, which will make the final approval on the development next month.

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