Development tied to town vision

The town of Cramerton expects its population of 3,200 to double in about 10 years if the proposed 143-acre Village at South Fork is developed along the South Fork River as planned.

Projects of such magnitude typically frighten elected officials and stir up citizen protests, but in this case, the town is embracing a potential Next Big Thing.

No one opposed Hopper Communities' traditional neighborhood development of 734 for-sale and rental residences and 120,000-square-foot neighborhood center because “it meshed so well with where we wanted our community to go,” said Cramerton planning director Steve Baucom.

The future growth actually will come from two projects – the Village at South Fork at Peach Orchard Road and Wilkinson Boulevard and the 675-home Lakewood traditional neighborhood development directly across Wilkinson, he said.

“These two developments will enhance our ability so much to attract the types of stores and services you see in mixed-use developments like Ballantyne and Birkdale Village,” he said. “Cramerton will be not just a place you drive through to get somewhere else, but a destination people plan to go to.”

That's already happening to some extent in neighboring Belmont, which lures new residents and visitors to its revitalized downtown and enticing Charlotteans across the Catawba River to live in Gaston County.

The region's residential boom has been slower to spread to Gaston than other counties adjacent to Mecklenburg, in part, because developers perceived the river as a natural barrier.

Today, perception is changing with the improved road access provided by Interstate 485 to communities in eastern Gaston.

Hopper Communities' Bart Hopper and his consulting partner, sports commentator Billy Packer, said their interest in the Cramerton location dates back more than three years.

Packer said one of the first things that struck him about it was the access to Charlotte via a road system already in place. “It's there today, and it will be there 15 years from now,” he said.

The developers calculated the drive time to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport at 15 minutes, to uptown Charlotte at 15 minutes, to Carolina Place Mall at 13 to 15 minutes and to Ballantyne at 20 minutes.

They initially planned to create a townhome development but enlarged their vision to include a mixed-use village when they were able to acquire about four additional land parcels.

Hopper said they submitted the site to Cramerton for annexation and got full cooperation.

Baucom said officials were eager to work with Hopper and Packer to make the most of a rare opportunity to develop the town's largest vacant tract.

“These guys came in with a vision, and they were willing to look at our recommendations,” he said. “We were almost designing a new town in itself.”

Hopper Communities' plan calls for 26 acres of open space, 500 apartments (250 in the first phase), 75 townhomes, 159 single-family home lots and a 120,000-square-foot neighborhood center that likely would be anchored by a grocery store.

The village, designed so residents can walk between homes and shops, will include trails, river access and a riverfront public greenway dedicated to the town through the Catawba Lands Conservancy.

“Every street in this community goes somewhere,” Baucom said. “It has connectivity. Residents will be three to five minutes from green space, five minutes from the neighborhood shopping center.”

He said plans include linking the village to a greenway system that would enable people to bike or walk the roughly two miles between their homes and downtown Cramerton.

The greenway eventually would become part of the Carolina Thread Trail and connect the village to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.

Hopper's goal is to start work on the project within six to nine months, but the timing will depend on participation from other developers on the multi-family and commercial portions.

Single-family homes, developed by Hopper Communities, or a multi-family project by another developer, likely would be the first off the ground, and the 12-acre to 14-acre neighborhood center probably would be the final phase, he said.

Single-family homes are expected to range from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and sell from the $190,000s to $230,000s, Hopper said.

Baucom said a big plus for Cramerton is the mix of housing types the village will create. He said the town now has only about 200 apartment units in a single multi-family complex.

Additional rental properties could attract commuters who work in Charlotte and help create a move-up community for people to get into for-sale townhomes and eventually a single-family house, Baucom said.

Hopper expects the village to be completed over about five years, adding about $100 million in real estate investment to the Cramerton tax base.