At the turn of the century, economic growth was booming around the world.  The evolution of the Internet allowed for globalization and diminishing energy resources were in demand more than ever before.  Y2K, reality TV, the introduction of Facebook, and the war on terror consumed our lives (Wikipedia, 2019).

During this time, a San Diego, CA based land development company called Newland Communities also began acquiring community development projects in several states.  One such project, Briar Chapel, was the first project purchased by Newland in North Carolina.

The Proposal

The proposal for Briar Chapel went before the county planning staff originally in 2001 as Chatham county’s largest development ever and was met with significant resistance, resulting in the county planning staff voting 5-0 against the proposal (Sichelman, 2005).

The controversy largely stemmed from concerns over the environmental impact, increased traffic volume, and the overall character change to the county. When it became clear that the existing regulations were not conducive to Newland’s plans for an urban-like development in a rural setting, Newland engaged with a consulting service available through the Triangle J Council of Governments to facilitate collaboration and negotiation with Chatham County.

It ultimately took four more years for an ordinance specifically developed for Briar Chapel to be approved and the property to be rezoned. Now voted Best Neighborhood in Chapel Hill four years running (Briar Chapel By Newland, 2019), the unique characteristics of the final ordinance allowed Briar Chapel to become a benchmark in sustainable living and mixed-use communities.


Compact Community Ordinance

The Compact Community Ordinance (CCO), developed for Briar Chapel, became effective on April 19, 2004. This unique zoning ordinance was the result of mutual interest and collaboration between Newland and Chatham County to preserve valuable natural resources while developing a sustainable community that met the demands of a thriving local economy.

The CCO specifies that no more than 2,650 dwelling units may be included within the community and no more than 2 dwelling units per acre of land. The maximum impervious area cannot exceed 24% of the total project area to maintain a base level of watershed protection, and a minimum of 100,000 square feet of commercial development is required.

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Many other requirements are delineated regarding water and wastewater, stormwater, buffers, recreation and open space, community facilities, and community design.

Initial Construction

Almost a year after the CCO was approved, Newland filed the first building permits in February 2005. Phase 1 of the development began with constructing the sewage treatment plant and related infrastructure in the fall, 2005.  This $10 million facility was constructed to allow for spray irrigation and the use of reclaimed gray-water irrigation for all open space.

Phase 2 marked the construction of the main entrance road from US Route 15-501.  This two-mile roadway was inspired by the historic drive into the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC (Newland Case Studies, 2019).  It weaves through preserved forests and around Bennett Mountain before traversing the iconic bridge over Pokeberry Creek and entering the neighborhood.  The other planned entrance from 15-501 at Taylor Road was completed with the remaining entrances from Andrew Store Road and Mann’s Chapel Road to follow later. 

In the fall of 2005, Newland held a retreat with Chatham County residents to create a vision for how Briar Chapel could integrate into the local area while meeting the needs of the new residents. What resulted was the focus on nature and living in a natural setting that we now enjoy. Also discussed was ways in which to create lifelong learning opportunities and cultivating exposure to the arts with local universities and the arts council.  The participants also acknowledged that technological needs of the future should be planned for now, so each home was pre-wired for high speed internet and security systems (Eby, 2006).

Phase 3 continued the construction of Briar Chapel Parkway along with Great Ridge Parkway in late summer 2006 leading up to the first home construction in Phase 4. A major requirement of the CCO was to achieve green building certification.  Utilizing the National Green Building Standards (NGBS) Program, builders began constructing the first homes around the Briar Chapel Parkway circle in 2006.  This phase of construction called for 320 homes with a village of 10 to 12 model homes, the community clubhouse and most of the recreational fields to be finished by late 2007.

Under conditions specified in the CCO, Newland began satisfying many of their other commitments before lot sales began. In support of affordable housing needs, Newland donated $460 per dwelling unit to Chatham County.  They also constructed a $1 million water tower to aid Chatham County in meeting its growing water supply needs.  Land for two schools was donated to Chatham County by the end of 2006 and in addition to the required $2,900 per unit school impact fee, Newland added an additional $2,000 per unit.  In total, Newland will donate more than $17M to support Chatham County.  They set the precedent for providing funding and facilities to meet the County’s infrastructure needs (Eby, 2006).

Recession Hits

By late 2007, the recession hit the United States and Newland needed to recalibrate to offer different price points.  Townhouses replaced plans for select single family home lots to keep pace with sales. Newland also filed the first Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs) with the Chatham County Register of Deeds.  This set of rules outlines the rights and obligations of Briar Chapel Community Association to its member homeowners and vice versa.  CCRs outline the requirements and limitations for what homeowners can do with their property.  They are intended to protect, preserve, and enhance property values in Briar Chapel.

While significant progress was made to overcome zoning requirements, infrastructure concerns, and economic hurdles, the local community still held misconceptions about Briar Chapel (Winkler, 2008). The lengthy planning stages resulted in rumors about costly, inefficient, and incorrect construction and design of this mixed-use development.  Local realtors were tasked with dispelling these misconceptions by sharing details about the environment-friendly and fiscally responsible steps taken to build our community.

Briar Chapel at A Glance

In September 2008, Newland held the official grand opening for Briar Chapel including the recently completed clubhouse.  Construction of the two pools, diving well, water slide, splash pad, cabanas, barbecue area and playground were still in progress.

If you recall the retreat that Newland held with the Chatham County community in 2005, one topic of discussion was cultivating exposure to the arts.  As a result, various art installations can be found throughout our community.  You would be hard-pressed to miss the large earthcast sculptures that adorn the traffic circle near the clubhouse.  These were created by Thomas Sayre, a Raleigh-based artist.  In spring 2009, over six miles of trails were open and included “Art in Nature” installations among the biking and walking trails.

Perhaps one of the most coveted amenities at Briar Chapel, the pool facilities opened in May 2009.  Non-resident memberships were available at the grand opening and quickly sold out on the first day (Winkler, 2009).

Construction Continues

As the recession was nearing the end in 2009, Briar Chapel gained the national spotlight when the Associated Press reported on new home construction falling flat despite builder optimism. The story was picked up by major news outlets around the country which included a snapshot of homes under construction in our neighborhood (Winkler, 2009).

As home construction continued to the west and south, new amenities continued to be added, making our houses feel more like homes. A community garden, affectionately called The Briar Patch by residents, was installed in August 2010. The garden club developed operating guidelines for maintaining a productive community garden (Winkler, 2010).

The Briar Chapel “Pooch” Park made its debut in March 2011, creating a wonderful space for dogs of all sizes to run and play while their owners socialize. The park includes separate areas for large and small dogs, time-out areas, and a shed structure.

In April 2012, Newland was working on building out Phase 5 North when Briar Commons Park held its grand opening. This 1.5-acre park features an amphitheater and large formal lawn area for festivals, concerts and movies.

The largest park to date was opened in April 2013. Aptly named Boulder Park after the massive boulders that were unearthed during the grading of the site, amenities include a fire pit, pergola, bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, chess/checkers tables, and a community garden.

Five-Year Anniversary & Beyond

In October 2013, Briar Chapel celebrated its five-year anniversary with a hot air balloon media tour.  Almost 450 residents called Briar Chapel home and home sales were expected to hit 500 over the next few months.  The next phase of the development, Great Meadow, was underway across from Margaret B. Pollard Middle School.  The focal point of this phase was Great Meadow Park. A historic tobacco barn and a small burying ground was protected and preserved for residents to view.  Several storm water ponds were being converted to permanent ponds and mountain biking trail extensions were underway.  The reclaimed irrigation system began operating recently and discussion was beginning for commercial properties on US 15-501 (Winkler, 2013).

By September 2014, 591 homeowners were in place with a projected total of 630 occupied homes by year-end.  Great Meadow Park was being developed as a five-acre linear park with a mix of active and passive recreational amenities and a covered pavilion as the focal point.

The groundbreaking for the first commercial developments began in March 2015 along the 15-501 corridor. Restaurants, retail shops, and offices were all interested in leasing space along with a café, preschool, dentist and pediatrician. Briar Chapel had 685 occupied homes at this point.

Chatham County Parks & Recreation opened the new Park at Briar Chapel to the public in August 2015.  The park had softball fields, a soccer field, a multipurpose/football field and a building with restrooms and concessions.  The next phase of the park included a picnic shelter, playground, walking trail and lighting (Chatham Journal, 2015).  By the end of 2015, 870 homes were occupied and commercial development along 15-501 was well underway with the grand opening scheduled for fall 2016. 

The first age-qualified community, Encore, was announced in June 2016.  Encore was designed by David Weekley Homes as a 55+ active adult community within a community. Encore is a sub-association of BCCA, and is subject to BCCA’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and, in addition, is subject to its own additional CC&Rs.  Occupancy of any home or use of Encore amenities is generally restricted to persons 55 years of age or older.  

Encore programming includes a variety of activities to engage both the mind and body.  Residents come from many parts of the country to enjoy social interaction with their peers, and, typically, to downsize into a smaller home. At full build-out, there will be 192 single-level homes in the neighborhood. 

Encore construction began in 2017 with homes built first on Boone Street, Middleton Place, and then Abercorn Circle. The first closings took place in October 2017 and it is anticipated that construction will be complete by the end of 2021.  The amenities center opened in October 2017 with a beautiful saline pool and pool deck, a clubhouse with a work-out center and fitness room, and space for meetings and other gatherings.  A large open living room welcomes all who enter.

In spring 2017, the Sports Complex was the last major amenity constructed.  In August 2017, Constellation Park opened 14 of the 24 miles of planned trails.  The last lots in the western portion of the community were ready for completion in the first quarter of 2018.  Briar Chapel was voted one of the 50 best master-planned communities in the US by Where to Retire Magazine and the list of awards and accolades continued.  The Veranda made its mark as an award-winning dining and retail destination.

In November 2018, Newland revealed that over 1,600 homes were occupied with residential lot development in the western part of the community well underway.  The first phase of Briar Chapel North was nearing completion and the extension of Great Ridge Pkwy North to Manns Chapel would open by the end of 2018.  Two lots with a senior living focus closed on the eastern commercial site along US 15-501.

An important milestone was finally reached in 2019 with 75% of the homes sold and closed in Briar Chapel.  On November 13, 2019, Briar Chapel transitioned to Class A control at the annual meeting of the membership.  In preparation for this transition, a transition committee was appointed to advise the outgoing and incoming Board of Directors on the many issues involved in a transition from a developer-majority Board to one comprised exclusively of homeowners. 

Almost two decades after the notion of Briar Chapel came into existence and the community is approaching maturation.  The foundation upon which Briar Chapel was built will allow residents to rise to these challenges as a community and anticipate needs for the next 20 years.

History Timeline

Apr 2004 – Compact Community Ordinance (CCO) approved
Feb 2005 – Briar Chapel development zoning approved
2005 – Phase 1 began – sewer plant, bridge, entrance road from 15-501
Fall 2005 – Newland held a “visioning” retreat for Newland executives, consultants, and Chatham residents met to help design how Briar Chapel might best integrate into the life of the county and meet the needs of new residents.
Nov 2006 – Home building began; 300-400 lots around circle were the first to be built; the trail network also began.
2007 – Recession hit; Newland recalibrated to offer different price points; townhouses replaced single family homes
Jul 2007 – Groundbreaking for Woods Charter School.
Nov 2007 – Newland recorded the first Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs) with the county.
May 2008 – Clubhouse completed.
Aug 2008 – Woods Charter School grand opening.
Sept 2008 – Grand opening.
2009 – Construction continued to the west and south
May 2009 – Activity pool with slides, lap pool and splash pad grand opening
Sep 2009 – The Briar Patch community garden grand opening
Jan 2011 – Margaret B. Pollard middle school grand opening
Mar 2011 – Pooch Park grand opening
Apr 2012 – Briar Commons Park grand opening, located in Phase 5 North, 1.5-acre park features an amphitheater and large formal lawn area for festivals, concerts and movies
2013 – Boulder Park grand opening
Sep 2014 – Developer update: 591 homeowners in place, projected 630 occupied homes by year-end; Great Meadow currently being developed; it’s a five-acre linear park with a mix of active and passive recreational amenities: covered pavilion as the focal point. vimeo.com/101959941 (aerial footage from Merle Braley)
2015 P- ark at Briar Chapel grand opening
Mar 2015 – Groundbreaking of commercial parcels on 15-501
Apr 2015 – Developer update: 685 occupied homes; construction commenced on Briar Chapel’s first commercial offering: private preschool/childcare and office complex slated for healthcare practitioners.
Aug 2015 – Park at Briar Chapel opens to the public.
2016 – Encore addition announced.
Mar 2016 – Developer update: 870 occupied homes at the end of 2015; commercial development well underway; grand opening scheduled for fall 2016: restaurants, education, medical and healthcare, law office
Aug 2017 – Developer update: Constellation Park scheduled to open14 of the 24 miles of planned trails completed; last lots in the western portion of the community will be ready for new homes in the first quarter of 2018; voted one of the 50 best master-planned communities in the US by Where to Retire Magazine; many other awards and accolades. The Veranda has made its mark as an award-winning dining and retail destination.
Nov 2018 – Developer update: Over 1,600 occupied homes; residential lot development in the western part of the community is well underway; 2nd phases of US Steel and Encore are set to begin; 1st phase of Briar Chapel North is nearing completion; extension of Great Ridge Pkwy North to Manns Chapel set to open by the end of 2018. Two lots with a senior living focus closed on the eastern commercial site along 15-501.

History References

Briar Chapel By Newland. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.briarchapelnc.com/

Chatham Journal. (2015). Chatham County’s Park at Briar Chapel Opens For Limited Use on August 1 Retrieved from http://chathamjournal.com/2015/07/27/chatham-countys-park-at-briar-chapel-opens-for-limited-use-on-august-1/

Eby, R. (2006) Briar Chapel Ready to Break Ground. Retrieved from https://www.chathamcountyline.org/pdfs/CCL.nov06.web.pdf

Newland Case Studies. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.newlandco.com/about/case-studies/briar-chapel/

Sichelman, L. (2005) It Took A Village. Retrieved from https://www.builderonline.com/land/development/it-took-a-village_o

Style Magazine. (2016). David Weekly Launches Encore Homes for 55+ Buyers in Briar Chapel. Retrieved from: http://stylemagazine.com/news/2016/jun/21/david-weekly-launches-encore-homes-55-buyers-briar/

Wikipedia. (2019). 2000s (decade). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_(decade)

Winkler, J. & Winkler, P. (2008). Misconceptions About Briar Chapel. Retrieved from https://briarchapel.blogspot.com/2008/05/misconceptions-about-briar-chapel.html

Winkler, J. & Winkler, P. (2008). The Pool is Open! Retrieved from https://briarchapel.blogspot.com/2009/05/pool-is-open.html

Winkler, J. & Winkler, P. (2009). Briar Chapel Enjoys National Press Coverage. Retrieved from https://briarchapel.blogspot.com/2009/08/briar-chapel-enjoys-national-press.html

Winkler, J. & Winkler, P. (2010). Briar Chapel Community Garden Breaks Ground. Retrieved from https://briarchapel.blogspot.com/2010/08/briar-chapel-community-garden-breaks.html

Winkler, J. & Winkler, P. (2013). Briar Chapel 2013 Year-End Review. Retrieved from https://briarchapel.blogspot.com/2013/12/briar-chapel-2013-year-end-review.html

Interviews

Lee Bowman – Newland Project Manager (June 2019)

Glenn Lazarus – Briar Chapel historian (October 2019)

Jason Sullivan – Chatham County Planning Director (October 2019)

Documents

Chatham County Board of Commissioners, Special Meeting, Briar Chapel Development, Feb 15, 2005 https://www.chathamnc.org/home/showdocument?id=2178

Chatham County Planning Board, Rezoning & Subdivision Cases https://www.chathamnc.org/government/departments-programs/planning/rezonings-subdivision-cases