Baxter Village: Progress and Preservation
By Jason Miller
If you had more than 7,000 acres of land that had been in your family for more than 200 years, what would you do with it? The Close family, Fort Mill, S.C.'s biggest benefactor and heirs to Spring Industries, wanted to encourage careful growth in their home town, which is luring newcomers and developers from Charlotte, 15 miles to the north.
Fort Mill is enticing for many reasons. With its modest population of 9,000, it's a true slice of small-town America. A train runs at the end of Main Street, local merchants ply their wares in small mom-and-pop stores, and old men chew the fat in the bandstand at the corner park. Factor in the town's strong school district and you have an irresistible draw for people of all backgrounds.
How to manage the growth? The Close family began by creating a plan known as the Clear Springs Plan, designed to be used as a model for an alternative to conventional sub urban development. The goal of the plan was to counteract fragmented land use, conserve open space while planning communities, and develop a compact form of growth. With these founding principles in mind, Clear Springs Development Company (CSDC) was formed to implement and oversee the plan.
The new company was attracted to new urban planning concepts, but also wanted to make certain its strong environmental concerns were part of the guiding principles. To these ends, CSDC assisted York County in establishing a new zoning district, the Traditional Neighborhood District, as step one toward implementing the Clear Springs Plan.
With the new zoning district in place, CSDC set its plan in motion. First, they dedicated the Anne Springs Close Greenway, a greenway placed in permanent easement as a park that can never be developed. At 2,300 acres, the green way is nearly three times the size of New York's Central Park, its 26 miles of trails offer opportunities for hiking, fishing, biking, camping, horseback riding and wildlife viewing.
The remaining 4,700 acres have been divided into several mixed-use neighborhoods, light industrial parks and office parks, which are meant to be developed during the next 20 years -- with the greenway as the core of the plan.
Best Foot Forward
Enter Baxter Village, the first mixed-use component of the Clear Springs Plan to be developed, with a projected completion date of 2009. Baxter combines, townhomes, single-family homes, garage apartments and granny flats, and up to 380,000 square feet of commercial, retail, office and civic spaces. In its 1,033 acres, Baxter Village provides more than 500 acres of open space stitched together by a system of trails -- yet another nod to the Closes' dedication to the environment.
Baxter Village incorporates core principles of new urban design, including a 40-acre town center that already offers commercial and residential spaces, an elementary school, a YMCA, a public library, an urgent care center, a daycare center, restaurants, shops, offices and several pocket parks. Its scale is appropriate for pedestrians, with narrow, walkable streets lined by trees and sidewalks.
Many of the streets in Baxter Village eschew cul-de-sacs in favor of "closes," which typically have green spaces in their centers. "Topography has been a driving force in the development of Baxter Village," says Kerri Robusto, marketing, leasing and sales director for CSDC. "In our first phase we forced alleys to really showcase the concept; however, we had to do a tremendous amount of cut and fill to accomplish this. In the following phases, we're really developing with the land."
Diversity in housing style is another hallmark of Baxter Village. A pattern book produced by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, Pa., helps to mold a variety of architectural styles into a cohesive whole. An Upcountry South Carolina style pervades, and includes Classical, Colonial Revival, Victorian, and Arts and Crafts. Diversification in price point was another key component during Baxter's planning phase; to accomplish this in part, lot sizes ranged from 42 to 90 feet wide for single-family detached homes (70-, 80- and 90-foot wide lots are currently offered for single-family lots), and 18 to 28 feet wide for attached townhomes. The master plan also mixes lot types within its blocks.
Even with these attempts at price point affordability, though, Baxter Village is experiencing the typical market-demand pressures that come into play in most well-executed TNDs. Single-family homes that started in the $130s have now risen to the $290s. Townhomes that started in the $110s are now in the $180s range (arguably still an attainable entry point for many families in the region). The price points remain wide; they simply start a bit higher than originally planned.
A Bright Future
Baxter Village is experiencing great sales success thus far. At press time, more than 850 single-family homes had been sold, on the way toward 1,400 at build-out. Townhomes came in at 102 built, with 132 more on the way. And more than 320,000 square feet of Baxter Town Center with commercial, retail, restaurant, office and civic space has been completed.
The Fort Mill neighborhood has been described by local community planners as a new model for planning and development, and has been recognized by the Sierra Club as an excellent national smart growth example. In 2001, Baxter Village was awarded the South Carolina Stewardship Award, which is given to projects that promote the conservation, protection and enhancement of the state's natural resources, while recognizing the place of people in the environment.
"Baxter celebrates a way of life you thought the world had left behind," says Robusto. "It combines the best of the past with great promise for the future. It's small-town life without small-town limitations. At Baxter, living, learning, working and playing walk hand in hand."
Village of Baxter at a Glance
Location: Fort Mill, S.C.
Size: 1,033 acres
Designer: Urban Design Associates,
ColeJenest and Stone
Developer: Clear Springs Development
Percent Complete: 61%
Population: 850+ families
Single-family: $290s and up
Townhomes: $180s and up
Getting There: Less than 20 miles south
of Uptown Charlotte
From Charlotte, take Interstate 77 South to Exit 85. Turn right on Highway 160. Baxter is on the left.
From Rock Hill, take I-77 North to Exit 85. Turn left on Highway 160. Cross over I-77. Baxter is on the left.
For more information, call 877.570.4663 or go to www.villageofbaxter.com.