A new 1,000-home subdivision is coming to the Deep River area, exciting those hungry for growth in Sanford and alienating those who’ll feel crowded and victimized by Raleigh’s southbound sprawl
By Billy Liggett
There are two trains of thought going in two very different directions when it comes to Galvin’s Ridge — the 420-acre, 1,000-home subdivision coming in the near future to what is now a sea of trees where U.S. 1 meets Colon Road at the northern tip of Sanford’s city limits.
There are those who love it. Those who point to the juxtaposition of an influx of jobs (both present and future) in a city on the precipice of a housing shortage. Those who see Galvin’s Ridge (and other new developments like Laurel Oaks and Carbonton Cove, to name just a few) as a sign of progress in a city rebounding impressively from the economic downturn that crippled the local economy just a decade ago. And those who say that if Sanford wants more restaurants, more retail (Target, anyone?) and more jobs, it needs to right now invest in its infrastructure and build more rooftops.
Then there are those who loathe it, though the “loathe” is a little more complicated. There is a vocal group of men and women — many of whom live in the Deep River area on roads like Perry Pond and Cedar Lake and, of course, Deep River — who are against any kind of large-scale development altering the laid back, low-trafficked way of life they’ve enjoyed for multiple generations. There are others who aren’t necessarily opposed to growth in their area, but are unimpressed with and worried about the plans for Galvin’s Ridge submitted by developers WithersRavenel and homebuilding giant D.R. Horton.
Love it or loathe it, Galvin’s Ridge is coming.
After months of discussion, trips to cities with similar home sites, poring over plans and crunching numbers, the Sanford City Council passed a rezoning measure back in November that will pave the way for the new subdivision and its mixture of homes (single-family and townhomes), commercial space, greenways, dog parks, playgrounds and a clubhouse.
According to city officials, land clearing could begin as soon as next month. The first homes — Phase I of the massive plan — could be up and filled with families in as little as 12 to 16 months.
WHAT’S COMING AND WHY
It’s unlike any development Sanford has seen since Carolina Trace (built in the 1970s) in terms of size and the sheer number of homes coming in such a short period of time. And if Galvin’s Ridge and its 995 homes ever reach capacity, the city is looking at an instant 8 percent population increase.
The subdivision will sit on the north side of U.S. 1 with its main entrance on Colon Road, across from Enterprise Park Drive and the recently built 117,000-square-foot industrial warehouse. The front nine acres of the site will be reserved for commercial buildings, and townhomes will go up near the front, surrounded by smaller single-family homes. According to the WithersRavenel master plan, last updated in August, larger homes and larger lots will be part of the second and third phases.
According to Sanford Mayor Chet Mann, the site was originally zoned for more industrial development and was originally incorporated into Central Carolina Enterprise Park. Mann said the developers owned the land for over 12 years and had negotiated the right to negotiate and change the zoning to “residential” if it did not sell to an industrial user by January of this year.
“This all went through public hearings in 2017, and very little input or push back was given to the city council at the time,” Mann said. “So we had no real ability to stop the Galvin’s Ridge project. We simply had the power to enforce standards onto the builder as recommended by the planning board.”
Chip Pickard, director of North Carolina operations for Criteria Development in Daphne, Alabama, said his company submitted the application for rezoning because the land met five benchmarks for residential planning: the city’s overall need for housing, Sanford’s current economic status, future prospects in the city for economic development, the affordability and cost of living in Sanford, and the overall “community atmosphere” or “desirability” of people looking to move to Sanford.
“These things are important in attracting new residents to your community,” Pickard said. “And geographically, Sanford’s proximity to Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Charlotte and the coast makes it an extremely attractive location. With all of this considered, this area stood out as a key gem for us and what we believe to be a good opportunity. We met with your various leaders in the Sanford community, and there was a strong desire expressed [by them] for the need for more housing.”
The community itself will be a mix of single-family homes, townhomes, commercial parcels and “extensive open space and community amenities,” according to plans provided by WithersRavenel. The single-family home building program will consist of no fewer than three distinct D.R Horton home series, the “Express,” the “Horton” and the “Freedom” series. As the community develops, additional home series may be offered.
While target prices of the homes are not set in stone, it is anticipated that the townhomes will run in the high $100,000s, while the Express homes will run from $200,000 to low $300,000 and the Freedom homes in the mid $200,000 to mid-$300,000 range.
As for those “community amenities,” developers are promising over three miles of public and private greenways, a neighborhood swimming pool, a clubhouse, playgrounds, two dog parks, a “sports court” and picnic area. The trail system will incorporate benches and pet waste stations and will be peppered with open spaces. Every street will have a sidewalk on one or both sides, according to site plans, and every street will have a designated planting strip that will have trees planted an average of 50 feet on center.
According to Kelly Race, the former senior technical consultant at WithersRavenel, all homes in Galvin’s Ridge will be part of a Homeowners Association, and dues paid to that HOA will pay for yard maintenance performed by the association.
“We believe this project will be one of the most diverse in the Triangle,” said Zack Anderson of D.R. Horton. “The amenities of this project will be bar none, and not just for the homeowners, but the entire community. It will be an important part of the growth of this city and of the county’s economy — and of the hard work that’s made this one of the fastest growing areas in the state.”
And Galvin’s Ridge could be just the beginning for Colon Road. A quarter mile south of the site, on the other side of U.S. 1, sits an 1,800-acre assemblage of land called Deep River Forest with two miles of river frontage that was annexed by the City of Sanford a dozen years ago. Mann said he expects Deep River Forest will be ready for development in the next few years and could triple or quadruple the size of Galvin’s Ridge, offering more than 3,000 homes over the next few decades.
GOOD FOR SANFORD?
The City of Sanford gave its stamp of approval to Galvin’s Ridge back on Nov. 19 at the recommendation of the planning board. The vote, however, was not unanimous — councilmen Jimmy Haire and Charles Taylor voted against the measure, which still passed with a 5-2 majority.
Taylor was the most vocal councilman at that November meeting, which also included public comments from Deep River homeowners who were against the plan. In his statement before his vote, Taylor said he wasn’t opposed to the idea of home construction in the highly rural Deep River area, but had issues with the large number of homes planned for such a relatively small area.
“Look at the Nottingham subdivision, which is a Smith Douglas product. Or Carthage Colonies, which are Beazer homes. The smallest lots in these neighborhoods are larger than the vast majority of Galvin’s Ridge lots,” Taylor said. “To put it in perspective, I looked at a map of City Hall, where we’re all sitting right now, and you could fit 33 Galvin’s Ridge homes between these sidewalks here. Three rows of 11 homes each.”
Taylor pointed to large-scale homes in the New Hill area, just 10 miles north of the Galvin’s Ridge site, and suggested Sanford could shoot higher when it comes to new homes and build townhomes that demand $250,000 and single-family homes that demand $400,000.
“It’s not my decision to tell a developer what to build, but it is our decision as a council to represent the people in these areas,” Taylor said. “Is this a product that 10 years from now we’ll be proud of? Is it something we’ll stand behind. Is it going to look good in 10 years? Five years? My goal is to get the best possible product. I want to make sure we’re not underselling our city. We have very few opportunities between Sanford and Apex to make this work. I don’t think we’re there yet to pull the plug and say, ‘Let’s move forward.’”
Ron Noles, who lives on Cedar Lake Road in the Deep River area, called the city’s vote to approve Galvin’s Ridge “hypocrisy,” because the same council voted against a subdivision back in January 2019 on Valley Road. According to Mann, the city council voted against annexing that land because the developer “would not compromise on design, land plan and building aesthetics.”
“It did not appear to the city council that there was any real sense of a neighborhood community,” Mann explained. “Therefore, it was not voted to be annexed in.”
Noles said he agrees with Taylor’s assessment that Galvin’s Ridge is too dense and could have shot for higher-priced homes.
“I have not been completely against the project,” Noles said, “only that between the developer and the city, they’re wanting to just pack houses one onto another. When the developer says there will be 10 feet between each house, and each home will have 20 feet for the backyard and 20 feet for the front yard, how can the city not have a problem with that?”
Noles, whose home is a mile and a half from the future entrance of Galvin’s Ridge and who has lived in the Deep River area for 28 years, said he believes the city cares more about “the almighty dollar” over its residents.
“After the council’s vote, I just hope that once work begins and the homes along Deep River Road have been bulldozed and the trees are cut down … someone will remind those who voted for this just what has been lost,” Noles said. “Lee County had the opportunity to set a new standard for developing a place where families would be happy to settle in and not just become a bedroom community for our larger neighbors.”
Mandy Moss and Hubert Wall, both residents of Perry Pond Road, which will butt up against the northernmost side of Galvin’s Ridge, spoke at the November meeting against the subdivision, both saying the construction and traffic will take away from their quality of life.
“This is where I’m from,” Moss pleaded to the council. “This is where my family is from, where my mother graduated from high school and where my kids grew up. It’s where we camped, fished, four-wheeled and played outside in the yard. I want that same life for my grandchildren. I do not want to leave my home because a large neighborhood is going up right in front of me. I do not want that peace and quiet and safety taken away from me. It’s a community we’re proud of and a community with a rich history.”
“I learned a lot about the history of Sanford and Lee County through a [Sanford Area Growth Alliance] Leadership class,” added Wall, “and this council is standing on the shoulders of the people who came before them and built this city. Those who made good decisions not just for the city, but for the people of the city. Sanford has been well planned and well thought out. I’m not against change — no person would argue against good change. But the majority of the people who live in the Deep River area don’t believe this is a good change. Is it right for Sanford or Lee County? I don’t know. But I know without a doubt it’s not right for Deep River.”
Taylor’s other concern with Galvin’s Ridge is the strain it could put on schools and emergency response, adding that nine firefighters will need to be added to the Deep River Fire Department and eventually a new department will need to be added (in addition to new responders in south Sanford when the 640-home Laurel Oaks subdivision is built).
FILLING THE VOID
Todd and Stephanie Pace live directly across from the giant field of trees and hills that will soon become Galvin’s Ridge, but they share an optimism about the project and what it will mean for their home that many of their neighbors don’t have.
“Look, we don’t mind if Deep River becomes another Apex,” said Todd, who has lived in the area for over a decade. “I think growth is great. If you don’t embrace growth in your town, then your town’s going to die. New homes means better restaurants and better places to shop. And if you look at some of land and the homes around us and in that area, this development is definitely an improvement.
Motorhomes parked in front yards, old trailers that probably aren’t safe enough for people to live in … when you see things like that, then, yeah, bring in something nicer. Bring in a new subdivision.”
Sanford Mayor Chet Mann has championed the new subdivision publicly over the past year and offered a thorough explanation of the process that led to the vote in November after the motion passed with the 5-2 vote. He explained that his support for Galvin’s Ridge goes back to the 2020 land use plan dubbed “Plan SanLee,” which focuses on policies guiding physical development — residential and commercial. Mann said the plan was designed to provide guidance during rezoning requests, site plan proposals and subdivision proposals.
Galvin’s Ridge, according to Mann, fits that plan and is part of a long-term solution to bring Sanford’s housing market on part with its growing job base.
“Why am I in favor of residential growth out there? Simply put, Sanford and Lee County have been dead last in our 13-county region in new residential construction for a decade — and by a large margin,” Mann said. “Our lack of inventory and signature amenitized neighborhoods was and still is a detriment to our overall growth and wellbeing. We need new families in Sanford — families drive the quality of life. Strong working families contribute to our neighborhoods, our schools and our nonprofits, and they bolster our existing small businesses, restaurants and service providers. Without new residential homes to choose from, new residents would simply not choose to live here. The little inventory and type of housing stock we have to offer does not answer the call for what most people in 2020 are looking for.”
According to Mann, Sanford’s work force has expanded by nearly 1,500 jobs in the last five years through the Sanford Area Growth Alliance and announced in the last year 765 new jobs coming to the area, with another 200 pending an announcement coming in February. On the flipside, as of last December, Sanford had a region-low 133 homes listed for sale in Lee County.
“Do the math,” he said. “There is a big void. No wonder our multi-family development is booming here. Also, rooftops are what drive better and more quality retail that our citizens are demanding.
“The question I get most is, ‘When are we going to get this?’ Or, ‘When are we going to get a Target?’” Mann added. “Well, the answer is, ‘When we get more rooftops.’ Nothing else really matters when it comes to retail.”
Mann said Galvin’s Ridge will also be a boost to the city’s residential tax base — which he called a “critical element of a growing community” and which is helped by homeowners and not renters. He said when he commissioned a residential task force in 2017, the city began to learn why builders and developers were not coming and what needed to be done to get them to “take the risk” in investing in Sanford.
“We never targeted Deep River for development. The private market did,” Mann said. “Plus, it takes a willing seller to make a development deal work. In Deep River, there were willing sellers of land.”
Now that it’s happened, though, Mann said he does see Deep River as a prime location — desirable for people who want quick access to Wake County, yet live far enough away to not feel completely urbanized. It’s why several other new homes have begun to spring up around Farrell Road near the Raleigh Exec Jetport.
“Colon Road is only about 15 miles from the 540 toll road,” Mann said. “It has been demonstrated that the commute from downtown Raleigh and from the RTP area is quicker and easier to and from Sanford than the commute from North Raleigh to those same areas. Developers have also learned that Sanford now has an amazing sense of place and quality of life component that is attractive to homeowners. Land costs here and in the Deep River area are much more affordable than that of southern Wake County, where quarter acre lots can reach $100,000 in costs if you can find one to build on.
“We want new residential to be spread out in all areas of the city, but it makes sense they would pick the northern and the southern corridors closest to Raleigh and Fayetteville first.”
Those who sided with the project also see Galvin’s Ridge and the future similar developments in Sanford as “inevitable.”
According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, growth in the Triangle ranked 10th nationally in percentage growth from 2019 to 2018 (20.5 percent). Raleigh’s pace ranked just behind Orlando, Florida.
Lee County’s population grew just 6 percent in that same time span, well behind its neighbors Wake (20.4), Chatham (14.6), Moore (11.4) and Harnett (16) counties.
With several new communities (apartment complexes) in the works, that’s poised to change in the next 10 years. Mann said it’s the elected officials’ jobs to make sure Sanford is ready for that growth while still holding on to the qualities that make this area desirable in the first place.
“It is possible to still maintain the rural feel and have large planned neighborhoods,” he said. “Briar Chapel between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill, and Twelve Oaks in Holly Springs are examples of how you can blend the rural with the urban and contribute positively to the tax base and vibrancy of a small town. The existence of heavy industry in the Colon Road area has made the residential building just that more likely.
“Families in Deep River will likely see more options and amenities close by as homes develop. Sanford and Deep River will not become an Apex or Cary anytime soon. The growth will be gradual. More importantly, we already have a real downtown and an identity. We will never be a bedroom community like some of the Southern Wake County cities have become. We have a 145-year tradition all of our own. We have 17 blocks of downtown that will continually be revitalized one block at a time over the next few years. We are creating an economy right here for people to live, work and play in Lee County. Therefore, we will control the momentum and maintain our small town feel even in the midst of large signature neighborhoods.”