The location of the proposed Gum Fork development proposed by D.R. Horton and rejected unanimously by the Sanford City Council on April 4.

By Richard Sullins |

The Sanford City Council unanimously rejected last week the latest plan by developer D.R. Horton for a 600-home subdivision that has stumbled repeatedly for months along the road to approval.

City leaders have been working in recent months to draw a line in the sand about the quality of proposals for new subdivisions being submitted to them for approval, and the absence of a more global perspective in how those new subdivisions are going to relate to others nearby.

D.R. Horton’s vision for this development, to be known as Gum Fork, was a sprawling one. Initial designs submitted to the city detail plans for 167 single family homes, 300 apartment units, 128 townhomes, and a commercial area that could potentially include a convenience store, retail shops, a restaurant with drive-thru options, daycare opportunities, and even a hotel.

The site is a 110.48-acre tract south of U.S. 1 and east of Colon Road, just across the road from where the city is planning to start construction later this year on its new fire station. It’s also just across the four-lane from another large Horton project now under development with a lengthy history of controversy, Galvin’s Ridge.

The single-family dwellings Horton proposed to build within the development are from its “Express” line, the company’s cheapest housing product. “Express” is described on the company’s website as “an entry-level option for those who want a place to call their own” and they are marketed as homes for first-time buyers.

Horton has been submitting plans for Gum Fork to the city since November 2022, a process necessary because the property was zoned last year by the city council as the Gum Fork Conditional Zoning District. That action made it a stand-alone area with unique requirements and conditions not subject to the city’s zoning ordinance.

Each time the plans have gone back for review, the city identified concerns and asked Horton to address them as future plans were revised. But as each revised version of the project’s layout was submitted for city approval, the very same concerns that had been noted in previous reviews were noted again because they had not been fixed.

Mayor Pro Tempore Charles Taylor spoke about the Council’s concern at its April 4 meeting, asking why Horton wanted to go with a cheaper housing product at this location that serves as the gateway to Sanford’s northern edges instead of something higher end that made a statement about the city.

“These are Raleigh commuters that are choosing to live in our community now,” he said. “Why not go with a little bit higher end product when the market that is coming here is used that?”

Horton’s representative, Jonathan Cooper, who was joined by Urban Design Partners’ Brian Richards, tried to make the case that the development was being targeted towards a particular demographic – workers who earn between $50,000 to $100,000 a year. It’s an argument that the council has heard before and, in fact, it has approved a number of housing proposals over the past few years that were designed with that niche in mind.

But Mayor Rebecca Wyhof Salmon joined the six council members present to speak with one voice, and the message was that Sanford wants communities and subdivisions that consist of a variety of housing types and that represent the income levels of all the 33,000 residents.

Taylor summed up the council’s concerns not only with the most recent Horton proposal, but also of others that it has sent back for redesign in the past few months.

“My problem tonight is that this corridor is the gateway coming into our community. This board has been diligent in expressing to you, for the last two times you have come to us, that we don’t want an inexpensive, cheap looking product along that corridor coming into town,” he continued. “Still, you keep coming back to us with your least expensive, low-end-of-the-line product. You have several lines above this one that would be much more attractive along that corridor. We’ve told you that repeatedly. I don’t know how much more explicitly we could have expressed that. And here you are again, bringing us the same thing.”

Cooper said that a portion of the existing tree line, which he called a “tree buffer,” along the edge with U.S. 1 would be maintained to cut down on the visibility of the Express line housing. He added that the first thing that could be seen in the development from its entrance would be the townhomes and a fountain. But the commercial development that Horton envisions at the development’s entrance could also be seen from U.S. 1 and from Colon Road.

It all came down to a consensus among the council members that Horton simply wasn’t listening to its concerns.

“I hope you are hearing what the council is actually saying tonight,” council member Byron Buckels said.

That sentiment was echoed by council member Linda Rhodes.

“The thing that bothers me most about this is the amount of prodding it’s taken on behalf of this council to identify the issues we were not happy with. That leaves a questionable taste in my mouth, to put it bluntly,” she said.

D.R. Horton will now go back to the drawing board and try to come back to the city with a design that not only satisfies these concerns, and still makes money for the company.