Charter Homes tackles larger TND in Arcona
Traditional neighborhood developments blend what many people supposedly want: an array of housing options within walking distance of shops, restaurants and other businesses.
They should be popping up frequently in the midstate.
But these mixed-use developments, known as TNDs, take a lot of time to plan and execute, especially in areas where current zoning might not be as accommodating for certain property types.
“As we look ahead, flexibility with zoning will be one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed to promote different styles of development that may actually be better,” said Kirk Stoner, director of planning for Cumberland County. “But they are so big and have so many facets that it’s tough to make it work.”
Lancaster-based Charter Homes & Neighborhoods is the developer behind Walden, a village-style community in Silver Spring Township that broke ground in 2006 and has been one of the region’s best-selling communities in recent years.
Walden, which has 353 homeowners and 12 businesses — the latter in what is called the Walden Crossroads section at the front of the community — has about three years left until it’s fully built-out, Charter President Rob Bowman said.
“We’re committed to creating places like no other,” Bowman said.
But the commitment requires patience, as well as listening to consumers and monitoring market trends.
And every once in a while, things do “slip between the cracks,” Bowman said, referring to a recent flap with residents over the community pool at Walden.
“There was some misinformation about the size of the pool,” Bowman said. The original plan to build it in a 9-acre open space at the center of the community was scrapped for a newer, open area in the western part of the community called Emerson Park.
Emerson Park is under construction and will be open next summer, Bowman said. The pool is designed for 311 people, not 48 as was reported this spring.
As Charter winds down on Walden, it also has begun tackling another development, Arcona, an even more ambitious community off Lisburn Road in Lower Allen Township that eventually will feature 1,664 homes and 234,500 square feet of commercial and mixed-used space. There also are 97 acres of open space in the 248-acre project.
Bowman said Walden has taught Charter to be even more focused on homebuyers and creating experiences.
Arcona follows the Walden model of the “Great American Neighborhood” in which various phases of development take on separate names within the larger subdivision. Highpoint Arcona is a mix of single-family homes and townhomes, while nearby Arcona Crossroads will be a blend of luxury townhomes combined with local businesses.
The different sections enhance Charter’s ability to serve all age groups and give more buyers the ability to live the way they want to live, Bowman said.
“We’re getting better at segmenting,” he said. “There are buyers at every price point in every community.”
Finding the right mix of local businesses and business owners that can connect with residents is just as important.
In addition to zoning challenges, insufficient infrastructure can limit larger tracts of land from becoming TNDs or other large mixed-use or multiple use projects, county planners said.
“People want to see pretty renderings, but if you have no sewer service, it’s not happening,” said Leah Eppinger, Dauphin County planning coordinator for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.
Dauphin County has had two TND proposals in the works in Londonderry Township for several years. One tract is on the market for sale to a builder while the other is still working to secure water and sewer service, said Steve Letavic, the township’s manager.
And if a developer is able to push a project forward, securing complementary amenities such as service and retail businesses is the ongoing challenge, Eppinger said: “You have to walk the line of giving people what they want and developers making a profit.”
Market conditions often stall projects or limit new ones from coming into play, Stoner added, as the housing boom in the mid-2000s accelerated the number of proposed units while the bust that followed grounded much of what was put on the books.
More than 8,000 units were proposed in Cumberland County from 2005 to 2007, he said. But many of them have yet to be built.
“At some point, they will be built,” Stoner said.
But he also stressed the importance of continued revitalization and redevelopment efforts in our urban areas.
“It’s important we keep an eye on the holistic picture. We want TNDs to succeed, but also our core communities.”
Charter Homes’ Arcona development in Lower Allen Township currently has 46 homes delivered or under construction between its Highpoint Arcona and Arcona Crossroads sections, said Rob Bowman, president of Charter Homes.
The first wave of businesses in the latter section of the community is expected to open this fall, he said. They take up about 17,000 square feet. Three businesses — an artwork and custom framing shop, an athletic club and a salon — have already been announced.
In addition, the owners of Sophia’s at Walden in Charter’s Walden community and Sophia’s on Market in Hampden Township plan to open a third restaurant in The Shops at Arcona in Arcona Crossroads.
Mixed-use and multiple use are both terms often used to describe modern forms of development, especially in suburban areas where developers aim to recreate the walkable communities that have long existed in urban communities.
But there is a difference.
Mixed-use development integrates homes, shops, restaurants, offices and public spaces in the same building or neighborhood — while a multiple-use community might have a pocket of standalone commercial buildings within a predominantly residential area.
Traditional neighborhood developments, or TNDs, embody mixed-use and build a sense of community through a strong blend of local small businesses and a variety of housing options to meet any lifestyle or budget. They also provide walkability that many of today’s buyers, especially millennials, are seeking.