Brunswick County, NC

842-acres situated in a transitional zone

The Coastal Dynamics Lab in collaboration with the NC State Department of Landscape Architecture and School of Architecture along with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension, the Gore Family and local communities researched an 842-acre site in Brunswick County, North Carolina to develop Master Plans that address the larger ecological matrix.

IMAGE: Aerial provided by ESRI, 2016.

Nestled between the Atlantic coast and the tidal swamps of the Waccamaw River, the 842-acre project site is situated at the intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and N.C. Highway 904 in Brunswick County, North Carolina Brunswick is the southeastern-most county in the state, and the site is just a few minutes’ drive from the South Carolina border. The nearest densely populated areas are Wilmington, North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, both of which are considered within the study area for the purposes of this project.

Immediately surrounding the site is a mosaic of neighborhood municipalities and farmlands that have taken over what was once a rich and diverse ecosystem. As recently as the 1950s, more than 77% of Brunswick County was classified as forested land (2). These habitats are quickly becoming fragmented as a result of human interference. Given this loss of vital regional habitat, and that more than half of the project site contains a unique ecological mix of covered forests, with pocosins and Carolina bays, the prospect of on-site development raises ethical and environmental questions. Should development even occur here at all? This property lies in a transitional zone within Brunswick County, where neighborhood developments begin to give way to farmland and preserved areas. Is it appropriate to keep expanding the human footprint further into these fragile environments? And if so, is it possible to create models that integrate proposed development with broader concepts of environmental integrity?

This property has the potential to expand our current understanding of neighborhood development. However, in order to get there, fundamental questions about the land and its role within the larger ecological matrix must be considered.

  • The market study not only provides a gauge as to what price targets and development typologies are likely to be accepted by the community, but also begins to uncover underlying reasons as to why market conditions are in their current state, and where there is room for something new.
  • The Southeast is home to many of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. North Carolina alone saw a net in-migration of more than 10,600 people aged 60 and older in 2014. The six Southeastern metro areas among the top-20 fastest-growing by population volume gain, the average median resident age was 34.7. Much of this can be attributed to the growing number of Millennials moving to larger urban areas. Given Brunswick County’s location, it can be expected that these two population cohorts will represent a growing proportion of residents driving up the housing demand.
  • Throughout much of Brunswick County, the major development typology is that of the golf-course community. These neighborhoods are becoming a trend of the past. The economic downturn in 2008, coupled with changing consumer preferences, put the metaphorical nail in the coffin. Socially, these developments create isolated pods of residents due to large lots and even larger neighborhood footprints. Environmentally, the consequences are evident in habitat loss from clear-cutting and chemical use, and in the inability of these communities to respond to flooding events.
  • In order for the proposed design scenarios to create “living systems,” an understanding of the existing natural frameworks must first be realized. While there is an abundance of plant and animal life specific to the surrounding region, much of the localized environment is defined by a unique relationship with water.
  • Brunswick Plantation during a flood event in October 2015.
    StarNews Online, 2015
  • The project site is split in half by a subtle ridgeline that directs water into two different watersheds. Any rain that falls on the southeast portion of the site drains to the Coastal Watershed and quickly finds its way to the Atlantic Ocean through a series of small coastal waterways, primarily the Shallotte River. Any rain that falls on the northwest portion of the site drains into the Waccamaw Watershed, which originates at Lake Waccamaw north of the site and terminates at Winyah Bay in South Carolina.
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • Data from North Carolina Coastal Atlas. The 842-acre project site is located outside of the surrounding regional floodplains. However, since it is on the ridgeline of two separate watersheds, the downstream impacts of proposed design scenarios must be considered.
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • Over 22 hurricanes have made direct landfall in North Carolina since 1950, and some have reached Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, a method for assessing a storm’s intensity and destruction potential. According to the National Weather Service, one of the century’s most intense storms to hit Brunswick County was Hurricane Hazel in 2005. Most homes were either completely destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The NWS report on the hurricanes of the year stated that “every pier in a distance of 170 miles was demolished.” Nineteen fatalities were reported in North Carolina, and several hundred more injured. Fifteen thousand homes were destroyed, and close to 40,000 more damaged. Damages in the state amounted to $136 million as a result of Hurricane Hazel (6).
  • Wind in Brunswick County typically comes from the southwest and north. These wind patterns have the highest frequency and speed. Baseline information on local wind patterns can inform the location of programmatic elements and their appropriate orientation. A building facing the greatest frequency of breezes can take advantage of passive cooling and ventilation to reduce energy use and provide a cool respite in the summer. Deflecting wind can be good for fields, to protect crops. Tree-lines help redirect high-intensity wind from large tracts of land. Landforms can also be used to block wind but are less common and more difficult to construct on a mostly flat site like the Gore family property
  • + ZONE 1 (Ocean): Salt aerosols are created and dispersed through the crashing of waves. + ZONE 2 (Coast): Homes located directly on a beach are the most at risk for salt-based corrosion. Materials used will corrode up to six times faster than those located just a few miles inland. + ZONE 3 (Inland): Inland homes are still susceptible to the salt aerosols that are carried by the wind. Precautions and maintenance are necessary.
  • Overlaying maps from 1865, 1949, and 2016 reveals that there are two large areas in the heart of the site that have continuously been demarcated as wet. Today these areas are mostly maintained as covered forests, though current development practices do not always ensure the preservation of these delicate ecosystems. Despite many infrastructural attempts to “dry-up” many of the region’s developable lands, the prevailing presence of marine terraces and high-water tables will continue to establish and re-establish hydric environments regardless of human interference. Rather than pushing back against the natural systems, future development should embrace these characteristics as part of the site’s overall well-being.
  • Carolina bays are elliptical depressions found along the east coast of the United States, from Florida to New Jersey. Numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the depressions are most concentrated in North and South Carolina, giving them their name. The bays vary in characteristics — some are permanently wet and contain bogs or lakes, and others are naturally dry or have been drained over time. Carolina bays have been recorded between 200 feet and seven miles in size, with depths reaching as much as 50 feet. Another feature of Carolina bays is the outer rim, which may reach heights of 23 feet.
    Sarah Lower, 2017
  • North Carolina is home to 16 types of wetlands, several of which occur in the coastal region where our site is situated. Based on observation of the densely wooded portion of the site, we are confident the wetlands are of the Pocosin and Pine Savanna types.
  • The project site consists of several land-cover typologies that are housed within the greater Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain Ecoregion. Like many of the forested areas in the coastal plain, large portions of the site have been subject to logging, either for its raw material or to be converted for agricultural use.
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • PATCHES: Densely populated pockets of plants and animals are considered patches based on size, quantity, and location. Vegetated patches typically have one of four origins: remnant, or areas remaining from an extensive type, such as a forest in an agricultural area; introduced, such as a new suburban development in an agricultural area, or a small pasture within a forest; disturbance, such as a burned portion of a forest or an area devastated by a severe windstorm; and environmental resources, such as constructed or preserved wetlands in an urban area. EDGES & BOUNDARIES: An edge is described as the outer portion of a patch, where the environment differs significantly from the interior of the patch. Boundaries may be political or administrative artificial divides that may or may not correspond to natural ecological boundaries or edges. The shapes of patches, as defined by their boundaries, can be manipulated by humans to accomplish a function or objective. CORRIDORS & CONNECTIVITY: As the rate of habitat loss and fragmentation increases, many environmentalists and ecologists are prioritizing the need for providing landscape connectivity. Wildlife corridors and preservation of natural and instinctive animal migrations are an essential first step toward reducing habitat loss. Corridors in the landscape may act as barriers or filters to different species movements. MOSAICS: The overall structural and functional integrity of a landscape can be understood and evaluated through pattern and scale. A common landscape pattern is habitat fragmentation, which often results in reduced biodiversity and habitat loss for certain species. The scale at which fragmentation occurs is important when identifying key strategies to reduce habitat loss and isolation in new developments.
    Descriptions and drawings adapted from Dramstad, Olson, and Forman, 1996.
  • The expansive reach of habitats along much of the state’s coasts. The Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain Ecoregion consists of “low elevation, flat plains, with many swamps, marshes, and estuaries. Forest cover in the region, once dominated by longleaf pine in the Carolinas, is now mostly loblolly and some shortleaf pine, with patches of oak, gum, and cypress near major streams... Its low terraces, marshes, dunes, barrier islands, and beaches are underlain by unconsolidated sediments (12).”
    Derived from the EPA’s mapping of ecoregions
  • The habitats found in this ecoregion provide a refuge for many species moving up and down the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain. Specific to the project site, the remaining patches of forested landcover in and around the Waccamaw River floodplain facilitate this movement on a regional scale. Much of the existing vegetation on-site closely resembles the environments observed in the Waccamaw River floodplain
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • Conservation development refers to the process of designing, constructing, and managing residential communities that have preserved open space at the heart of their values. Houses are clustered, which makes way for the conservation of a large, often communal open space. The undeveloped land can take different forms, including parks, recreation spaces, greenways, and farms. Edward McMahon of the Urban Land Institute says that conservation developments “can enhance property values, minimize infrastructure costs, and foster the development of graceful, environmentally responsible, and livable communities that appeal to today’s increasingly sophisticated consumer” (13).
    Lindsey Naylor & Travis Klondike, 2017
  • Researching and learning from established or under construction projects that share similar goals and values for development strategies strengthens future design proposals.
    Nicole Steele, 2017
  • SERENBE: CHATTAHOOCHEE HILLS, GEORGIA Project Size: 1,000 acres (70% preserved) Residential Units: 1,200 planned Farm Size: 25 acres Design Team: Nygren Placemaking (Founder: Steven Nygren) The community of Serenbe in Georgia is one of the first developments of its kind. Developers with a desire to focus on conservation subdivision development look to Serenbe as an example of a successful, built community that has received national recognition for its design. “The vision for the community of Serenbe was born from an effort to protect the beautiful rural land just outside of Atlanta... The first house at Serenbe was built in 2004 and [has since] won numerous awards including the Urban Land Institute Inaugural Sustainability Award, the Atlanta Regional Commission ‘Development of Excellence’ and EarthCraft named Serenbe the ‘Development of the Year.’
    Serenebe Farms, 2016
  • Online shared economy enthusiasts describe Serenbe as a development “carefully fitted into the natural landscape forming an interface between green, wetland and watershed areas of the site and the surrounding sloping hills. Central to all is Serenbe Farms, a 25-acre working, organic farm and CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) which provides organic produce for three on-site restaurants as well as other businesses throughout Atlanta and The Chattahoochee Hill Country.” (3)
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • WILLOWSFORD: ASHBURN, VIRGINIA Project Size: 4,125 acres (50% preserved) Residential Units: 2,195 planned Farm Size: 300 acres Design Team: Land Design (Planner), Rust Orling (Architect) “From the start, the developer wanted to create something unique and respectful of the site. So rather than spread lots over the entire property, the team created a concept based on four distinct villages, each with abundant woods and farmland, both active and fallow. Lots were arranged to concentrate development in “agricultural theaters” — open fields flanked by hedgerows and wooded areas. Each village has a slightly different character, but all have unifying aesthetics. Amenities are shared among the villages, supporting a branded destination and a sense of place for the Willowsford community. ‘Willowsford could have easily been developed as just another subdivision. Instead, it is an example of unique community development taking IMAGE: “Willowsford Farm” |, 2013. the longer-term perspective,’ says Cullen. The four villages are the Grant and the Grange, located north of Route 50, and the Grove and the Greens, both south of Route 50. Entrance features and landscaping are consistent among the villages. Common community elements are four-board horse fencing, low stone walls, and wooden signs.” (5), 2015
  • “A range of events have been held to promote and support the Willowsford brand and lifestyle. More than 1,600 people attended the recent annual Taste of Willowsford, which highlights the farm and its products, as well as community life and homes. Events have also been held in partnership with Rev3 Adventures, the Boy Scouts of America, the Loudoun County Wildlife Conservancy, and others. Such activities not only promote the community, but also enrich the amenity package for residents.
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • JACKSON MEADOW: MARINE ON ST. CROIX, MINNESOTA Project Size: 300 acres (75% preserved) Residential Units: 64 planned Design Team: David Salmela (Architect), Coen + Partners (Landscape Architect) “Two years prior to the design and development team’s involvement with Jackson Meadow, the same site was considered for a traditional automobile-oriented development with excessive roads and isolated, oversized residences. The strong will of Marine Citizens to maintain their small-town character ultimately led to legal proceedings and the end if the development plans. This prompted Marine to develop cluster housing codes for Planned Unit Developments (PUD), where 50 percent of any development is devoted to open space. Because the challenge of new residential development in the rural-urban fringe is to create places that preserve agricultural land and rural character, the PUD process allows parcels to be planned as a single unit rather than as individual lots. It also promotes flexibility in siting regulations and land restrictions. By embracing the cluster the Jackson Meadow development team sought to create an environmentally sensitive neighborhood that Marine would view as an extension of their own., 2016
  • “Jackson Meadow implements a cluster-housing model, which allows for the preservation of over 70% of the site as open space... A Density Transfer enabled the clustering of a greater number of houses on smaller than typical lots, thus maximizing the amount of preserved open land in Jackson Meadow. Density Transfer programs are typically used to further a wide variety of objectives, including protection of agricultural lands, the preservation of wildlife, and the control of development densities in areas with limited infrastructure or public service. The process involves the sales of one parcel’s development rights to the owner of another parcel, which allows more development on the second parcel while reducing or preventing development on the original parcel. Under such a program, development rights are severed from a lot designed for protection (sending area), and the severed rights are transferred to a lot in an area where additional development is permitted (receiving area). At Jackson Meadow, development rights were transferred from land designated as environmentally sensitive to the area where the housing has been clustered... This new neighborhood encapsulates the importance of walking, sustainability and diversity, and designates the best land as open space for community interaction and recreation.” (7) Architectural inspiration and cluster model diagrams derived from information on
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • SHANGRI LA NATURE CENTER: ORANGE, TEXAS Project Size: 252 acres Project Type: Botanical Gardens / Educational Facility Design Team: Lake|Flato (Architect), Jeffrey Carbo (Landscape Architect) “Located on 252 acres in the heart of Orange, Texas, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center serves primarily as an interpretive center for the site’s native ecosystems — cypress and tupelo swamp, wooded uplands, and prairie lowlands — as well as a facility for study and research. The architecture is meant to be low impact and float above the land on helical pier foundations. Raised walkways guide people through the site’s various ecosystem. Passive ventilation strategies, rainwater harvesting, photovoltaic panels, minimal structural impact through helical pier foundations, outdoor circulation, local sourcing of 49% of the building materials, and re-use of fallen trees due to Hurricane Rita all contribute to this LEED New Construction Platinum Rating. For its community, it aims to provide access to nature education for children in the public schools of Southeast Texas rural counties, provide economic stimulus for economically depressed rural Southeast communities, preserve at-risk natural resources for future generations, facilitate ongoing ecological study and research; and provide a model for responsible development for small communities on the Gulf Coast.” (8), 2012
  • Central to the project is the idea that eco-conservation practices can create a cohesive thread of sustainability throughout the site. There are a number of green infrastructure techniques utilized in both the architecture and surrounding landscape that allow the site to function as a single infrastructural unit in terms of minimally disturbing the existing environment.
    Lake|Flato Architects, 2017
  • U.S. ARID-LAND AG. RESEARCH CENTER: MARICOPA, ARIZONA Project Size: 100,000 gross sq. ft. Project Type: Agricultural Research Facility Design Team: SmithGroup JJR (Architect) Located in Maricopa, Arizona, this 100,000 sq. ft. facility acts as the hub for the Agricultural Research Service (ASR) in the Western Regional Biomass Research Center. It is a research center to understand “interrelationships among cropping systems, water management strategies and environmental stewardship programs (9).” The program had to consolidate two existing facilities: the U.S. Water Conservation Research Laboratory, and the Western Cotton Research Laboratory, which were formally located in Phoenix; provide laboratories, support spaces, greenhouses, and outdoor plant research gardens. The buildings are consolidated around a courtyard, while also being surrounded by the land at study. It is a facility that will house many scientists including ASR, visiting, and university scientists. As Bob Ross, the Resident Director stated, “The synergy that will be created by having both university and ARS scientists located in close proximity will open new avenues in arid land research (10).”, 2016
  • SHED: HEALDSBURG, CALIFORNIA Project Size: 10,801 sq. ft. Project Type: Cafe / Retail / Event Space Design Team: Jensen Architects (Architect) The driving force surrounding the “modern grange” was to make more evident the essential connection between the land, its cultivation, and the vitality of their community creating a social gathering space rooted in its land. Regional foods are at display as programmatically SHED includes an open kitchen and cafe with seasonal menus; a local wine and beer bar; an event venue; an outdoor market; an indoor market with local produce, flowers, and grains milled on site; and a garden area. At 10,801 sq. ft. (+4,271 sq. ft. exterior areas), “[t]he project, a utilitarian pre-engineered metal building commonly known as a Butler building, is a familiar presence in the local agricultural landscape. There is a focus on sustainable practice through its pre-engineered structure; efficient building envelope; natural ventilation; photovoltaics; ample shading and screening; and locally sourced materials, suppliers, and tradespeople. Its location which is next to Foss Creek was a key driving force for dealing with drainage. A rain garden works to remove pollutants from the creek which is fed through the roof drains, permeable pavers and other site infrastructure (11).”
    jensen Architects, 2017
  • HERITAGE H.S. AG RESEARCH CENTER: SUN CITY, CALIFORNIA Project Size: 63 acres (total), 3 acres (agriculture buildings) Project Type: Education Facility / Agriculture Production Design Team: pjhm architects “The communities in which the Perris Union High School District spans are rich with agricultural heritage. In July 2012, construction on a 6.1-million dollar state-of-the-art agricultural facility was complete. This flagship facility will serve to elevate the school’s agricultural program, standing as a model facility not only for the District but also the surrounding community for many years to come. As the third high school in the District, and the second in the District with an agricultural program, the Heritage campus (circa 2007) will be well equipped to continue their strong tradition as one of the top agricultural programs in Southern California. The career courses offered at the A.R.C. allow students to develop foundational knowledge and skills within pathways of Agriscience, Animal Science, Ornamental Horticulture, Plant and Soil Science, and Agricultural Business.
    Heritage FFA, 2013
  • WILD TURKEY VISITOR CENTER: LAWRENCEBURG, KENTUCKY Project Size: 9,140 sq. ft. Project Type: Visitor Center Design Team: De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop (Architect) “Located on a bluff overlooking the Kentucky River, the Visitor Center is the newest component of recent additions and expansions to the Wild Turkey Bourbon Distillery Complex, one of seven original member distilleries of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The 9,140 sq. ft. facility houses interactive exhibits, a gift shop, event venues, a tasting room and administrative offices. “In concert with a major re-branding program that caters to both longtime devoted fans and a growing legion of new bourbon enthusiasts, the project employs a design direction that is both familiar and new — bridging tradition & innovation through an immersive environment of contrasts & dualities. “Utilizing a simple barn silhouette (an interpretation of Kentucky tobacco barns common to the area), the building presents a clear & recognizable marker at the scale of the landscape. Clad in a chevron pattern of stained wood plank siding, the simplicity of the barn form is contrasted by the intricacy of the building skin, creating a shifting sense of scale and tactility that is deliberately both simple and complex. Alternating zones of opaque and light-filtering lattice blur the boundaries between inside/out and solid/void. By night, the dark structure transforms into a delicate, glowing lantern of filigree perched above the river. Internally, the building is organized along a ramped, split-level public promenade that culminates in an elevated tasting room overlooking the Kentucky River (the bourbon’s base water source). In a nod to the nearby bridges spanning the river, a wooden trestle element provides a physical spine from which the various programmatic elements are reached.”
    De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop, 2017
  • A baseline of standards Brunswick County Urban Development Ordinance (UDO) and to green-infrastructure techniques.
    Travis Klondike, 2017
  • R-7500 MEDIUM RESIDENTIAL: IMPLICATIONS OF ZONING The current zoning of the 842-acre project site calls for a development of single-family residences. In a residentially zoned planned development (PD), only 20% of the site can be devoted to non-residential use. There is an opportunity to develop traditional houses, semi-attached houses, duplexes, townhouses, multi-family residences, upper-story residential, limited mixed-use, and limited accessory dwellings. An adjacent property is zoned as a Commercial Light District (C-LD), which points to a strong possibility that this land is expected to host more than residential uses. Re-zoning could also allow for the development of research facilities and larger eco-conservation developments that can serve the community and promote economic growth.
  • BUFFER TYPES AND DESIGN STANDARDS There are two types of buffers: street and boundary. A required buffer is encouraged in order to retain native habitat, and it can be offered in the form of retention or detention facilities. Buffers are to be pervious, which means that they must allow water to pass through. For example, parking can be placed on buffers as long as it is made of permeable materials.
    Jocelyn Barahona, 2016