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.
  • 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.
  • Brunswick Plantation during a flood event in October 2015.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.