Duke Energy was still in its infancy when it created Lake Wylie in 1904 by opening a dam on the Catawba River near Fort Mill, S.C. The section along Lake Wylie that is now adjacent to Thomas M. Winget Park probably looked then much as it does today: rolling hills, mature hardwood forests and untouched shoreline. Although new development is underway on that land, the folks at The Sanctuary, a Crescent community, are working hard to ensure that it stays that way – much to the delight and benefit of its clients.
In Harmony with Nature
Duke Energy has acquired many acres of “legacy land” as it has expanded over the years and it created Crescent Resources in 1969 to manage and develop the land responsibly. Today, the land management company extends over nine states overseeing commercial, residential and multi-family real estate projects.
In the 1950s, Duke Energy acquired 1,850 acres of land along Lake Wylie, land that wasn’t considered for development until the early 1990s, when it was zoned for 3,600 lots, two golf courses, a commercial section and a hotel.
“After going in and seeing the lay of the land, we decided to reconsider that plan,” says James Martin, senior project manager for The Sanctuary. “It seemed like there had to be a better way to approach the project in order to respect the area’s natural beauty.”
It wasn’t until the early 2000s when Crescent Resources sent Duke Energy’s charged land planner, Art Oldham, of Oldham Planning and Design Associates, Inc. in Charlotte, in to reexamine the property.
“He came up with a plan that included the larger homesites, greater privacy and more common open space that marketing surveys were showing us our potential clients wanted,” Martin says.
The 1,850-acre site was divided up into three parcels. Parcel A, at 1,300 acres, was slated to become The Sanctuary. Crescent Resources agreed to divide the land into only 187 home sites, which the company has dubbed “private preserves,” averaging 5.4 acres each. With the exception of The Camp, the neighborhood’s 17-acre waterfront amenity area, all other development of parcel A was scrapped. In stark contrast to the “raze the trees and raise the houses” strategy employed by most developers, Crescent Resources plans to leave more than 80 percent of the land completely untouched.
“Although it may seem strange to some people, this is a trend that’s been developing over the past few years,” Craig Martin, sales manager, says. “Much of our clientele has a kind of ‘been there, done that’ attitude about golf course communities. They want more land and more privacy, a place to get away from it all.”
In a testament to the idea’s validity, sales have outpaced all projections. “We started selling in August of 2004 and we’ve already sold 120 of the 137 preserves we’ve developed so far,” says Martin.
If You Build – and Market It – They Will Come
Driving along Shopton Road toward The Sanctuary, it’s easy to believe you made a wrong turn. Nothing but forest surrounds you; surely there’s no luxury community tucked away in there. But just around a curve, only a few miles away from Interstate 485, is the entrance to The Sanctuary’s elegantly rustic sales office, a home that’s already been purchased and is being leased back from the owner until Crescent Resources vacates the office.
“We knew we had a beautiful piece of land with great access to the airport, uptown and major roadways,” James Martin says. “People are definitely buying into the concept.”
Targeting the market presented a bit of a challenge. The marketing team began by placing ads in New York publications such as The Wall Street Journal and other big-city tomes as well as Southern Living and similar shelter publications, Craig Martin says. They also contacted high-end real estate agents.
“The preserves start at $200,000 and the homes at about $1 million so we looked at zip codes with families that would be likely to fall into that income bracket,” Craig Martin says. “We started out targeting the masses and began drawing prospects from all over the country. Now that we’ve got the ball rolling, we review our marketing strategy on a quarterly basis. We’ve been very pleased with the response.”
The Sanctuary’s prospective clients are treated to site walks that are a little different than most. Since the private preserves range from 2 to 13 acres and are heavily wooded, sales representatives take potential homebuyers on tours aided by a global positioning system (GPS).
“With GPS, they can show the client where the house will be positioned, how it will sit on the land and which way it will face,” James Martin says. “Without it, it’s just a nice walk in the woods.”
Once clients settle on a preserve, they can request a tour by Sarah Anderson, The Sanctuary’s full-time natural resource manager and Audubon International employee.
“Sarah helps our homeowners discover all the natural qualities of their preserve,” James Martin explains. “She also offers advice on ways folks can create a butterfly garden or attract more birds to their yard. She’s an excellent resource.”
A unique feature of The Sanctuary is that there is no time limit to how long a site owner may wait to build. Several clients nearing retirement age have opted to purchase land with the intention of building their retirement home at the secluded retreat five or ten years later.
Another popular option is adding a guesthouse to the site, whether for guests or to accommodate an aging family member or household employee. Others are opting to create family compounds, where several members of the same family build homes on the same or adjoining preserves.
“The freedom to build at your own pace is a big draw for some folks,” James Martin says. “But everyone has to follow our stringent environmental protection guidelines, even if they opt to build several structures on the same preserve.”
The Sanctuary is meant as a refuge not only for the people who live there, but for their furry friends too. Crescent Resources is working hard to ensure that the flora and fauna that appeared on the site before development thrives for decades to come.
The community has partnered with Audubon International, a not-for-profit environmental education organization that strives for sustainable development, where land, water, wildlife and natural resources are depleted as little as possible. Audubon International awarded The Sanctuary its highest level of certification for wildlife and water quality preservation.
The Sanctuary has established self-imposed environmental protection guidelines, James Martin explains. Where the county allows builders to construct impervious surfaces over up to 20 percent of a home site before permanent storm water control devices are required, The Sanctuary limits it to seven percent. An impervious surface is one that prevents rainwater from infiltrating soil. Too much impervious area causes storm water to run off directly into rivers, lakes and streams, causing erosion and water pollution.
Homeowners may choose from a builder’s guild of 22 builders, all of whom are subject to scrutiny by an architectural control committee and a landscape review board before they begin construction.
Builders are limited to clearing only up to 15 percent of a site and are required to maintain a 200-foot lake buffer, four times the county regulation. Lake buffers act as a filtering system for storm water.
“You’d think the residents wouldn’t want that, but most of the folks that are interested in the lakefront properties grasp the privacy benefit,” James Martin says.
The Sanctuary developed a Green Leaf Certification Program in conjunction with Audubon International to encourage green building practices. Homes are reviewed to determine what percentage of recommended green building practices were employed in their construction. Builders can earn one to three leaves based on that assessment.
“We wanted the sales center to be a showcase of green building ideas, so people can see that green building can be beautiful as well as functional and environmentally friendly.” James Martin says. “We’re hoping it will inspire folks to use some of these ideas in their own homes.”
Guests walk along a pervious concrete driveway to the front entrance of the sales center. Pervious concrete allows water to percolate through to the underlying soil. They also pass an attractive bioretention pond, which looks like a bowl-shaped garden. This specialized garden acts as a water filter for runoff.
Tess, The Sanctuary’s resident gray cat, often greets guests with a friendly “meow” as they enter the house.
The sales center is replete with small display signs pointing out the use of reclaimed and/or recycled wood products; certified forest products; carpet manufactured out of fibers made from recycled soda bottles; and high-efficiency appliances.
“Far from being a foreign idea to our clients, green building is another growing trend,” Craig Martin says. “This environmentally friendly approach has drawn interest from people far and wide.”
In addition to enjoying The Sanctuary’s unique environmental qualities, residents will have access to a range of recreational options at The Camp, The Sanctuary’s waterfront activity center. The John James Audubon Lodge, a community center modeled after a rustic vacation lodge, is at the heart of The Camp. Exposed beams, bucolic furniture and woodsy accents carry the theme and commissioned reproductions of Audubon’s life-sized depictions of North American birds adorn the walls.
“We want this to be a place where residents can come and play cards, have a birthday party or just relax,” James Martin explains. “Our buyers have certain expectations for the level of our amenities and we kept that in mind throughout the design process.”
In keeping with that, Martin pointed out six tennis courts, an Olympic-sized pool, zero-entry kids’ splash pool, jetted pool, fitness room, picnic area and amphitheater. A full-time activities director is already on the job, planning for a mid-June opening date.
Twenty miles of walking and biking trails leading to meditation areas and wilderness parks are being interwoven into the common areas throughout the community.
Plans are underway for the development adjacent to The Sanctuary, a 200-acre section of the original property. It will be a gated community with lots averaging one-third of an acre. Crescent Resources plans to stay true to its commitment to sustaining the environment.
“We designed the community around ‘green streams,’ landscaped swells that act as bioretention devices,” James Martin explained. “Just because we’re looking at developing a more traditional community doesn’t mean our environmental ideals go out the window.”
Home prices at the adjacent development will range from about $650,000-$900,000.
The Sanctuary has seen its first resident family settle in, with several more scheduled to arrive soon. Con-struction of speculative and purchased homes is underway throughout the community and new private preserves are scheduled for groundbreaking any day now. Chances are, their neighbors will never know it. The familiar sights and sounds of construction will be acres away.