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Modern neighborhoods have look, feel of those built years ago

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Correction, January 13, 2006: A story in Sunday's editions about neotraditional homes incorrectly stated the price range of homes in the Northridge neighborhood in Evans. The story should have said the homes are selling in the mid-$300,000 to high $400,000 range. (Highlight changes)

When Amy and Jay Hudson relocated to the Augusta area last summer, they liked the idea of a close-knit, safe community where they could walk to the library, know their neighbors and, most important, easily maintain their lawn.

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Homes in Bartram Trail subdivision in Evans feature more traditional touches such as front porches and lots of trees.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Homes in Bartram Trail subdivision in Evans feature more traditional touches such as front porches and lots of trees.

"We are completely against yardwork," Ms. Hudson said jokingly. She moved from a Honolulu high-rise condo with her husband when he was transferred to Fort Gordon. "It's not where we want to spend our time."

The Hudsons found what they wanted in the Northridge neighborhood in Evans, which, unlike most subdivisions built in recent years, has sidewalks, narrow streets and houses that are close together and have front porches. It is the kind of neighborhood their grandparents might have lived in decades ago.

Developers say the thirtysomething couple belong to a growing demographic that includes young professionals, empty-nesters and retirees who are choosing "neotraditional" developments over typical suburban neighborhoods. Some say those suburban areas encourage bland architecture, anonymity among residents and an overreliance on automobiles.

"We don't want the cookie-cutter effect," said Harriet Roney, of Blanchard and Calhoun Real Estate Co., which developed the Northridge neighborhood.

Because there is no official definition for a neotraditional neighborhood, specific data on the growth of such developments are not tracked by the government or the homebuilding industry.

Industry watchers, however, say the movement has gained momentum since the late 1980s and can be characterized by several criteria.

"The streets are narrower, there are sidewalks on both sides, there are bushes and trees between sidewalks and roads," said Gopal Ahluwalia, the vice president for research at the National Association of Home Builders. "And people can walk to get daily necessities ... instead of driving every time."

Subdivisions such as Meybohm Realtors' Rhodes Farm in Columbia County are pulling certain neotraditional elements into their design, such as parks, alleyways and rear garages.

Mr. Hudson likes the blend of classic architecture and modern convenience.

"You get the benefits of both. It looks like an old house, but with the niceties of a new home," he said.

Their 2,600-square-foot Charleston-style home with a wraparound porch feels spacious even though their neighbors' homes are about 10 feet away.

The development of more cohesive neighborhoods is part of the "new urbanism" movement in recent years, which promotes socially and environmentally conscious residential developments.

Many neotraditional developments are drawn to reduce the size of individual lots in order to create more common areas, such as parks and nature trails. Blanchard and Calhoun's Tudor Branch, for example, includes a 140-acre nature preserve.

John McIlwain, the senior fellow for housing at the Washington-based Urban Land Institute, said the movement has increased interest in building neighborhoods in central locations. The result is increased pedestrian traffic and shorter commutes.

"It's a wonderful time to have these principles come into our design lexicon," he said.

Perhaps the best local example of a neotraditional neighborhood is North Augusta's Hammonds Ferry, under construction on the banks of the Savannah River near the city's downtown area. In the next 10 years, the development aims to create a "town center" concept consisting of retail, apartments, condos and mid-to high-price houses within walking distance of each other.

"Once the town center is created, the idea is to have something self-sustaining," said Turner Simkins, a Blanchard and Calhoun vice president and manager of the Hammonds Ferry project.

Among those who have already bought into the neighborhood are Pat and Tommy Manuel. Ms. Manuel said she and her husband, who recently retired, bought a two-story cottage in the neighborhood.

They are happy with their small yard, their proximity to central city attractions and the hominess of the neighborhood.

"It's just a natural step to go out and reach out, meet your neighbors," said Ms. Manuel, a diversity coordinator for Wackenhut Corp. at Savannah River Site.

Though such developments are increasing in popularity, the vast majority of new housing developments follow the norms established during the past few decades.

"Traditional sprawl development represents a higher percentage of any market, Augusta included," said Mr. Simkins, the project manager.

The National Association of Home Builders' Mr. Ahluwalia points out that not all homebuyers are interested in land conservation and other characteristics of neotraditional neighborhoods.

Most neotraditional neighborhoods are not cheap because unique architecture and amenities such as nature preserves carry a premium.

Rhodes Farm homes start in the $400,000's. Northridge prices range from the mid-$300,000 to high $400,000 range. Hammonds Ferry's homes can range from $300,000 to $1 million. Compare that to median home prices in Richmond and Columbia counties, which last year were $103,000 and $169,000, respectively.

"I think one of the greatest challenges new urban finds is to provide affordable housing," Mr. Simkins acknowledged.

The head of the area's largest homebuilder said that the added costs might prevent more projects such as Hammonds Ferry but that the overall neotraditional concept will start to filter into more affordable homes.

"I think the fighting sprawl is going to be long term." said Lamar Crowell, the president of Keystone Homes. "Anything that can help prevent sprawl overall, you'll see more."

Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or laura.youngs@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT IT IS

Neotraditional neighborhoods often diverge from typical neighborhoods built in recent decades:


Neotraditional


Narrow streets force traffic to slow.


Sidewalks allow residents to walk around the neighborhood.


Compact yards put houses closer to streets.


Incorporates public space, such as trails and parks.


Businesses incorporated into the neighborhood.


Garages in the rear or side of home, accessed by alleys.


Home designs are more customized.


Typical


Wide streets to accommodate cars.


Lack of sidewalks discourages walking by forcing pedestrians onto streets.`


Larger lots allow houses to be set further from streets.


All space allocated to home sites.


Commercial zones are outside the neighborhood, requiring residents to travel by vehicle.


Garages prominent in architecture, no alleys.


Number of home styles is limited.

BY THE NUMBERS

According to surveys conducted by New Urban News, a major trade publication focusing on new urban development, there were more than 600 urban neighborhood developments of 15 acres or more as of 2003. By January 2005, there were 754.


The surveys were not exhaustive.


According to the News, from 1996 to 2003, the average growth of new urban neighborhood projects was 28 percent annually.


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