When Kim and Bill Jackson moved to Keswick Village in the Stratford subdivision in November, they traded their old house for a new lifestyle: one in a fully developed neighborhood that includes front porches, sidewalks, a park, and a nearby clubhouse, pool and tennis courts.
"It's like the neighborhood I grew up in," Mrs. Jackson said. "Instead of worrying who's next door, you know who's next door. We sit on our front porch at night and talk to our neighbors walking by. We meet a lot of people doing that, and that's what I love about this neighborhood."
Neighborhoods are booming in Columbia County.
Building is Columbia County's No. 1 industry, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Consider that 815 new homes were built in Columbia County last year and that it takes an average of 100 people to build a house. All that adds up to a lot of dollar signs.
"The building industry is one of the key industries in Columbia County. With the residential and commercial growth we've had lately, it employs a tremendous amount of people in our area and offers many jobs and many opportunities for our county," said Pat Farr, Columbia County Commission Chairman.
"It has challenged our government to keep up with the infrastructure with the growth that has gone on in Columbia County, but the citizens have been receptive to that with the passage of the 1 cent sales tax. This is the third five-year plan in a row that they've passed, and most of those projects are to help keep up with that growth as we put in new road systems, new recreational ball fields and programs, the library, community buildings, and so forth. That helps spur the growth as well, and gives people the quality of life that they like."
The tremendous demand for new homes in Columbia County has provided builders the opportunity to find their niche in the marketplace, serving the needs of buyers. And because the majority of new home buyers are moving to Columbia County for its school system, they are building not just homes, but neighborhoods that cater to families. As with Mrs. Jackson, most new home buyers are looking for a neighborhood to call home.
"People just don't want a house on the side of the road with a mailbox - they want a neighborhood," said Tom Beazley, president of the Builders Association of Metro Augusta. "In our neighborhoods, they want recreation areas with pools, tennis courts, walking trails, soccer fields, parks just to sit in, a nice quiet place. They want these nostalgic things that draw them back to yesteryear, plus it's a good haven for children. They certainly want it, and they'll scratch to try to afford it."
It's why the Jacksons moved to Keswick. They have a 6-year-old daughter who loves to swim. And they moved to the neighborhood to find other children their daughter could play with.
"There are six other little ones her age in this neighborhood, and they go from house to house," Mrs. Jackson said. "It's an open-door neighborhood."
"We bought kids, not a house - friends for her to play with," Mr. Jackson said. "And we can send them home at night."
After World War II, the flight to the suburbs created miles and miles of tract houses that provided their occupants no connection to the place in which they lived, said Lane Duncan, an architect and visiting instructor at Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Architecture.
"The population began spreading out further and further into the suburbs, until there was no sense of community left," Mr. Duncan said. "People lived in their individual house, got in their car and drove forever to work. There was no sidewalks, no amenities, no anything there. A lot of that was a result of trying to flee all the urban problems. Finally people have begun to realize that you can't flee far enough. You're better off to stay where you are and make a community out of it."
Seaside, Fla., which was developed 20 years ago, became a well-known model for the modern neighborhood. The oceanside community has rear parking, sidewalks and front porches, and also some things Columbia County neighborhoods lack: a post office, restaurants, shops and government building, all within walking distance.
Particularly in the past four years, developers have tried to fashion Columbia County's subdivisions as if they were small communities.
Columbia County builders agree that what people typically want are amenities: pools, tennis courts, sidewalks, quiet streets, street lights, clubhouses, porches.
"It's what small towns used to be," Mr. Duncan said.
Taking that one step further are those neighborhoods designed around golf courses - Jones Creek and West Lake. And two more large golfing communities are on the drawing board: Bartram Trail off Columbia Road and Riverwood Plantation off Washington Road, which is more closely patterned after the Seaside blueprint.
It's these neighborhoods - and the houses in them - that have branded Columbia County as an affluent community.
Ken Richards, vice president of Pierwood Construction Co. Inc., said his company builds homes ranging from 2,300 to 4,000 square feet in subdivisions such as Windmill Plantation. In the eastern part of Columbia County, new home prices range from $150,000 to $350,000, Mr. Beazley said. In Columbia County, 48 percent of households are valued at more than $100,000, compared to 24 percent in Richmond County, according to a demographic study by Claritas Inc.
"Everybody wants to live here, and we try to provide them a place for them to live," Mr. Beazley said. "They are good neighborhoods, quality neighborhoods with a lot of facilities and a lot of amenities. That's what they want."
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.