Harrington Village: Leland Works to Build a Downtown

by Feb 28, 2017Across the Cape Fear, Brunswick County, North Brunswick

With Harrington Village, The Town of Leland hopes to create the walkable, urban destination that the town has been missing.

If you could build a town from the ground-up, what would be in it? What would “downtown” have? Where would you put it? This isn’t a computer simulation game. This is reality for the Town of Leland, and these are the precise questions they are attempting to answer.

Leland’s managers and officials worked with select developers and the citizens in the community to craft a vision for what downtown Leland will look like and where it will be. To that end, the town believes it is time to create what Leland has been missing and what so many people are clamoring for: a walkable, urban environment.

This is where Harrington Village enters Leland’s history — and future.

Harrington Village is a 13-building campus to be constructed by Harrington Village Developers, LLC  at the corner of Village Road and Baldwin Drive. The three buildings that abut Village Road will be four-story apartment buildings with the first floor of each dedicated to shops, businesses and restaurants. The back area will consist of three-story luxury apartments.

The Town of Leland hopes to deliver what young professionals, families and retirees all over the nation find alluring these days.

Harrington Square Leland NC“[There is] a new urbanism lifestyle that is rampant across America,” says D Logan, managing member of Harrington Village Developers. “Millennials and lots of people want to have walkable environment where they can eat, shop, sleep, dine and have a nice comfortable place to walk. This is what we are giving them.”

Taking cues from other trendy mixed-use developments, the site plan is inviting. It shows the front three buildings with awnings and quaint balconies surrounded by pristine landscaping. The first-level spaces have patios for café-style outdoor dining. Fountains flank the main building, and farther in there are two ponds, a dog park and a playground.

Right now, residents can only wonder what businesses will choose to locate here. Logan talks about Wilmington-based businesses opening second locations in Leland. The town foresees local and regional players wanting to capitalize on the burgeoning Leland market. While no future tenants are official, construction has begun and Logan has no doubts the spaces will be filled.

“I think this project is a ‘if we build it they will come,’” Logan says. “When people see that this vision comes to a reality, they will start biting.”

Obviously, there will be numerous apartments available for rent in addition to the commercial space. They will all be luxury, and tenants will have access to a clubhouse and pool.

Since other large apartment complexes also are being constructed in north Brunswick County, some Leland residents express disbelief that the area can fill all of them. But Logan quotes a demographic study that shows a severe shortage of apartments in the area. Renters are clamoring for such units all over the Cape Fear region.

Logan and Town of Leland Economic & Community Development Director Gary Vidmar believe that Harrington Village will offer something different: a coveted spot in the brand-new urban Leland.

Vidmar wants to use Harrington Village to answer some big questions. Where is downtown Leland right now? What defines us? What brings us together?

With the library, town hall and the new senior center right down the street from Harrington Village, Leland decided this is where “downtown” made sense. It will be the epicenter. It will define Leland and, they hope, provide an updated identity.

“This could easily brand Leland — Leland’s never had a brand,” Vidmar says, pointing to some of the questions the town has long been considering. “What should we be known for? We’re not a destination . . . yet. What can we do to become a destination?”

Leland residents may wonder why the town even needs a brand. Most people seem content with the way things are. Vidmar reminds that with growth comes change, and with change comes pain.

Unfortunately, officials say, the reality is that Leland is no longer the sleepy hamlet across the river. According to statistics, “as of 2010-2014, the total population of Leland is 15,316, which is 690.30% more than it was in 2000. The population growth rate is much higher than the state average rate of 21.13% and is much higher than the national average rate of 11.61%.”

Leland is less than 5 miles from downtown Wilmington, and, as Logan points out, there are only a few ways that the metropolitan area can grow. North Brunswick County seems to be the logical place.

Understanding that growth is inevitable even if unsolicited, the Town of Leland is planning a future in which they can capitalize on the tourists funneling out to local area beaches. They want to be in front with smart development, not trying to play catch-up later.

This plan for a downtown Leland on Village Road doesn’t detract from the importance of the communities down U.S. Highway 17, such as Brunswick Forest, Magnolia Greens and Waterford, Vidmar assures. Those planned developments play an integral role in bringing a sizable number of residents to Leland and they are modelled on communities that work. But, ultimately, they will always be separated by a highway, which makes a “downtown Leland” on the corridor an impracticality.

“That area is more of a suburban town center,” Vidmar explains. “Whereas this [new] area will be a more urban, walkable area.”

Building something on the scale of Harrington Village requires a lot of planning and financing. The Town of Leland has worked creatively to do what they believe to be best for the area while not hindering the controlled growth they support.

The town has been working on a conceptual plan for the Harrington Village site for five years. The $45 million project began with the town’s efforts to have the area along Village Road  rezoned. When they received the sought-after “flex zoning,” they began to plan in earnest.

First, they had to address the challenge of financing.

Vidmar talks of the historic first economic incentives in Leland. To encourage a developer to take on the construction, the town had a creative solution. Instead of tying incentives to job creation (which will not be too impactful given the majority of the new construction will be residential space), they instead tied developer rewards to the commercial space. By agreeing to waive $120,000 in building permit fees and return to the developer whatever increased ad-valorem property taxes they receive, it became a developer’s opportunity.

When questioned why the town would give away thousands of dollars in potential tax revenue that could be used to provide services, Vidmar states that they aren’t “giving it away.”

“Be it not for this project, this is money we would never receive anyway,” Vidmar says. “So we’re not giving anything away that we would otherwise get. We are giving back to the developer tax money that we only will receive as a result of this project. So at this point we’re not taking money out of our general fund. But the other important point is that we will get significant increased sales tax revenue that will more than exceed the amount of property tax we are giving back to the developer.”

Bold incentives were not the only hurdles to jump. Congestion and traffic are already problems on Village Road, especially for drivers with a morning commute. With the diverging diamond complete and the bridge expansion nearing the end of construction, many citizens are eager for relief. But Village Road, which is one of the busiest intersections in the county, will have to be ready to accommodate the traffic Harrington Village will bring.

Town staff has been working with the developer to come to consensus on what must be done and when. The Town is simultaneously undertaking a project to realign Northgate Drive and place a signal at the intersection with Baldwin and Northgate Drive. Harrington Village Developers is required to build a road that connects Baldwin to Fairview, which had been part of the town’s master plan for years.

There is also a dependence on the recently unveiled Walk Bike Leland Plans, which North Brunswick Magazine featured in its Fall 2016 issue. Independent of Harrington Village, Leland plans to make the town pedestrian friendly. The currently shoulder-less Village Road and this new project increase the urgency.

Town officials recognize the need to create a web of pedestrian paths to link Leland as much as possible and have committed to complete their obligations by the time the buildings are ready for occupancy. After all, Harrington Village is set to be the cornerstone of a walkable/livable downtown, so it must be walkable from outside in.

Construction on the front Harrington Square buildings is scheduled to start February 2017 and be completed by the end of 2017.

Vidmar says residents have been nothing but supportive thus far.

“Surprisingly, we haven’t gotten a whole lot of negative comments from citizens,” he says. “There were three or four residents that spoke out [at our last public meeting on Harrington Village]. They supported the project but they were concerned about the traffic it would create…. They realize that it will increase the value of everyone’s property immensely.”

Vidmar and Logan know that change, especially large-scale change, can be difficult. It doesn’t dampen their optimism, though. The two men are cheerleaders for Leland, trying to simultaneously embrace what is unique and wonderful about it while encouraging sustainable and beneficial growth.

“Lots of people didn’t believe in Leland…. But I believed in Leland 15 years ago, it’s why I built my office here,” Logan says. “I am a believer in the area and dedicated the past 15 years of my career to build a lot of houses, I don’t know what the count is, but it’s well in excess of 500 within 10 miles of here. And when I looked at doing these apartments, it all kind of came together. I believe in the town.”

Vidmar says this sentiment from Logan makes him a natural partner with the town to take Harrington Village from the seeds of imagination to reality.

“Here is somebody who knows Leland, who has spent 15 years of his business career watching Leland,” Vidmar says, “and he has the confidence to build this development. Anybody from outside of Leland who doesn’t know Leland would never have done this. You have to live here to really understand what is happening. This man has lived and worked here. It takes somebody like him to do this.”

With Harrington Village, they are building Leland’s future.

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