The strong sense of community surrounds the village green
By Matt White | Photography By Beth Mann
A stroll down Southern Village’s postcard-pretty town square is, in one sense, a tour of modern neighborhood planning. But it’s also a look deep into the past, to roots that run all the way to Renaissance-era Italy, when popes and scholars first began to ask an age-old question, ‘What makes a town?’
Within a few steps into Southern Village, you pass a coffee shop and movie theater, bike racks and street parking and benches to rest on as kids climb and run along short stone walls. There’s a church, a doctor’s office and a grocery store. At the middle is a large central lawn, perfect for daytime lounging or, with its adjacent stage, nighttime concerts or outdoor movies.
The 550 homes that branch off in almost every direction from the square barely register, yet the open, inviting space suggests a sense of belonging, as if the idea of community was baked into the red bricks of the sidewalks.
In some ways, it is. When developer D.R. Bryan began planning to build Southern Village in the 1980s, he visited popular pre-planned neighborhoods like Myers Park in Charlotte and Irving Park in Greensboro, along with famous New Urbanist enclaves around the country like Seaside in Florida, Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Old Town Alexandria in Virginia.
“Those neighborhoods were some of the most desirable across the United States,” D.R. says. “So coming up with the residential part, we used those models. But we had no model for retail, so that’s what sent me to Italy.”
D.R. and an investor traveled to Pienza, Italy, in Tuscany. Pienza is widely celebrated among architects and builders as the ideal city of Renaissance planning, after Pope Pius II ordered the city – his hometown – to be transformed around a trapezoidal open square in 1459, uniting two palaces and two cathedrals. The square served as the town’s market and social hub, open to all. Along with similar spaces in Florence, the Piazza Pio II (named for Pope Pius II) has inspired builders of open space, pre-planned communities ever since.
“The main thing I got out of (Italy) is that most of the public spaces in the United States are really too large,” D.R. says. “The great thing about these piazzas in Italy was the human scale. So they feel like an outdoor room. Where that comes to play in Southern Village is The Green, where the trees surrounding it create a wall. Hopefully you have a sense of feeling like you’re in an outdoor room.”
Indeed, few public places in Chapel Hill draw crowds as consistently as The Green at Southern Village, which routinely has hundreds attend the Saturday movie nights, Sunday concerts and other seasonal events. D.R. says that early planning for Southern Village included plans that cut the neighborhood’s central square off from car traffic, but in the end, modern American life has different demands than 15th-century Italy.
“We tried to marry these principles to today’s engineer, with enough space for fire trucks and that kind of thing,” D.R. says. “We can’t do everything.”
Beyond the central square is the 300-acre neighborhood itself, where homes range from townhomes near the square to large single-family homes on the outskirts with a wide range of sizes and styles in between. Lots and yards are small and streets looping and curving, encouraging neighbors to mix on the streets with little threat of traffic. A pool and tennis center sit a quarter mile off the square, as does Mary Scroggs Elementary School. Grey Culbreth Middle School, in an adjacent neighborhood, is accessible on foot by footpaths and paved trails.
Melissa Hudgens has kids at both schools: her daughter, Cate, 13, is an eighth-grader at Culbreth while Colin, 7, is in second grade. The family has lived in Southern Village for almost a dozen years, after moving to the neighborhood from just off Franklin Street. Melissa and her husband, Michael, a UNC professor, loved living in the heart of Chapel Hill, but after having Cate, realized they needed more space and a neighborhood geared towards children.
“We started looking around, and this is not the kind of neighborhood we would have seen ourselves in,” Melissa says. “But then you have a kid, and you see the sidewalks, the green spaces and the elementary school all in the neighborhood.” Plus, it’s still got proximity to campus – Michael rides his bike to work most days.
Although Melissa says a high percentage of neighbors are connected with the university, she says she’s seen a shift in recent years in the neighborhood’s commuting habits.
“One of the neat things is just how many people either work for themselves as entrepreneurs or work from home,” Melissa says. “[Their] office is in Raleigh but they are here, people who are writers, editors, web designers. It makes it nice during the day because the place doesn’t empty out.”
There is also, she says, a large population of international residents, also associated with UNC.
“There’s a layer of people who are transient, like people here on a fellowship, who are from abroad,” she says. “We’ve made friends with lots of people from Germany, France, India and other places.”
“It gives the neighborhood a diverse feel, not just racially, but a worldly feel.”
JUST THE FACTS
Where Southern Village is located just off of U.S. Highway 15-501 past Chapel Hill staple Merritt’s Grill. The 550-home neighborhood centers around a bustling town square with a coffee shop, movie theater, grocery store and more. The central lawn hosts summertime movies and concerts and even festivals like TerraVita and the occasional World Cup game-watching party. The way the houses surround the town square emphasize the community housed in Southern Village. The neighborhood itself takes up 300 acres, while the pool and tennis center just off the town square invite families to spend their weekends relaxing and exercising.
Homes Homes range from townhomes near the square
to large single-family homes on the outskirts with a wide range of sizes and styles in between.
Schools Neighborhood students attend Mary Scroggs Elementary School, Grey Culbreth Middle School
and Carrboro High School.
Property Tax Rate In 2018, the property tax rate for homes
in Southern Village was $1.20 per $100 of assessed value. Of that total, $0.85 goes to Orange County, $0.20 to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools District, $0.15 to Greater Chapel Hill Fire District.
Lot Size Lot and yard sizes in the community are small and streets are looping and curving, encouraging neighbors to mix on the streets with little threat of traffic.
Price Homes prices in Southern Village range from the mid- $300,000s to near $1 million. Among houses recently listed: a 1,665-square-foot, three-bedroom home on Copperline Drive for $374,500; a 3,088-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Edgewater Circle for $596,000; and a 4,433-square-foot, five-bedroom home on Hillspring Lane for $840,000.
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