Harebrained Idea Saves $1.2 Million


A “harebrained idea” hatched by McKim & Creed and Newland Communities saved $1.2 million and salvaged 30 lots within a new master planned community outside North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh.

Wendell Falls is a 1,100-acre community that is entitled for up to 4,000 homes, a community center, parks and trails, and commercial areas for shopping, dining, entertainment and schools. The first residents moved in a little over a year ago.

Construction was in progress on a 190-lot residential section of Wendell Falls when Sanford Contractors found itself between a rock and a hard place, literally.

Any time a site requires a substantial amount of deep earthwork—with cuts as deep as 20 ft.—the potential for hitting rock increases. It turned out this site contained two large knobs of solid granite rock. “Early on we made a little bit of an adjustment and raised the site a couple of feet” to accommodate one knob, recalled Steven Jackson, Newland Communities construction manager for Wendell Falls. It was the second knob that had the potential to “impinge heavily on the feasibility of the phase,” according to Steven.

And sure enough, it did. Once the area was cleared, Sanford performed test pits and created a digital, three-dimensional rock profile. When Newland crunched the numbers, “we saw it was going to severely constrain us,” Steven said.

To save the budget and the layout, the Newland/McKim & Creed team brainstormed several scenarios. One solution was to avoid the rock altogether, which would lower construction costs but forfeit 30 lots. Another was to raise road profiles and stub streets to avoid grading the entire area. “None of those ideas really fit well in the overall layout of the neighborhood,” said Chris Seamster, RLA, McKim & Creed regional manager. ”Street stubbing would sever visual, vehicular and pedestrian connections.”

Then in the course of the brainstorming exercise, Chris hit upon “kind of a eureka moment,” Steven recalled. The idea was to reverse the lot layout directly above the second knob of rock in that section of the development. This allowed the lots to stair-step with the grade so that each lot could handle a portion of the grade, rather than supporting a long row of lots with tall rear retaining walls.  The new plan allowed Newland to keep full connectivity, raise street profiles, maintain the lot count and preserve usable backyard space. “We added a new perpendicular street to the rock area and utilized rear-loaded alley units that could step down the slope side to side to allow the connecting roads to be higher,” Chris explained. Once the changes were approved by regulators, construction cost was reduced by $1.2 million, due to the reduction in rock removal.

“It sounds simple, and the change in and of itself was nothing revolutionary; it was more like turning the sheet and looking at it from a different perspective. It was a small change from an engineering, two-dimensional perspective, but it had a huge impact on the viability of the project,” said Steven. “Kudos to the McKim & Creed team for their time, effort and willingness to entertain some harebrained ideas.”


Shown here is the rock that threatened to reduce the size of the Wendell Falls community.


This is the phase as it nears completion. The red rectangle indicates the boundary of the area that was adjusted. That area is now about 6-8 feet higher than originally planned.


This is the main amenity center for Wendell Falls, a 1,100-acre community that is entitled for up to 4,000 homes, a community center, parks and trails, and commercial areas for shopping, dining, entertainment and schools.