Developer pays $34 million to buy Wendell Falls residential project from bank

akenney@newsobserver.com jwhitfield@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

— A $34-million purchase has put a bow on a newly resurrected plan to double Wendell’s population. Newland Communities on Monday finalized a deal for more than 1,100 acres of the land that once constituted Wendell Falls.

The purchase price was a fraction of what the original developers had invested in the property, which was taken back by the lender after being foreclosed upon.

Intended to bring some 4,000 homes to western Wendell, the project froze in 2008, leaving its infrastructure half-built and unused.

Town Commissioner Sam Laughery said the new ownership, doing business as Nash Wendell Falls and Newland-Wendell Falls, could turn the rebooted project into the “crown jewel” of eastern Wake County. He sees similarities to Reston, Va., perhaps the country’s best-known “master planned” development.

With proximity to a main highway and a beltway around Raleigh, Laughery thinks the commercial and residential areas previously planned for Wendell Falls could pull new residents, businesses and taxes to eastern Wake County, which has been slower to develop than Cary and North Raleigh.

“It’s hard to even describe,” he said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Laughery downplayed the idea that the frozen project has been a drag on Wendell. However, development of the land could help Wendell pay the bills for a costly water and sewer merger agreement it struck with Raleigh in 2006, when the housing boom seemed to demand rapid expansion for Raleigh’s suburbs.

It’s expected to take more than a decade to build out Wendell Falls. The final details of the project may be some time coming.

Bill Mumford, a vice president for Newland, told commissioners recently that his firm is researching all the details that make real-estate tick, such as price points. However, town manager Teresa Piner expects the development to remain substantially similar to the plans laid out by Mercury Development. Mercury, along with Burroughs & Chapin Co. of Myrtle Beach, were the investors behind Wendell Falls.

They had borrowed $69 million for the project and spent more than $100 million before work was halted in October 2008, when the financial crash turned markets upside down. The completed work to date includes water and sewer lines and a new interchange on U.S. 64/264.

Wendell Falls has showed signs of life for several months now, with Wells Fargo announcing this summer that it would pay to finish Wendell Falls Parkway.

Newland, the new developer, also is building homes in Chatham County’s Briar Chapel.

Nash Wendell Falls, a newly formed corporate entity, recorded its $34 million purchase from Redus Raleigh Housing, a unit of Wells Fargo, on Monday, according to Wake County property records. Commissioners agreed a week earlier to transfer a development agreement for the land to Newland.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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