New Homes + Historic Sites = RiverLights


Written by: Marimar McNaughton  |  Photography by: Kathy Spetrino

Ten years after unearthing more than 25,000 artifacts left by the Cape Fear Indians who once occupied lands near Barnards Creek 9,000 years ago, Newland Communities came out of the ground in 2016 launching RiverLights, a planned mixed-use, multi-generational community on the Cape Fear River.

A new tribe is populating a Native American dig and a 19th century rice plantation on River Road. Sited on nearly 1,400 acres of riverfront stretched between Barnards Creek to the North and Mott Creek to the South, Newland Communities’ RiverLights is steeped in a rich historic stew referencing early English speaking settlements — notably the Walker family’s plantation from 1830-1845, and an adjacent blacksmith forge — as well as a nomadic Cape Fear Indian outpost.

As many as 50 new sets of families are now enjoying the same indigenous amenities as  the settlers and nomads presumably celebrated hundreds and thousands of years ago — dappled sunlight streaming through ancient live oak tree limbs, views of the Cape Fear River from high bluffs, feasts of fish and shellfish, and yes, robust trading, live music, and dancing.

Though Newland Communities acquired the property from the Cameron family in 2006, RiverLights cut its ribbon less than a year ago in December 2016, says Marketing Manager Kacie Coble. When the land is fully developed into custom homesites, townhomes, and condos, with an expected completion to occur sometime during the next 10-12 years, she anticipates almost 2,400 front doors will welcome multiple generations into one dynamic live, play, and maybe even work locale.

With a designated age of 55 and over segment, Baby Boomer grandparents are buying into RiverLights’ Del Webb neighborhood, their Gen X children are eyeing custom homesites, and the Gen Y, aka Millennial grandkids, may consider a townhome located in the Marina Village retail and restaurant hub where 1,000 feet of riverfront boardwalk is already finished.  

Coble says the short-term leasable units above locally operated retail stores are ideal for house hunters waiting for a certificate of occupancy. The developers selected only eight home builders to brand RiverLights and each one was given its own a niche, or segment, that comes with a homebuyer demographic, to determine house style, size and price point. Leading the high-end custom home builder segment is David Spetrino, President and CEO of Plantation Building Corporation, which actually acquired two niches.

“Plantation picked up two segments out of nine segments in the community,” Spetrino says. Riverview Townes in Marina Village is one. “The other, which is what we’re most known for, is high-end custom homes. We’ll be building on the tracts where the maritime forest is still intact, and the trees, the views and vistas are still established.”

The Lautner idea home is Plantation’s fully finished and furnished model prototype.

“The Lautner is a great depiction of what we can present in a floorplan that’s appealing to most — it’s the way the details are put together, it’s the massing, the finishes,” Spetrino says. “It’s like taking the house off the shelf and … adding a little bit of extra flavor — just enough of a home plan where people go: ‘I like the way this space feels. This is different than my brick Colonial in Fairfax, Virginia. This is exactly how I see myself living when I retire to RiverLights.’”

Empty Nesters

Shawn McGreevy and Tobin Getz caught the Spetrino vibe, the moment they entered the space. Coming from a compartmentalized brick Colonial floorplan, McGreevy felt closed. Here the openness of the floorplan is breathable, livable.

“It’s like someone is wrapping their arms around you as soon as you walk in,” she says.“Everything is brand new but it feels like a lived-in home. It’s exactly what we needed,” she adds. “We’re empty nesters so all the main space that we use every day is all open, the kitchen, the living room, and the master bedroom suite.

If the floorplan is intimate, yet communal; if coffered ceilings above formal spaces add depth of character; if the clean cut lines of the wide-planked trim molding and all wood floors frame and ground the living spaces; if light wall colors and perfect fenestration provide a backdrop for cascading sunlight through airy windows and doors to create an easy, coastal lifestyle, then Plantation Building Corporation’s Interior Designer Chrissy Absi Bonney, Allied ASID, adds the spice.

Working with a salt and pepper palette of whites, charcoals and blacks, Bonney says,“I want to do some things that are trending a little bit.” In The Lautner idea home at RiverLights, Bonney married modern gold, aka new brass fixtures, with iron black cabinets, a rustic brick backsplash and a white quartzite island. “A lot of people wouldn’t have the courage to do those things,” and yet sets of clients have asked her to duplicate that very look in their new custom home.

The monochromatic palette is extended into the dining room, beneath a vaulted beam where Bonney says she brought the eye up to the ceiling.

“I wanted that fixture to really emphasize and mimic that look — that’s an element of interior design, to repeat patterns. I used the same fixture in the great room,” she adds.

Without knowing the historic angle attached to the RiverLights’ site, Bonney laughingly admits through the selection of finishes and furnishings she may have subliminally channeled plantation and Native American themes.

For history buffs like Coble, RiverLights’ residents, and visitors to the shops and restaurants in Marina Village, both cultures can be revisited inside the information center where cases of artifacts from earlier times are displayed and interpreted.

“We have about 50 boxes of artifacts (coins, buttons, clay pipes, arrowheads) that we’re storing,” Coble says. “We’ve given a handful to the state, and the Cape Fear Museum has taken some.” Thumbing the pages of a four-inch thick book that functions as a bound repository of artifacts excavated from the site, Coble adds, “We get into all kinds of conversations. It’s really fun.”