On most afternoons, golf balls sail through the air and roll across the grassy expanse of 401 Par Golf on Fayetteville Road, where the sounds of nature mix in with the whooshes of swinging clubs.
Wake County’s rapid growth in the last few years has brought out even more people to play golf, take lessons and swing endlessly on the driving range, on which a scene of “Bull Durham” was once filmed.
But that growth will soon bring an end to the activities in Raleigh’s oldest golf center, loved by longtime members and beginners alike.
Developers are planning to buy the 72 acres that 401 Par Golf sits on and build a master-planned residential and commercial community with hundreds of new apartments and single-family homes. It’s currently called 401 Crossing, and developers say it will help fill a void in the area for rental housing.
A golf school, a golf gear store and the first Pelican’s SnoBalls shaved ice shop to open — businesses housed within the Par Golf property — have to close by December to make way for the development.
The development has not been approved yet by the town of Garner. A request has been submitted to rezone the land to allow for high-density building. The timeline is unclear of when it will move forward to a public hearing with the town council, but residents already have started expressing concerns about a shift to dense development in the area.
The land is owned by the family of Joseph Lee Jr., a longtime businessman whose family owned real estate and Johnson’s Jewelers in Raleigh.
The Lees have leased the land to Par Golf owner Dave Kristan, and Kristan says he has maintained a good relationship with them for years. Kristan has owned the center about a decade but began working there in 1989, putting himself through school as an English student at North Carolina State University with his job as manager.
He said the Lees told him about plans to eventually sell the land over a year ago. Those plans were solidified this year along with the Dec. 1 date that the businesses have to close by.
Kristan said one of his first thoughts about closing was that it’s bad news for beginning golfers.
“Having an affordable, easygoing place where you can go where you’re not judged, and everybody is friendly, it’s hard to find that type of thing,” said Kristan, 63. “It’ll be difficult for people around here. … A friend of mine said the other day, ‘If you go out of business, I’m going to have to drive 45 minutes to hit a bucket of balls.’ That’s insane.”
401 Crossing will be developed by local firm SLI Capital and international real estate firm GTIS Partners. SLI Capital is operated by Bryan Kane, the son of John Kane, the CEO of Kane Realty Corporation, one of Raleigh’s biggest real estate developers.
SLI Capital declined to comment to The News & Observer on the proposed development. The company is also behind an upcoming $600 million development near Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh’s Fuller Heights neighborhood, whose residents have raised concerns of gentrification.
Kristan said he has known that the land he leases could eventually be sold. But it won’t be easy to let go of the memories of serving generations of golfers at his golf center.
“It’s tough to do the same thing for so long and enjoy it so much,” said Kristan. “It’s hard to think about doing something else. It’s a little dissociative.”
401 Crossing development
The 401 Par Golf property is located on the eastern side of Fayetteville Road and north of St. Patrick Drive in unincorporated Wake County. It’s a few miles south of Raleigh and the South Saunders Street exit on Interstate 40.
Existing single-family homes currently surround the property. The land is federally designated as an Opportunity Zone, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which means that SLI Capital could qualify for economic incentives for building on the land.
An Opportunity Zone is a piece of land considered to be economically underinvested. Developers can get tax breaks as an economic incentive to develop housing and more on the property.
Developers of 401 Crossing will seek to have it annexed into the town of Garner to receive public utilities, according to McAdams, the Triangle architecture firm who is designing the project and filed its initial plans.
Citing a lack of available housing in southern Wake County, developers say that the rental model of 401 Crossing will provide residents a more affordable option in the area than a traditional single-family home.
“This new commercial and residential development will add unique housing opportunities to the area, and will offer a wide breadth of rental options to accommodate varying residential needs,” according to a description of the development submitted to the town. “401 Crossing seeks to fill housing gaps within the Garner area by offering a variety of both traditional and non-traditional rental products.”
The development is envisioned as being walkable with approximately 69 acres of housing. It’s slated to include cottage courts, townhomes, duplexes and apartments. Existing single-family homes currently surround the property.
Between 40 to 60% of the project’s housing will be single-family homes within the site and 15 to 30% of it will be multifamily homes and apartment buildings up to 5 stories high, according to proposed plans.
The proposed residential units will be market-rate rental units, and the total number of units could be between 650 to 700 units, according to the development plans.
Some commercial space is proposed north of the project facing Fayetteville Road
A road is proposed to be built through the development through an existing forest to connect its surrounding streets.
Around 18 acres of open space, or 25% of the property, is proposed for the project, which will preserve the pond that currently exists on Par Golf’s golf course. The pond, streams and “sensitive environmental features” will be protected, according to developers.
A pool, playground, gym and a clubhouse are proposed for the site. As part of the development’s infrastructure, developers plan to build sidewalks along an access street, crosswalks and have walking trails.
Petition against zoning
The rezoning request is currently in review with the town’s staff. The project calls for a change from an existing R-40W zoning, which currently allows no more than one residential dwelling per acre and only building a maximum of 30% impervious surfaces.
A neighborhood meeting with local residents was held on May 16. Developers are required to hold such meetings when submitting a rezoning proposal.
Some residents have taken issue with the rezoning, given the developers’ request to rezone the land for a Planned Unit Development with high-density commercial and residential building in an area without dense development.
An online petition started by resident Nathan Blanton, who attended the neighborhood meeting, has gained about 1,000 signatures, and asks the town to deny the project’s Planned Unit Development zoning.
The petition states that the rezoning would be a “10-fold” increase of the current amount of allowed real estate development. It also notes that the jurisdiction over the rezoning is the town of Garner, whose public officials do not serve the surrounding residents who live in unincorporated Wake County.
“I can understand why people are up in arms,” said Kristan. “I think I’d be extremely concerned about high-density housing moving into what’s a pretty rural, quiet area with a nice, slow family business as your backyard.”
Saying goodbye to Par Golf
The displacement of 401 Par Golf also means that golf instructor Mike Sullivan will have to find a new home for his golf school after 12 years of teaching students on the wide open green.
“I’ve been around a lot of driving ranges that the land the driving range is on has become valuable to the point where it made sense to develop homes or retail space,” said Sullivan, 52, in an interview.
“I would hate to live in a world where if you owned a piece of land, you wouldn’t be allowed to sell it because somebody who’s renting that land from you doesn’t like it.” Sullivan said.
Throughout his years at Par Golf, he developed a following on YouTube with his golf instruction videos, garnering over 17,000 subscribers.
Because of his clientele of golf students, he feels confident that he will find a new home for his business and that his students, and employed instructors, will follow behind.
“I definitely feel some anxiety and you know, you’re always wondering how things are gonna go when you get displaced,” he added.
The Pelican SnoBalls location that opened there in 2001 will also close. Owner Austin Johnson, son of the franchise founder, declined to comment on closing the shaved ice shop.
Last week, Cedric Smith, 58, a two-year Par Golf member, practiced his golf drive one afternoon with his son-in-law. He said he would miss the golf course’s “personal” touches.
It’s also the only place where he can pay $25 for a jumbo bucket of balls, yielding a few hours of play.
“I just like the family feel of it and I’ll miss that,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll just go into (the office) and just talk.”
Other local driving ranges like TopGolf and Drive Shack aren’t as calm or familiar for golfers like him, he said.
Smith and other Par Golf members said they’ll eventually switch to the nearest golf center in Wake County that has a large course and a driving range, which is Knights Play Golf Center in Apex.
Kristan says it will be very challenging to find a large enough piece of land to lease in Wake County for a new golf center.
“I’m seriously considering whether I have the ability to begin from scratch again,” he said. “Then again … the desire of it and serving the public, being able to help people out. I love seeing a guy and his kid out here. It’s just a heartwarming endeavor and so, you can never have too much of that in your life. I wouldn’t mind having more of that.”
This story was originally published August 24, 2022 1:37 PM.
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