Walking through the Tonbo Meadow subdivision off of Greenville Loop Road, it is easy to imagine living in the efficient, simple-but-elegant midcentury modern duplexes and triplexes that dot the site.
The impression is intentional. Pam Fasse, owner of Fasse Construction and Development, builder and developer of Tonbo Meadow, said the project was designed to accommodate.
“That’s really the idea behind this whole thing, to just keep it low-impact — on the environment, on your pocketbook, on your lifestyle — just make it really, really easy to live here,” Fasse said.
The idea for the project hatched years ago in 2006, but zoning hurdles, opposition from neighboring homeowners and an economic recession stalled the project.
Over time, the vision for the project was tweaked. When Fasse teamed up with Scott Ogden and Lara Berkley of B+O Design Studio in 2007, the plan was to offer larger, single-family homes with less modern design.
“The original proposal here was 10 houses, and they were market-rate, big houses like you would see in Colton Park: 2,400 to 2,800 square feet, two-car garages, just under [$500,000],” Ogden said.
But the team did not disband when the project was put on hold.
Ogden designed some of the buildings in Fasse’s next sustainable subdivision project, Midori on 29th. Midori was built based on a similar vision, but smaller units drove down the price, bringing more buyers to the market. The interest in that development encouraged Fasse to tweak the vision for Tonbo Meadow.
Changing the zone of the 3.2-acre parcel from R15 to R10 allowed the team to expand the proposal to include 14 units, each between 1,600 and 2,000 square feet, with a one-care garage and a more approachable starting price of $325,000.
The first unit, a triplex seated beside the cul-de-sac on Tonbo Trail, completed construction during April 2014, with two duplex units scheduled for completion in November and December.
Fasse said the community is the first true low-impact development subdivision in North Carolina.
The main features of LID projects are designed to manage stormwater runoff.
“LID means that you are capturing and cleaning all of the waters that fall on your property, or come on your property from somewhere else,” Fasse said.
The project implements standard LID features like limited impervious surfaces, which do not absorb water, and vegetated swales to absorb and filter rainwater, plus a stormwater wetland to store and filter additional runoff.
Part of planning the low-impact community meant embracing the ecological profile of the land. Berkley, landscape architect for the project, maintained as much flora and fauna natural to wetland sites as possible.
“When people come to Wilmington, they see crepe myrtles and azaleas and they think that’s Wilmington. Those are not the plants that were originally here,” Berkley said.
Native plants support indigenous birds and insects, like the dragonfly that inspired the name of the development. Tonbo is the Japanese word for dragonfly.
“One of the neat things about native plants is that they support an insect population that exotic plants won’t. One of things we did was design for the dragonfly, and there is specific vegetation to that end,” Berkley said.
Gary McCabe, civil engineer with Raleigh-based Red Line Engineering, transferred Berkley’s plans to the land.
The buildings are also designed to offer better air quality and energy efficiency, boasting a Home Energy Rating System score (HERS) of 52 compared to the average 130 due to a tight building envelope and rain screen siding system, ultra-efficient heating and cooling systems, overhangs that curb radiant heat from the sun, no- or low-VOC paints and all water-based products.
Fasse said the style of the units evolved to serve the same function as the LID and energy- efficient features.
“The space really springs from the rest of the ideas, just being extremely usable. It’s a style we used for maximizing the space,” Fasse said.
Fasse noted the style of the units is not new, but rather a resurgence of the midcentury style rooted in the aesthetic of the 1950s that underscored the functionality she desired.
“It’s a very intuitive style. … They were designed because you maximize and optimize the use of space. You optimize the heating and cooling. You don’t have all these nooks and crannies that are unused. It’s a lot of boxes, but when you’re dealing with boxes, you don’t waste a lot of space,” Fasse said.
Fasse said different architectural offerings can also attract and retain new people to the region. Joel Fuller, one of the neighborhood’s first owners, said he was lured to Wilmington by subdivisions like Tonbo Meadow.
“It’s one of the main reasons I’m in Wilmington. I moved because of the architecture and the ocean,” he said.
A fan of urban lofts found in New York City, Fuller said he was drawn by the loft layout of the units he purchased in Tonbo Meadow.
“It’s like being in the trees, open with high ceilings. It just feels healthier. You feel better. It’s a better spirit,” Fuller said.