COLUMBIA — Kid after kid tried his or her hand at the strongman challenge, struggling to lift the child-sized mallet high enough to generate enough force to ring the bell. Then finally, DING! One lucky kid mustered enough strength to succeed.
The strongman challenge was just one event at the Village of Cherry Hill’s second annual SummerFest and Art Show, which kicked off Saturday morning. The festival featured art, food and attractions sprinkled throughout the town center. Families with strollers wandered through the streets, deciding whether to visit the dunk tank or the face painting booth next.
As they stood in line for the bounce house, Tootles the clown entertained the waiting children, inviting them to play with her pet “Fuzzy Wuzzy,” which was really a strip of fur with googly eyes.
The Village of Cherry Hill began with a vision of a community within the larger city of Columbia. Nearly a decade later, the neo-traditional homes, narrow, tree-lined streets and brick facade of the town center of the Village of Cherry Hill hearken to a time before cookie-cutter duplexes dominated neighborhoods. The Town Square is surrounded by a host of businesses, offices, apartments and houses, showing a vision realized in many respects.
The village, on Chapel Hill Road and Scott Boulevard, is what is termed a “mixed-use development,” said Kate Finley of the Cherry Hill Business Association. It features both residential and commercial development alongside one another, creating a self-contained community that is the only one of its kind in Columbia. However, by setting itself apart, Cherry Hill has created some unique problems for the community to overcome, such as insufficient traffic circulation and difficulty attracting certain businesses.
“We had a vision of a self-contained community that allowed residents to walk to all the services we were hoping to have,” said Don Ginsburg of RE/MAX Boone Realty and one of the founders of the village. “We wanted to build it in such a way that it (business and residential) would be integrated and have a sense of community between residents and the town center.”
One way in which the village works towards community building is by hosting festivals, such as the Village of Cherry Hill SummerFest and Art Show. The second annual festival was a cooperative venture between the residents and businesses. The neighborhood has hosted several other events, such as a fall festival, a concert series and a movie screening.
The Village of Cherry Hill is intended, not merely as a residential or a commercial area, but the two are joined in one community.
“The first thing a developer usually does is separate residential from commercial development, so the neighborhood doesn’t have to live near it,” said Roy Finley of Finley Building and Development. “We did a complete 180. Streets run from the neighborhood to the town square. We suggested it was a good thing and the neighborhood signed on.”
The neighborhood is easily walkable, with narrow streets to encourage slower driving and wide sidewalks to accommodate heavy foot traffic.
“People literally can walk to work,” said Dan Kliethermes of Kliethermes Homes and Remodeling Inc. and one of the area’s developers. “There are few places in Columbia you can walk to.”
John DeSpain does just that. Living in the residential section allows him to walk to his dermatology practice in the town center.
“It’s an opportunity to interact with other businesses,” DeSpain said. “There’s a place to eat, a place to buy a bottle of wine, a place where I get a massage, a place to get an eye exam, a place where I’ve bought jewelry. The developers were very careful to set it up.”
The addition in March of a stoplight at Scott Boulevard and Chapel Hill Road has made the area even more accessible to pedestrians.
“It’s very safe. My kids come over to eat on their own or rent movies,” DeSpain said. “It’s nice for them to be able to come on their own instead of having to drive.”
The development was constructed to facilitate a tight-knit community, with a business association that functions like a chamber of commerce, DeSpain said. A web of sidewalks and roads links the residential neighborhood to the small businesses and restaurants of the town center. Many of the homes feature front porches, and the residents are free to enjoy village-provided amenities such as a community swimming pool and a gazebo surrounded by sprawling green space dotted with park benches. The village is also in the process of gaining an event center with a banquet hall, Ginsburg said.
“The quality of life is very good,” DeSpain said. “There’s a good sense of community here.”
Part of creating this neighborhood feel requires that all buildings adhere to strict design standards. “We have very tight guidelines. An architectural review board was put in place and is actually used,” Kliethermes said. “What you see is what the guidelines have written.”
The house styles, while not exact replicas as seen in many housing developments, are complimentary. Each house must be modeled after one of five permitted styles and created from materials on the “permitted materials” list. The design code even specifies details, including limiting for sale and rent sign size to 18 inches by 24 inches and mandating that each residence must have at least 14 shrubs.
The Cherry Hill Neighborhood Association is in charge of ensuring residents comply with the design codes. If residents decide to put up a fence or change the color of their houses, for example, they must go through an approval process, Ginsburg said.
Nevertheless, these strict codes do not keep people from wanting to live in the area, Ginsburg said, but rather were an issue for developers because the weight of the design codes falls on their shoulders. Ginsburg, who deals with apartment rentals in the area, said he often has to turn potential renters away.
“Price is probably the main reason,” Ginsburg said. “It’s a little more expensive than other neighborhoods.”
They also do not rent to undergraduates, nor do they allow certain pets.
“Our biggest challenge is we wanted to get a grocery store, but it’s next to impossible to get a small grocery store in a city anymore,” Ginsburg said.
Another challenge is getting sufficient traffic to come into the area because it is mostly populated by small businesses rather than chain stores.
“It’s not a strip mall like you find elsewhere in Columbia,” DeSpain said. “A lot of people don’t know it is out here. It’s a challenge, but it (the village) is becoming a destination.”