August 03, 2015

The Small Town Reborn

By Betsy Taylor and Kelly Cox
– RSVP Magazine –

Once upon a time, Collierville sat far enough away from Memphis so as to seem a different world, a rural one with modest homes and a charming town square. Then the 1980’s came and, with it, new development. One by one, the cotton fields made way for high-priced neighborhoods. With the arrival of Highway 385, the city pulled the suburb ever closer, and Collierville confronted traffic gridlock and crime. Despite its great schools and abundance of stately mansions, Collierville, some felt, had lost its soul.

Enter Schilling Farms, a burgeoning development that aims to recapture some of the small-town splendor of Collierville on a large track of land that natives remember fondly as the site of the old Ford tractor testing center. This land, which straddles Poplar Avenue, marks the western border of town. For years, the white picket fence of Schilling Farms served as the signal to Collierville drivers that, after miles of unbroken farmland, they were, finally, close to home.

After the tractor business went away in the 1990’s, Harry Smith president and CEO of Schilling Farms, wanted to ensure that the land he loved would be put to good use, so he paired with Boyle Investment Co. on an ambitious mixed–use real estate project that would take years to fully realize. Once built, it promised to offer a quaint, orderly set of homes and businesses on 443 acres that would not only beautify but also encourage increasing community, industry and value with every year. By preserving space, it would retain the feel of rolling farmland.

These days, it takes planning to create something unspoiled. Because mixed-use development depends on the cooperation of many, if part of the vision isn’t realized, the resulting neighborhood could lack cohesiveness.

Schilling Farms relies upon strict architectural control and careful iconography to exert a sense of place. The neighborhood buildings may be diverse in terms of use, but the purity of vision is noteworthy. The white picket fencing has stayed, and so has the homey symbolism. Green metal park benches are carefully placed. Tasteful green plaques bear the name of each subdivision and, below that, the words, “as Schilling Farms,” so there’s no mistake you’re here.

The huge development offers 70 acres of distribution space, 80 acres of office space, and 900 homes, as well as shops, parks, a YMCA, a Shelby County middle school, apartments, a daycare center and a church. “Shilling Farms still has over 150 acres to add to its vision and several developments are underway near to the original section,” Bloodworth says, who adds that, located as it is between arterials Byhalia and Houston Levee to the east and west and Poplar and Winchester to the north and south, the community also offers quick connections to the world at large. “It has a high degree of connectivity – particularly south of Winchester,” says Bloodworth. Resident Betty Werne, who moved here from another Collierville neighborhood, agrees. “It’s in a great location, not too far from shopping centers and banks. The 385 expressway makes things so convenient to just about anywhere.”

Werne lives in The Neighborhood at Schilling Farms, which consists of 87 luxurious single-family brick homes of various design priced in the $300,000 to $600,000 range. While some narrow-lot homes elsewhere boast the yawning mouth of a garage as a main architectural feature, The Neighborhood was built on the old alley system with parking in back so that sightlines would be pristine. Despite a number of lovely features, including old-fashioned street lamps and meticulous landscaping, the heart of the neighborhood is undoubtedly McGinnis Park, named for the man who first landscaped Collierville Square. On a Sunday we visited, a pair of boys fresh from church sailed past us on skateboards. A man walking two fawn pugs, Roscoe and Dixie, stopped to say hello. “We liked the nice park out front,” says Werne. “It’s a clean and friendly community.

The other residential communities within Schilling Farms are just as thoughtfully done and just as traditional – though each as it’s own distinct personality. Tall, old-growth poplars and gentle hills typify The Oaks, a retirement community of 88 ranch condominiums. Tucked into gently rolling hills, the tidy homes with their generous sun porches resemble lake-house vacation cabins – fitting, since Kemmons Wilson, Inc., the company behind the Holiday Inn hotel chain, developed these properties. As a testament to The Oaks’ success, all of these new units, which boast floor plans “so unique they’re patented,” have already been snatched up, perhaps by those eager to take advantage of the on-site clubhouse, with its pool and weight room.

Compelling reasons abound for developers to build and sell such properties.

While standard subdivisions have five units per acre, mixed-use developments forego the vast space needed for individual lawns and can, therefore, easily fit 20 to 25 units per acre. This higher density translates to greater profits for developers, and, ideally, a greater sense of shared community for residents.

You can bet on seeing many more mixed-use suburban developments like this one if changing consumer desires and economic trends indicate the direction of the housing market.