Rebuilding Tradition

DSC_0625Before World War II, the average American neighborhood looked very different than how it does today. It’s not as simple as the passing of time either. America’s values have changed and as a result, so have its communities. In the past, most amenities were within walking distance, and your banker, your doctor and your grocer might live just down the street. It was a time when a more-than-passing familiarity with your fellow neighbors was the rule rather than the exception, and the benefit was more than just the occasional shared cup of sugar. If you find this sort of lifestyle appealing, you’re in luck, for Norton Commons aims to bring that culture – updated for the modern era, of course – back in style.

Norton Commons is Kentucky’s first and only traditional neighborhood development, or TND. New Urbanism and other technical phrases begin to parcel together an explanation for what that means, but Charles Osborn III, the managing partner of Traditional Town LLC, developer of Norton Commons, offers something much more succinct and accessible: “It’s a throwback. It’s going back to the way development was done for hundreds of years. It’s all about walkability. ‘I’ve got to walk to the grocery.’ ‘I’m going to go on a walk to visit my friends and neighbors.’ It’s that lifestyle versus a car-centric lifestyle.”

DSC_0668_webEssentially, Norton Commons is designed with the intention of placing some of the best parts of Louisville all in one place while simultaneously giving people choices for living an urban lifestyle in a sustainable, convenient and enjoyable environment. Rather than serve as an annex that divides residents from Louisville, Norton Commons is a community that can serve the needs of its own citizens and allow for easy accessibility to the rest of the city.

Photo courtesy of Norton Commons

Photo courtesy of Norton Commons

Virtually every business in the neighborhood is locally owned. Furthermore, the residents and business owners enjoy a symbiotic relationship that results in greater success and quality of life for everyone. “There are over 60 businesses in this area now,” says Osborn. “There are doctors and dentists and accountants. Two start-ups. Things like wine and gelato shops and everything in between.”

The road was not always this smooth, however. Before any plans could be developed, some changes needed to be made. “Part of the group had to actually change the zoning laws in Jefferson County,” Osborn relates. “The laws at the time would not allow this kind of development.” Cornerstone 2020, a proposal with the aim of making Louisville and Jefferson County a more livable, vibrant and economically diverse community by 2020, finally allowed for this provision.

The team behind the creation of Norton Commons consulted and collaborated with renowned architect Andres Duany’s firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company as early as 1997, but after the passing of Cornerstone 2020 in 2000, they were finally able to move ahead and begin creating the community of their dreams. After a robust fundraising campaign, construction began in earnest in 2003, and the first residents moved in in 2005.

Photo courtesy of Norton Commons

Photo courtesy of Norton Commons

Ten years may seem like a relatively short amount of time, but in the past decade, the team at Norton Commons has been able to build a warm, welcoming and financially successful enterprise. “We just launched the Veranda,” says Osborn of Norton Commons’ large new apartment complex. “It began occupancy in January of 2015 and it’s a 240-unit complex, so that’s a big deal. We also have an eye toward the future. All of our new buildings are required to run on geothermal energy. We want to keep Norton Commons kind of cutting edge. You won’t see geothermal mandated in many places, certainly in Louisville. Besides, geothermal is, ecologically,  a good way to go. It’s an improvement for the neighborhood lifestyle-wise, and it will also help on the utilities bill.”

Norton Commons’ bread and butter is the residential side of things, but actually taking a walk in the town provided some valuable insight into the business aspect as well. Per Norton Commons’ mission statement, everything is conveniently close together. I was able to see several choices for lunch just in one glance, and each option was as mouth-watering as the next. Names like Tea Station Chinese Bistro and Verbena Cafe seemed promising, but I decided to have a conversation with Rick Moir, director of operations for Olé Restaurant Group, parent company of Norton Commons’ Mercato Italiano.

DSC_0700For those who may not know, Olé Restaurant Group is owned by chef cousins Fernando and Yaniel Martinez, both of whom were born and raised in Cuba. In addition to Mercato Italiano, Olé owns such Louisville staples as Mussel & Burger Bar, Guaca Mole and Taco Luchador. “This location has been absolutely great for us,” asserts Moir. “In addition to making delicious food, we sell the ingredients we use in our own dishes, and the community has responded very well to it.”

“If there’s a community event going on and people are still in the area, we’ll stay open later to meet the demand,” he continues. “It’s served our business well, and it has actually increased foot traffic in all our restaurants across Louisville.” Mercato Italiano is a relatively new venture in Norton Commons, but Breanne McCubbin, co-owner of Something Blue, a bridal accessories and gift boutique, has been there since the beginning.

“I’ve seen the community change before my eyes,” she says astutely. “The amount of residents here has obviously increased, but it’s such an incredible opportunity to own a business in a community like this. Since I’ve had my children, I’ve started selling merchandise for kids and newborns, and it’s been so rewarding to see the people I was selling bridal items to when I first opened now buy for their own children. I don’t think I would have that connection to my customer base anywhere else.”

Now, Osborn and the rest of the team at Norton Commons want you to experience all that the community has to offer. The community events are open and welcoming to anyone who wishes to attend, so there’s never a bad time to see what Norton Commons is all about. That being said, with the construction of Norton Commons Elementary – the first addition to the Jefferson County Public School Systems in years – to be completed in the fall, plans for a North Village addition and the upcoming Homearama, there is no better time than the present to take a step into the past, look at a possible way of life for the future and rebuild tradition. VT