Family takes the ‘road less traveled’ in home search

CorrespondentJanuary 24, 2014 

— Jim Arleth and Jennifer Aspell have always loved the poetry of Robert Frost. His 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken” has been their inspiration many times when encountering challenges in their lives and careers. Most recently, it spoke to them as they developed their first neighborhood in Chapel Hill. The couple left New Jersey and headed south a few years ago when an offer to head a start-up company in the Triangle proved too much for Aspell to resist. Especially considering that Arleth’s parents had moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, 15 years ago, and that a move south would mean shorter commutes for family reunions.

Jennifer is vice president and general manager of Bright View Technologies. Formed in 2002 as a venture-backed startup in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina and later acquired by Tredegar Corporation, Bright View designs and manufactures highly-advanced, optical management products for the LED lighting industry.

A year ago, Jim leveraged his software and business background, along with his love for sports, to become the senior product manager at SMT (SportsMEDIA Technology) in Durham. SMT is a leader in real-time, on-screen graphics and virtual graphics insertions for live, televised sporting events, and is best known for the yellow, first-down line and the down and distance indicators on NFL and college football telecasts.

Before the move, the family was living in Homedale, one of the best school districts in the Garden State, they said. When the opportunity to move to the Triangle presented itself, very high on the couple’s list was to move to a place with solid public schools.

Arleth said that after searching online, it became pretty obvious that Chapel Hill was where they wanted to be. When they moved down in August 2010, their children ranged from 5 to 14 years old. They found a place to rent in Meadowmont and began the home search with Martha Bick of Allen Tate Real Estate.

“Once we got established in Chapel Hill, we found the schools were every bit as good as our online search indicated they would be,” Arleth said. “We also decided that we wanted a house in the East Chapel Hill High School district, because we didn’t want our son to have to switch high schools after starting at East.”

The couple spent two years looking at all available property. During that time more relatives made the move south. Arleth’s sister, Mary Arleth, moved from the New York area to Raleigh two years after Jim. Aspell’s parents moved from Boston a year after Mary. They settled in Durham.

“We wanted to have enough land for a swimming pool and wanted a little more land around the house than we could find in Meadowmont.” Arleth said. “We wanted a large house so that family could visit — spend the weekend or a week — and all of us have plenty of room.”

“We decided pretty early during our search that we wanted to, once again, build our own home,” Aspell said.

That narrowed the search to home sites of at least 2 acres in the East Chapel Hill School District where an estate-size home would retain its value. The couple found places where impervious surface regulations wouldn’t allow anything more to be built upon the land. They found properties in watershed areas that wouldn’t allow a conventional private septic. Then one day — about a year-and-a-half into their search — they drove down Whitfield Road and saw the “For Sale” sign on what was once part of the Yeargan family farm. The property had been divided into two, 9-acre tracts.

Jim and Jennifer loved what they saw, but really wanted their home to have the feel of a neighborhood, not that of a stand-alone farm or estate. So they decided to buy both tracts and subdivide them into four lots with a single road servicing all four homes. In other words, the two electrical engineers were becoming developers. Not a stretch since they both also have masters degrees in business administration, but still a daunting prospect and not one taken by many prospective buyers. Inspired by visits to Robert Frost’s New England home site, the couple decided to name their neighborhood Frost Forest. A bronze plaque on the stone entry bears his poem, “The Road Not Taken.” The single, cul-de-sac road into the property is named Less Traveled Road, a take on a line from the poem.

The couple bought the property in July of 2012 and say it took nine months to get the street and natural gas lines in and approvals from Orange County. Now there are LED street lights and hanging planters on the street lights that are watered via an irrigation system.

Individual driveways off Less Traveled Road can be gravel or asphalt. Setbacks of homes via Orange County regulations are 80 feet. No horses or other farm animals are allowed, other than domestic house pets such as dogs, cats and birds.

Children living in these homes would attend Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools: Morris Grove Elementary, Smith Middle School and East Chapel Hill High School. Another advantage is the roughly 20-percent property tax break as it is located in Chapel Hill’s extra-territorial district. Residents pay Orange County taxes and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools assessment, but do not pay taxes to the Town of Chapel Hill.

Lots are between 3 acres and nearly 5 acres and mix meadow with a perimeter of trees. Two lots back Duke Forest. Others in Frost Forest can enjoy Duke Forest from access points along Whitfield Road. The Johnston Mill Preserve is just a few miles away off Mount Sinai Road.

The couple signed a contract in February 2013 to have their Ellen Cassilly-designed house built by BuildEx Homes. Martha Bick now has only one, 3.47-acre lot available in Frost Forest. “It was wonderful that Martha Bick stuck with us through all of our searching,” Aspell said. “And the tower design at the foyer of the house that Ellen Cassilly designed is beautiful.” “We couldn’t have done this without the help of John MacDonald of Harrington Bank and Jason Dell of BuildEx Homes,” Arleth said.

Build Ex is owned by Dell and his business partners, Brian Ehrenfeld, general contractor, and his brother Chris Ehrenfeld. The Arleth-Aspell house is about nine months into construction. Wet weather in spring and early summer resulted in some construction delays. The house is now under roof and exterior siding and stone work is complete and sheet rock is hung on the interior walls.

The Arleth-Aspell home will be situated on almost five acres at the end of the cul-de-sac. The house will have roughly 9,000 square feet of living space including a guest house accessed via a screened porch with mechanical retracting screens. The house has a walk-out basement with a home theater and recreation room. The main floor has a wall of windows overlooking the backyard pool and woods beyond. There is also a guest suite on the main floor and an office for Jennifer. Jim’s office is on the second floor, along with four bedrooms and another playroom.

All homes in Frost Forest will have a minimum of 4,500 square feet. Owners can choose their own builder and a variety of architectural styles would be considered by the review board. The 3.47-acre lot (Lot 1) has a rolling meadow and a mix of mature hardwoods and pines. The $385,000 lot is designated for a five-bedroom septic system. The lot has 600 feet of road frontage on Less Traveled Road and 220 feet at the back and front buttressed by Whitfield Road. There is about a 14-foot slope to the property, so the lot would allow a house with a walk-out basement to be built if the future homeowner desired it.

For more information contact Martha at or call 919-815-5018.

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