Storyliving by Disney has announced plans for Asteria, a new residential community located near Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This shares full details of the news, and commentary about how it compares with the residential communities near Walt Disney World in Florida and in Southern California.
Let’s start with the press release. According to Storyliving by Disney, the Asteria planned community is inspired by the spirit of discovery and is being designed to encourage exploration of the region’s natural beauty and spark life-long learning. The Asteria community is in the beginning stages of planning with Walt Disney Imagineering and DMB Development. Homes in the community will be built by select homebuilders with sales anticipated to begin by 2027.
“The announcement of the Asteria community builds upon strong initial interest for our first Storyliving by Disney community in California and will expand Disney-branded communities to the East Coast,” said Claire Bilby, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Signature Experiences Emerging Businesses. “Our team has been working closely with Disney Imagineers to develop a unique vision for this project inspired by Walt Disney’s innate curiosity and North Carolina’s spirit of discovery.”
The Asteria community will come to life on 1,500 acres in the heart of North Carolina’s picturesque Chatham County. Ideally situated in the town of Pittsboro, residents will have access to metropolitan amenities with the charm of a small town. Plans call for more than 4,000 residential units including single-family and multi-family homes, with some home sites specifically designated for 55+ adults. The Asteria community will be part of the larger, award-winning Chatham Park master-planned community by Preston Development Company, co-founded by Julian “Bubba” Rawl and Tim Smith.
“For nearly 15 years, Chatham Park has set the standard for innovative growth and thoughtful planning. We feel an extraordinary sense of responsibility to our residents and the broader community with this project and we’re incredibly fortunate to work with Disney, DMB Development and homebuilders to create something truly special,” said Rawl.
The Asteria community will offer future residents a unique lifestyle thanks to distinctive Disney placemaking. A range of home styles will line quaint streets leading to a mix of community amenities designed to showcase the area’s surrounding natural beauty. Aligning with Chatham Park’s commitment to open green space and to encourage exploration, the community will feature acres of neighborhood parks and miles of beautiful walking and biking trails where residents can connect with the outdoors.
Asteria community homeowners will become part of a club with amenities planned to include a wellness and recreation center, restaurant, sport courts, swimming pools, community garden and plenty of outdoor space for lawn games, events and fire pits. The club will feature enrichment programming only Disney can deliver. Some of the experiences under consideration include storytelling dinners inspired by Disney tales, lessons with Disney artists and family fun days with Disney-themed activities.
“We’re looking forward to collaborating with Disney to bring another Storyliving by Disney community to life,” said DMB Development CEO Brent Herrington. “Just as the desert setting inspired our teams with the Cotino community, North Carolina’s rich landscape and history is at the heart of our initial planning work with Walt Disney Imagineering. We’ve got a lot of great ideas to showcase the beauty of this area.”
The team at Walt Disney Imagineering has spent significant time researching, visiting, and immersing themselves in the region to develop the Asteria community’s unique theme. Influenced by the nearby universities in the famed Research Triangle, the community is envisioned as a campus of discovery – a place for exploring and learning.
“We had an incredible time developing the creative brand and story for Asteria, the new Storyliving by Disney community,” said Shawn Montague, site portfolio executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. “We chose the community’s name to pay homage to the native North Carolina aster flower. The flower is also a namesake of the Greek goddess Asteria whose tears of stardust fell to the Earth and sprouted the first aster flowers. We thought it was a beautiful way to honor North Carolina’s natural beauty from the Earth to the sky, in our campus of discovery.”
The Asteria communityis the second announced Storyliving by Disney community in the U.S. following the Cotino community, which is currently under development in Rancho Mirage, California. Pre-sales appointments for home-buying in the Cotino community are now underway. Additional Storyliving by Disney locations are under exploration.
Vibrant Storyliving by Disney new-home communities will be infused with the company’s special brand of magic. Each community is thoughtfully designed with creative guidance from Disney Imagineers who take inspiration from the region’s history, community and landscape to create a one-of-a-kind place that inspires residents to write their next chapter. The legendary Disney placemaking and attention to detail within each community are complemented by renowned guest service delivered by Disney cast members.
Asteria, a Storyliving by Disney community, is in the very early stages of planning. Additional information including details on future homes in the community will be released as they become available. Those interested in more information or in joining the community’s email list can visit www.storylivingbydisney.com/asteria.
You’ve might’ve noticed that we haven’t covered all of the updates on Storyliving by Disney since the original Cotino announcement. That was nearly 2 years ago, and since then, they’ve shared house designs and a look at the common spaces. Probably more than that, I’m not sure. Storyliving also had a booth at last year’s D23 Expo.
We haven’t covered it because, frankly, none of it has been particularly interesting to us. And we’re also guessing that it’s not interesting or relevant to many of you, once you get past the surface-level outrage and/or “this is cool.” These are small high-end housing developments, and I’d hazard a guess that the vast majority of you are not prospective buyers. That’s not any sort of judgment–it’s simply a numbers game.
One thing I would caution against is critiquing this on the basis of Disney “investing” resources into Storyliving while only talking about blue sky plans that “maybe” they’ll build for the theme parks. Based on the wording of this and other Storyliving announcements, it’s pretty safe to assume that Disney is not spending any significant sums on Asteria.
Much more likely is that they’re being paid a licensing fee, and for Imagineering design and consulting. If anything, Storyliving by Disney could be viewed as a means of funding future Parks & Resorts expansion (and something to keep Imagineers occupied in the meantime before those projects kick into high gear).
It’s an imperfect comparison, but Storyliving by Disney probably is somewhat akin to Tokyo Disney Resort–someone else is footing the bill, and Disney is paid royalties and licensing, and for Imagineering’s designs, among other things.
I don’t have a tremendous amount of insight to offer with regard to Asteria, specifically. When it came to Cotino, at least we could offer some commentary about the area, thanks to living in Southern California and having extensive experience visiting the Palm Springs area. Aside from driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and spending time in Asheville and Cherokee while visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my experience with and knowledge of North Carolina is extremely limited.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this housing development and the surrounding area is nothing like a National Park gateway town (at least, I sure hope not…Cherokee is really something). I will say that I’ve heard good things about North Carolina, none of which is the least bit surprising given my experiences with the state’s natural beauty.
I’ve also had the barbecue, which is fantastic. North Carolinians are going to hate me for saying this, but everywhere has good BBQ. There is no such thing as a bad “version” of barbecue. Variety is the spice of life, and regional twists should be celebrated, not scorned. This goes for all food, too. There’s no bad style of pizza, burritos, sandwiches, or whatever other foods people get irrationally protective of. But this is a post about a planned community, not barbecue. (Perhaps it should be about BBQ–might be more interesting!)
My sentiment here is more or less the same as it was with Cotino. While some specifics differ, the operative question is: what does the Walt Disney Company really bring to the table when it comes to residential design and community planning?
Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the newer additions to the parks. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Cars Land, World of Frozen, Fantasy Springs, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure plus the Streets of Paris, and the Beauty and the Beast area in Tokyo all look fantastic. As do many new attractions and the placemaking around them.
Those are poor comparisons, though, as they’re elaborate additions with Imagineering’s top tier talent and incredibly big budgets behind them. Storyliving by Disney won’t be anything like those new lands and areas. If it were, it would be immensely unprofitable or astronomically priced due to bloated budgets. (Take whatever you think these homes should cost based on their location and the Disney-brand surcharge, and double or triple it.)
Instead, look at the regular restaurants, retail and public spaces Disney has done in the last several years. Spaces like Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, Downtown Disney at Disneyland, or even the center of EPCOT. Heck, look at the Disney Vacation Club additions–those towers are a good example of budgets having to stay in check. When looking at those, I see nothing that a high-end design firm couldn’t accomplish. They might be nice spaces, but they did not require the expertise or talent of Walt Disney Imagineering.
Again, I know nothing about architecture in North Carolina, but I’m guessing they have historic homes and unique style. It may not be to the degree or caliber of Southern California (love or hate the state, but there’s no denying it’s home to some of the most interesting and varied architecture in the world). I’m also guessing there are already lovely communities that offer great access to nature and public spaces. So what does Disney bring to the table?
It’s entirely possible that the area around Asteria is up-and-coming, and that Storyliving by Disney will fill a void for an upmarket housing development. In fact, I’d imagine that is the case. It’s unlikely that Disney and DMB Development simply threw a dart at the map and decided to build wherever it landed. But that still doesn’t mean there’s a void that only Storyliving by Disney could fill.
Frankly, the best place for Storyliving by Disney is Florida. Not just because there are a lot of diehard fans who are moving to the Sunshine State to be closer to Walt Disney World, although that’s definitely a big part of it. There would be a huge built-in market for this type of thing in Florida.
The bigger reason is because Central Florida has become a sea of subdivisions, the vast majority of which are dull and uninteresting. I say this as someone who lived in one of them, and toured many others. While we loved our time living in Florida, one of the biggest shortcomings–and this wasn’t just our perspective, we’ve heard it from many others–is how boring and cookiecutter all of the communities are.
Even the higher end builders only bring a little more to the table. They seem more focused on building quickly and efficiently to meet demand (understandable, since there’s a lot of it!) than they do thoughtfully. To be sure, almost all of these are very nice–and there are tremendous selling points for Horizon West–it’s just boring and very samey. The type of thing that could really benefit from a bit of Imagineering placemaking.
Everyone loves to hate on it or point to it as a cautionary tale, but Celebration, Florida is a lovely community. To be sure, it has a host of problems and I probably wouldn’t buy a home there as a result, but zoom out and look at the bigger picture–it’s beautiful, interesting, and well-planned.
Without a doubt, Celebration is the best community in Central Florida. Celebration has character, especially as compared to the bland and boring housing developments that have popped up throughout Central Florida in the decades since. The claims of Celebration being dystopian or having unsettling Pleasantville vibes are overblown and nonsensical. If you ever have the time and want to venture off-site during your Walt Disney World vacation, we’d recommend visiting Celebration.
I’d love to see more like Celebration in Central Florida. With that said, this is as much an indictment of the rest of the planned communities around Orlando than it is praise for Celebration. If Celebration were a community near Palm Springs, it would not be the least bit noteworthy.
I know cookiecutter housing developments are a thing all over the United States, but it seems more pronounced in Central Florida, where so much development has occurred all at once, leaving little that’s older or different. But perhaps this part of North Carolina is the same way, with a sea of subdivisions that all look the same. (I doubt it; the photos of Chatham Park look nice and university towns usually don’t have this problem.)
Ultimately, none of my thoughts actually matter. I’m not a prospective buyer for Asteria, just as I wasn’t for Cotino. And once again, I doubt the vast majority of you are, either. So it might feel nice to vent a little, but none of this matters. In the end, this will probably find an audience that is obsessed with the Disney brand and is willing to buy on that basis, overlooking all other alternatives.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty small development, and it shouldn’t be that difficult to find diehard Disney fans who have unwavering “faith, trust, and pixie dust” and are also sufficiently affluent to purchase these homes. That’s just my incredibly pessimistic take, though. If you’re the target audience and think Asteria or Cotino sound awesome, who cares what I think.
What do you think of the Storyliving by Disney concept? Would you buy a home in Asteria, Cotino, or any future planned communities? Would you buy into Storyliving by Disney if it came to Central Florida? Think this will be a big hit, colossal flop, or something in between? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!