A new day is dawning in residential development that can serve as a foundation for how people will be living for generations to come. “People are gravitating toward communities that foster their interests,” says ULI Senior Fellow Ed McMahon.
Related: Golf: No Longer a Hole in One
“Community is this generation’s golf course—of that I’m sure,” says Michael Watkins, founder and principal of Michael Watkins Architecture & Town Planning, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Developments that include a working farm and agricultural activities as well as those that promote health and wellness are dramatically changing the landscape and creating cohesive communities throughout the United States.
“Agrihoods”—which are development-supported agriculture or residential developments that revolve around working farms, and which usually include eateries featuring farm-to-table food or agriculture-based activities—are growing in number. McMahon estimates that 200 agrihoods exist across the country. They create a sense of community, produce nourishing food, and reinforce locavore and farm-to-table movements. Even if an entire organic farm is not part of a master plan, community gardens and edible landscaping usually are.
“We think paradise is coming. Our tomatoes are only 40 minutes old when we take them to restaurants. They haven’t been sitting on a truck for two weeks,” says Quint Redmond, chief executive officer of AgriNETx, a sustainable agricultural development company. He has been approached by developers from around the United States and China for advice on how to start agriculture-based communities and how to transform existing golf course developments into those that integrate agriculture.
“Agrarian urbanism is a complex pattern that transforms lawn-mowing, food-importing suburbanites into settlers whose hands, minds, surplus time, and discretionary entertainment budgets are available for food production and its local consumption,” says Andrés Duany, principal and cofounder of DPZ, an urban planning firm, in his book, Garden Cities: Theory & Practice of Agrarian Urbanism (Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, 2011).
Farm-centered developments are designed in all sizes and shapes, from rustic-style family farms to the most luxurious, state-of-the-art properties. Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona, 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Phoenix, for example, has as its focal point a 15-acre (6 ha) U.S. Department of Agriculture–certified organic farm. This agricultural development, which is a total of 160 acres (65 ha), includes 452 lots with 452 primary residences (single-family homes), which were completed between 2008 and 2010. Also, more than 100 auxiliary dwelling units have been built on these lots that range from 850-square-foot (79 sq m) houses to 450-square-foot (42 sq m) apartments and 225-square-foot (21 sq m) guest rooms, which are great for grandparents and students. An additional 150 assisted and independent living units opened in Agritopia in July 2014. By the time another 250 mixed-use residences open in fall 2016, Agritopia will have more than 950 residences.
“People who buy homes are looking for community,” says Joseph E. Johnston, developer and resident of Agritopia, which is on farmland his family has owned and worked since 1960. He added that community means people. “It’s people and the relationships they have—that’s really community,” he says.
Johnston should know: four generations of his family live in Agritopia, where they raise more than 100 kinds of fruits and vegetables, including 20 kinds of citrus, 20 of herbs, ten of lettuce, four of apples, three of peaches, and five of olives. Their produce is sold to local restaurants; through an honor-system farm stand that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and at Agritopia’s farmers’ market, where residents collect boxes of freshly harvested produce through the community-supported agriculture (CSA) program every Wednesday. “Our community doesn’t pay for any of the farming; we farm it privately,” Johnston says.
“Most developers I’ve seen are in the business of selling homes. We are in the business of creating community,” he says. But he cautions that farming is challenging because of shifts in the weather and the need to figure out how to market what is produced. “You almost have to have the founding family of the farm on the land—people who understand the legacy and heritage—and have that family be willing to stay in the deal. And you have to be very patient. Putting a golf course in is so much easier.”
Willowsford, a farm-centered residential development in the rolling countryside of Ashburn, Virginia, began selling homes in October 2011 on 4,100 acres (1,700 ha). Two thousand of those acres (809 ha) have been designated to remain as open space overseen by the Willowsford Conservancy. At present, 279 single-family houses have been built out of the 2,100 homes expected by the time the master-planned community is completed in 2020. More than 300 acres (121 ha) have been set aside for the Willowsford farm, with 27 acres (11 ha) now producing more than 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Residents can pick their own crops in a farm garden, buy them at a farm stand, and purchase them through the CSA program. Willowsford features its own staff farmer, Mike Snow, who is on the board of the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Bonnie Moore, former executive sous-chef at a top-rated restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington—located roughly 60 miles (96 km) southwest of Ashburn—is culinary director, which involves teaching cooking classes, creating recipes, and overseeing Willowsford’s pop-up restaurants, among other duties. The first pop-up restaurant was held at the Willowsford community center in September 2014, with chef Bryan Voltaggio.
At the luxurious Kukui’ula, a second-home community in Kauai, Hawaii, that features bungalows, cottages, villas, and custom homes and has condominiums on its master plan to be built in the future, most owners divide time between the island and the U.S. mainland. About 10 percent live in Kukui’ula year-round. The first residents moved into their homes in 2011, and the club, which includes an 18-hole golf course, a clubhouse, and a state-of-the-art spa, opened in 2012.
Kukui’ula features a ten-acre (4 ha) organic farm, where guava, papaya, pineapple, breadfruit, arugula, and the tropical flowers plumeria and bird-of-paradise are raised. Brent Herrington, president of Kukui’ula Development Company and a principal for the developer DMB Associates, says they spent $100 million to build the club, but the $1 million organic farm has the greatest impact on people.
“The farm is especially loved because it hits so many emotional notes. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s fun for [people of] all ages and feels utterly authentic to Kauai. It allows members to browse and forage and find amazing things to take home and eat. . . . We’ve created multiple remote destinations around the adjacent lake with chairs and picnic tables where you can hike and hang out. It’s also a great venue for special events, farm-to-table dinners, and weddings,” Herrington says.
What is it about integrating a farm into a housing development that people find so appealing? “The act of tending a garden or gathering food with one’s own hands is a deeply gratifying experience for many people,” Herrington says. “This simple process has been at the heart of human experience throughout the ages, but is mostly lost in the modern era. A community farm is a welcome respite from the sterility of life in our cities and suburbs, where most of our food is sold in gleaming supermarkets, packaged and polished, with no real transparency about where it may have come from, how it was grown, or how fresh it may be.”
By the time Bucking Horse—a 240-acre (97 ha) infill project in Fort Collins, Colorado—is completed in 2016, 1,100 households will have been built. Half of those, including single-family houses, bungalows, townhouses, and apartments, have already been sold. Adaptive use is prevalent on this property. The Jessup farmhouse, one of two historic farmhouses on the land, is expected to open as a farm-to-fork restaurant in spring 2015. A 130-year-old, 470-square-foot (44 sq m) garage is being converted into a bakery, and a large chicken coop from the same era will be split into two uses: half chicken coop and half public restrooms.
Bucking Horse will be centered on a six-acre (2.4 ha) working farm with livestock such as goats, cows, sheep, pigs, ducks, turkeys, and chickens; another 18 acres (7.3 ha) are for those animals to graze; and 3.6 acres (1.5 ha) are devoted exclusively to vegetables for the development’s CSA program and farm-to-fork restaurant. The common areas of Bucking Horse are filled with edible landscaping, featuring more than 500 fruit trees, including apple, cherry, and plum, and berry bushes, including raspberry and blackberry, plus community gardens. Homeowners can take canning lessons in the education center and volunteer to harvest crops.
“We are interested in focusing on health for community building. Food is really an important component of health,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, chief of wellness planning for Bellisimo, developer of Bucking Horse.
While many may sing praises about the restorative power of living off the land, not everyone wants to get dirt under his or her fingernails, because green acres are not everyone’s idea of the ideal place to be. “Agricultural communities are a niche segment at this point. There’s a growing niche market for these kinds of communities,” says McMahon. “The one-size-fits-all model for homebuilding doesn’t work anymore.” But programming that fosters a sense of community is still an important part of the mix.
Bob Kettler, chairman and chief executive officer of Kettler, a McLean, Virginia–based multifamily housing developer, says he believes the future will bring a more urban model of community building, in part because some planned suburban developments are too expensive for many buyers.
“You have 55 million millennials, 75 million baby boomers, but there are only 40 million gen Xers, who are at the prime homebuying age, so there’s a dip in the demographic curve coupled with unaffordability,” says Kettler, who is developing several multifamily and community development projects in the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area, including O’Donnell Square, a new townhouse community in Greektown, a neighborhood on the east edge of Baltimore.
“We have taken a brownfield in an older neighborhood dating back 50 to 60 years that was peppered with derelict properties, old fueling stations, and assorted abandoned buildings, and built starter houses selling in the mid-$200,000s. We opened in early 2012; we’ve sold 160 in two years,” Kettler says. “The amenity in Baltimore is Baltimore. O’Donnell Square is in a vibrant, redeveloped area in a major, great city.”
Kettler added, “I recognized early on it was really about amenities and creating a sense of community. Programming is as important as product.” Kettler is the development manager and property manager for Vita Tysons Corner, a Macerich-owned property in Fairfax County, Virginia, that has 429 units under construction with preleasing scheduled to begin before the end of the year and the first deliveries expected in early 2015. “At Tysons, there will be solid wall-to-wall programming year-round—theater night, farmers’ markets, festivals, and concerts,” he says.
Designing for Health
Some developers are consciously building residences that promote health and wellness. Consider ECO Modern Flats in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas. Jeremy Hudson, chief executive officer of the Specialized Real Estate Group, the project’s developer, grew up with asthma and severe allergies. He converted 96 apartments built during the 1960s into healthy living environments.
“It all starts with the design. A key difference from the prevalent garden-style apartments in the area is that you can’t park right outside your door. You have to walk through common areas—the community garden, the rain garden—on the way to your apartment. We carved out large and small gathering spaces throughout the property where people can connect. Each unit also has individually designed outdoor space—a rooftop deck, a walled patio, or a balcony—that draws people outdoors and opens opportunities to interact with neighbors. You don’t just go from your car to your door and shut it behind you,” Hudson says. He also banned smoking in the apartments, both indoors and out; installed a solar hot-water system as well as ductless heating and cooling; used non-VOC paints, stains, and finishes; and incorporated native landscaping, rainwater harvesting, and rooftop gardens.
Creating a sense of community is the linchpin. “The design is definitely most important, but we supplement that with programming. We have done rooftop yoga, a Krav Maga [self-defense] class, and a garden walk program. As you might imagine, our poolside happy hour with locally brewed beer is also very popular,” Hudson says.
Grow Community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, a near- or at net-zero-carbon community with solar-powered homes, is a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. One of the biggest surprises to the developer was not that the 23 single-family houses and 20 apartments sold out within six months with no advertising beyond the island and no listing on the Multiple Listing Service, but that the community gardens emerged as the heart of the development.
“Before architects put pencil on paper, we held focus groups and asked people, ‘If you could imagine the perfect neighborhood, what would it look like?” says Marja Preston, former president of Asani, the developer. They asked people to draw from their previous experiences. “The things people remembered were connections with their neighbors,” Preston says. “We designed the project very intentionally to create opportunities for unintentional connections.” Instead of creating yards, they created community spaces with raised garden beds.
“We have microhoods—six or eight homes that face each other and the community gardens between them,” says Greg Lotakis, project manager for Asani. The neighbors work together and decide what they want to plant. The gardens have really brought neighbors together, he says. “When people come to see the community, they see how lush the garden spaces are and the community interaction they create.”
Matt Griffin is managing partner of Pine Street Group, which developed Via6, a 654-unit multifamily development in Seattle, Washington, where the average unit measures 715 square feet (66 sq m). He and his partners set out to build a community rather than an apartment building. In 2006, Griffin and his wife, Evelyne Rozner, lived in Manhattan for a month in a 650-square-foot (60 sq m) apartment and loved the experience of going to the local deli, Starbucks, and other nearby places. They didn’t spend much time in their tiny apartment. “We realized that in a great urban location, you do your private stuff in your apartment and the neighborhood is your living room,” Griffin says. His partner, Matt Rosauer, also a principal at Pine Street Group, had a similar experience when he lived in a tiny apartment in Seattle, where he got to know many of his neighbors. He ended up living in that apartment longer than he had intended, simply because he really liked the community and did not want to leave.
Thus the idea was born for Via6, located in downtown Seattle near mass transit. It features places for the community to gather, such as the mezzanine gaming area, which includes pool tables, shuffleboard tables, and spaces to hang out; an assembly hall, which includes an American-Asian restaurant and a juice and coffee bar; an indoor/outdoor pavilion for get-togethers; a fitness center; dry cleaner pickup; a concierge; and free wi-fi throughout the building. All of this was designed to encourage residents to interact throughout their “vertical neighborhood.” Via6 opened in 2013. Griffin and Rozner have bicycled around the world together—twice—so Pine Street Group created a bike club called ViaBike, mainly for commuters who work in the neighborhood. For $15 a month, members can park their bicycles in bike sheds in the building, use the showers and lockers, and even leave their bikes to be serviced in Velo, a bike shop that is part of the mixed-use building. Opening the bike club to commuters in addition to tenants “was a way to activate and increase the building’s presence as a center of the community,” Griffin says.
Trish Donnally has cowritten three books on design, including Ingenue to Icon, to be published in 2015 by the Hillwood Museum and Gardens Foundation in association with D Giles Limited, London.
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