The development, known as Olivette, will eventually include everything from a private school to a boutique hotel, says Scott Austin. But most importantly, “our goal is to create a project that proves a community based on agriculture” can be a successful model that can be replicated.
The development model, known as “new urbanism” or building “agrihoods,” is already in use in areas around the U.S. But there’s nothing quite like it in Buncombe County. (A similar proposal in eastern Buncombe County known as Coggins Farm was met with such opposition by local residents that developers abandoned the grand vision.) And Austin says his plan is to go to extra lengths to be sure farm life is embedded in community life at Olivette.
“We know that farmland makes good development land – farms are getting bought up and turned into suburbs” all over Buncombe County, says Lesley Groetsch, director of sales and marketing at Olivette.
Austin and his colleagues bought the Woodfin property last year after the previous owners and their development project – a high-end gated community – went bankrupt. (Austin has a background in construction – for several years, he’s been building student housing for universities.) The Olivette owners immediately began negotiating with the owners of an adjacent 46-acre family farm and purchased that property. They tore down the gate that was built as part of the original development and planted blueberry bushes as a statement of their intentions. They’re currently looking to hire a farmer who will run the Olivette farm. The plan is to create a CSA that will serve local residents.
The first phase of construction includes 52 lots, with an additional eight townhouses, up for sale by fall. Homes sites range from $99,000 to $260,000. The developers are working with two home builders: Jade Mountain Builders and Christopher Fox Custom Homes. Houses will be built to an energy efficient HERS standard, and a geothermal system on the property will eliminate the need for external HVAC systems, says Austin.
Plans for future development at Olivette include a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade private school, a boutique hotel, rental cabins and areas set aside for tiny homes and for artist live-work spaces, according to Austin. There will be hiking trails, little free libraries and two amphitheaters, he adds.
The property will also include Olivette offices, a small coffee shop and a commercial kitchen space, Austin says.
The property has 1.4 miles of frontage along the French Broad River, which runs 300- to 350-feet wide and includes fantastic small mouth bass fishing, says Austin. The property also includes access to a private island in the river.
Olivette owners also hope to make use of the site as an events venue, one that could host everything from pop-up dinners by private chefs (cooking up fresh produce pulled from the on-site farm) to destination weddings.
But it is the grand vision of a community built around farm life that has Austin most excited. There are already 10 bee hives on the property to help pollinate the farm and provide a local source of honey. “Our intention is to grow the apiary as the development grows,” he says.
There are four horses already grazing on the property, and the owners want to bring in chickens, as well as a herd of goats to chomp back invasive plants, Austin says. The farm can be used as a learning tool once the school is up and running, he says. (There will also be an area for a smaller community garden, where homeowners will be able to cultivate their own small plots.)
The name “Olivette” is a nod to the property’s history, says Groetsch. Railroad tracks bisect the property and Olivette Station nearby once served train travelers, she says.