In Woodfin, farm life and housing find an equal footing in unique development

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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olivette_3_woodfin_asheville_2015New homes will grow up next to a farm on 350 acres of rolling riverside property in Woodfin as part of a unique development that puts agricultural life on equal footing with the construction of new homes, according to one of the property’s owners.

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.

“What we’re doing is preserving that farmland – it’s not an after-thought,” Groestch says. “We’re saying we’re going to preserve this land for food, for education, for the community.”olivette_2_woodfin_asheville_2015

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_1_woodfin_asheville_2015

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.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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  1. IceNine August 19, 2015

    Seems like a great idea….too bad you have to be rich to afford one of those homesites….

  2. luther blissett August 19, 2015

    “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”

    Weeelll, that might have been because the developers wanted to plop down a faux “European village” on land whose only access was via a narrow two-lane road that is no sooner paved than it starts to subside again. The eco-community concept was a bolt-on.

    As for Olivette, I think it’s one of the least bad bits of development done in the county for a while: there are worse things you can do to a large greenfield site. And I’m sure the trees block out the view of Craggy Prison across the river.

    1. Pauli Bhoy August 26, 2015

      I wonder how much they block views of the prison when the leaves fall lol

  3. Donna Pittman August 18, 2015

    Where is the property located?? Who would I contact about buying lot or home?? THANKS!

  4. CHC August 18, 2015

    Looking at the map, the farm isn’t exactly in the middle of the action. Farm on one end, development on the other. Would be more to the stated spirit if the lots actually backed up to farmland. Excuse my cynicism but it remains to be seen whether this is more mission or marketing.

  5. Lesley August 18, 2015

    I don’t believe you can buy authenticity, but you can put your money and land to good use for the community, which is agreeably a highly subjective standard. I work for Olivette, and I am always looking for constructive feedback, though. The whole team is, really.

    1. Susan August 20, 2015

      Thank you for committing to the positive side of development for this area. This sounds like a wonderful idea, incorporating nature, arts within the community. I am on the fast track for tiny houses. Love them. Please try to blend income levels.

  6. Jason August 18, 2015

    Is this development off Olivette road?

    1. Jason Sandford October 7, 2015


  7. Katherine August 18, 2015

    Hey, if you have enough money you buy yourself some “authenticity”.

  8. Wanda August 18, 2015

    Exactly where is this at on Riverside?

  9. Peebs August 18, 2015

    Having just bought property close by, I’m very pleased with what this means for my property value.

    1. Wanda August 18, 2015

      Pens where is this located on Riverside?


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