December 7, 2018 Comments (0) Views: 815 National News

Commercial Real Estate Goes Back to the Farm

Ashburn, VA is a global data hub; some 70% of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its data centers. It’s also a case in point of a real estate development trend that is literally down to earth: agrihoods.

The 4,125-acre master-planned Willowsford community (pictured) in Ashburn includes a range of single-family housing and a wealth of amenities, many related to fostering healthy lifestyles, including a working farm.

“The real estate industry plays a fundamental role in shaping how people access, purchase, and experience food,” says the Urban Land Institute in a new report. “Agrihoods are part of a growing movement of food-centric development that is bringing consumers closer to the growers and producers of their food.”

To build such agrihoods, developers are forming innovative partnerships with landowners, farmers, nonprofit organizations, schools, public sector agencies and other stakeholders, ULI says. These partnerships offer positive implications for people and communities, as well as the bottom line for the development.

“Our members are leaders in the development of healthy places where families can live and thrive,” said ULI global CEO W. Edward Walter. “The innovative practices showcased in these reports demonstrate the significant impact our members are making on people’s lives and their communities.”

Could the developer of a CBD mega-project find comparable success in a comparatively rural environment? It’s not quite as big a stretch as it might seem; there are transferable skills at work in either setting.

“In many ways, planning, developing, and operating agrihoods is similar to planning, developing and operating projects that are not built around food-production spaces,” according to ULI. “Agrihoods generally include a mix of homes, resident-focused amenities, and commercial spaces. Agrihoods are also underwritten by traditional lenders and rely on debt and equity financing—just like other projects.

By including a working farm as a central project feature, developers can unlock special advantages, says ULI. These range from reduced amenity costs, increased project marketability and faster sales for residential properties, to opportunities for enhanced community social ties and access to land for farmers, both those currently farming and those who aspire to do so.

“Creating an agrihood is not necessarily more complicated than developing a project with more ‘traditional’ amenities,” the report says. However, it does entail “a specific set of skills, innovative partnerships and a significant commitment on the part of all project stakeholders.”

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