CEDAR RAPIDS — A housing concept that blends urban living with a working farm took a step forward Wednesday when Linn County supervisors said they want a local firm to serve as master developer of the site east of Cedar Rapids.
Supervisors voted to authorize negotiations with the Hiawatha-based Ahmann Companies to act as master developer of Dows Farm, a concept that took cues from other “agri-communities” including one underway near Des Moines.
Linn County Planning and Development Director Les Beck said the selection team was impressed by the timeline Ahmann proposed during interviews for the 251-residential unit project that will be built on county-owned land.
“The tentative time frame that Ahmann put together had a four- to five-year build out,” Beck said. “We thought it was a fairly impressive time frame and during the interview, they felt it was a realistic time frame.”
Dows Farm, on the west side of Highway 13 and bordered by Mount Vernon Road, Dows Road and the Squaw Creek residential development, first was purchased by the county in 2016.
The 179-acre farm property is one of two parcels purchased at the time totaling 485 acres for $7.2 million. The other 306 acres was bought to expand Wanatee Park, then called Squaw Creek Park.
The vision of Dows Farm is to “incorporate and protect the site’s significant environmental features and respect its agricultural heritage,” according to the county.
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Beck said half of the Dows Farm land, or about 89 acres, will remain an open space managed by Linn County Conservation that will protect environmental resources along the creek. The last half of the space will be split between the farm operations and the residential community, which means only 25 percent of the entire property will be developed, Beck said.
Currently, the space is being used as a derecho debris site, Beck said.
On Wednesday, the supervisors also agreed to extend a farm management agreement between Linn County and the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust to 2023 instead of the initial one-year contract previously offered.
SILT, which was launched in 2015 with the goal of permanently protecting Iowa land to grow nature-friendly table food, was picked in May to manage the working farm. It will have hired farmers work the land as “independent entrepreneurs.” The goal is to have some farming activity taking place in 2021.
“The farm and the community are really integral with each other,” Beck said. “The success of the farm and the success of the community will depend on each other and build off each other.”
One idea, he said, is that a portion of homeowner association fees would go to the farm, and people who live there would get a basket of produce a week.
Beck said the goal of the community is to provide various types of housing to offer individuals of many backgrounds a chance to be involved in the community.
“We have had a lot of feedback,” Beck said. “We’ve had some positive and pretty significant neighborhood opposition to it. One thing I think that has been missed by neighbors here is this is going to be a quality development.
“There are architectural designs, stormwater management guidelines, signage guidelines and public art recommendations,” he said. “At the same time, we are hoping the demographics are, quite frankly, more diverse than a typical suburban building.”
Beck said the community would provide housing options appropriate to different ages.
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“The idea is someone can find an opportunity to live here if they choose regardless of what stage of their life they are at,” he said. “There are apartments proposed, condos, townhomes, cottage homes, single-family dwellings. There’s even consideration for senior housing opportunities out here.”
Beck said there are currently no plans for assisted housing or assistance programs for low- and moderate-income individuals.
“I’m not ruling it out, but right now there are no plans for it,” Beck said. “I’m not defining what affordable housing is for this project.”
Across the country, there are at least dozens of agri-communities built around working farms and more are in the development stages.
Middlebrook, an agri-community being developed near Des Moines, is planning on a community with 1,500 units on over 700 acres, developer Kalen Ludwig said.
Interest has been “out of this world,” she said.
“A lot of our buyers are coming from Beaverdale and downtown Des Moines,” Ludwig said. “A lot of leads from out of state, too, from Chicago or Colorado.”
The Middlebrook project is expected to take 10 to 20 years to complete.
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