Bishop’s Bay, an ambitious 787-acre development slated to house some 6,000 residents, is scheduled to break ground in March. Located just west of Madison, Wis., the project will include a working farm that is currently in transition to grow plants organically. Its produce will be sold nearby, and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program will be available to residents. The entire Bishop’s Bay project rollout will be gradual and is expected to last 10 to 15 years.
The land that Bishop’s Bay occupies spans two communities, Westport and Middleton. For years, both towns were working together on developing the land with an eye toward mixed use, but the proposal under consideration was that of a more traditional suburban subdivison. The towns were then approached with the Bishop’s Bay plan by Terrence Wall of T Wall Properties, one of Wisconsin’s biggest developers, shortly after that firm acquired the land. Under the new, agriculturally focused design, sustainability and preservation will be top concerns throughout the proposed project, says T Wall Properties.
The development will sit on good farmland. While some might expect such a plan to simply perpetuate the sprawl problem, Bishop’s Bay is addressing the issue. A quarter of the entire development will be open space, and preserving existing farmsteads and cornfields is an essential element of the Bishop’s Bay design. Clustered in groups of six to eight, homes on The Farm, as it’s known, will be surrounded by orchards and annual crops, woven right into the farmland. The Farm will occupy 15% of the 787 acres.
There’s no denying the warm and fuzzy appeal of agricultural urbanism. On the other hand, there’s the issue of noise, smell, and dust—complaints that are common amongst those who live near farms. Landscape architect Sean O’Malley, a managing principal with SWA Group in California, is one of the plan’s designers. He wondered: How would it work if the residents took ownership themselves? What if they were responsible for planting and harvesting annuals and apples? He worked on the design with University of Wisconsin agricultural experts, local engineers, and planners addressing these and many other issues, including figuring out a lot dimension that would be plowable. (Turns out it’s 150 feet, about the same as a golf fairway.)
"The response, from public officials to potential buyers, has been very positive," says Andy Inman, VP of Development at T Wall Properties. "You’re living in the farm, much like homesteaders did," says O’Malley. As for the issue of noise, dust, and odor, O’Malley designed around it. Farm belts will sit at lower elevation than the houses, to help minimize dust. Homes will sit higher and the orchard plantings around them will provide space, privacy, and shade—not to mention fruit.
A 6,000-person development sounds risky. But Middleton, Wis., is no stranger to "Best Places to Live" lists. (It was Number 8 this year on CNNMoney’s list.) The area borders Madison, a college town that many would argue rivals Berkeley, Calif., on the desirability and sophistication scales. Thanks to two large and stable employers—the University of Wisconsin (one of the largest state universities in the U.S.) and the state’s government, the local economy is healthy. Median family income is north of $90K and the area’s jobless rate, at 5%, is half that of the rest of the country. And a little publicity never hurts: The project earned the 2011 On the Boards Community of the Year award from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Madison, WI.