The task of master planners is to fit a community into a place, preferably by tying into the typography and culture around it. In Davis, Calif., the New Home Co. is incorporating a 7.4-acre working farm into the mixed-use Cannery community. The urban farm, which adjoins an existing farm on its eastern boundary, taps into a tradition of local agriculture and the farm-to-fork movement.
"Davis has some of the best agricultural land that California has to offer, and crops are plentiful," says Kevin Carson, president of the New Home Co.'s California office. The Cannery is being built on 100 acres of the former Hunt-Wesson tomato canning factory. When city code required a 150-foot buffer from the bordering farm, the New Home Co. devised its own farm that provides both buffer and backstory.
"There are less expensive ways of providing a buffer," Carson says. "The overall cost was significant, but to do anything right, you have to be authentic. More and more, health is about what you're eating. We felt it was the right thing."
At least there were no water-rights hoops to jump through in this drought-stricken state. Tests of an existing well on the property showed that it has enough capacity to serve the farming operation.
And it is a true production farm, not a community garden, though there is room for that in the master plan. The developer is building a working barn, cold storage, equipment shed, and farmhouse, all of which will be given to the city to lease to the Center for Land-Based Learning. The nonprofit aims to teach people how to produce salable crops on plots of land and accomplish attendant tasks such as marketing and packaging. As a self-sustaining facility, the farm will not be part of the homeowner association dues.
Those dues will support the community's other perks, such as 10 miles of bike and pedestrian trails within 300 feet of each home and a clubhouse, pool, and spa. If buyers want rural ambience, they also want retail and R&R. The 15-acre mixed-use community entrance will include restaurants with patios that look into a landscaped amphitheater.
"After the last recession, how a neighborhood connects to retail is more important than ever," Carson says. "We've seen the upward appreciation in homes a quarter-mile from Starbucks. People want to know where they can walk to."
The New Home Co. is diversifying its planned 547 units by offering both single-family homes and affordable multifamily rentals set for a certain income level. "This is the first master planned community approved in Davis in 25 years," Carson says. "We needed to be all things to all people and designing for many different market segments will provide the feel of a true neighborhood."
Many of the homes are designed for aging in place with wide hallways, a downstairs bedroom and bath, and showers you can wheel into. While the developer won't be building the apartments itself, some of its homes will offer rental units above the garage or detached single-level casitas that provide homeowners with income opportunities in this college town. Both renters and home buyers will be provided with their own backyard fruit or nut trees. Prices are expected to range from the upper $400,000s to $900,000.
Design guidelines reinforce the agrarian agenda without slavishly copying the past. The developer worked closely with Jeffrey DeMure + Associates to develop a pattern language of four-sided architecture with high gables and shutters, contemporized with simple detailing. "We tried to bring something that was not hokey but of the Davis area," DeMure says. "The agrarian aspect was born out of the charrette process we went through. Our charge was to take what was just an idea and make it beautiful."
The signature farmhouse has lap siding and a broad front porch, and the barn is clad in rustic Montana timber. Based on focus groups, nine different architectural styles emerged for the houses, ranging from farmhouse to Craftsman to mid-century modern and from brick to stucco to board-and-batten siding.
"We looked at a couple of periods from the 1920s to the 1950s to convey the idea that this neighborhood evolved," says DeMure. For inspiration, the firm took a photo inventory of Davis' landmark neighborhoods, which contain a mix of styles.
Carson anticipates that the Cannery will bring residents closer to nature's rhythms. "People will be able to see the seasons of farming by riding their bikes past the pumpkins and sunflowers in bloom," he says.