Located just outside of Washington, D.C., Willowsford covers 4,000 acres and will eventually include 1,950 single-family homes, two resort-style pools, miles of walking trails, and an organic farm that supports a small fresh food market and weekly deliveries of in-season produce. Developed by Corbelis (formerly RockPoint), the community has attracted a handful of public and private builders from the East and West Coast: Beazer Homes, K. Hovnanian Homes, Camberley Homes, Integrity Homes, Van Metre Homes, and Arcadia Companies.
It’s quite an unexpected turn of events for the Loudoun County, Va., property, which was previously (and controversially) planned for 15,000 homes under its former owner Greenvest and then sold back to its lender in a “friendly foreclosure” for $69 million in 2009. RockPoint (now Corbelis) then purchased the parcels for a reported $89 million.
That transaction—and the surrounding market upheaval—gave the new owners the chance to consider a fresh approach to the massive site, which is located in the zone between the more developed and less developed parts of Loudoun County. “It was 2010, and we thought, ‘What are people looking for?’” remembers Brian Cullen, president of Corbelis Development NoVa, which is overseeing the project. “People were turning inward. It was less about spending money and more about spending time with friends and family. It was about interacting with places, people, food, and the outdoors. People, especially those with kids, were asking, ‘Where is my food coming from?’”
With those thoughts in mind, the firm in 2011 began redeveloping what would become the agriculturally oriented Willowsford. It created one identity for the upscale community, which actually stretches over four separate parcels, each with its own “village.” Individually known as The Grange, The Grove, The Grant, and The Greens, these villages vary in size, product mix, and nearby amenities. Within those villages, the developer also clustered lots and preserved tree lines as appropriate. “We wanted to protect as much open space in big chunks as possible,” explains Cullen, whose firm reserved 2,000 acres of the property as open space for camp sites, walking trails, parkland, and community gardens for outdoorsy residents.
That open land is controlled not by Willowsford’s homeowner association, but by the nonprofit Willowsford Conservancy. The conservancy also oversees the organic Willowsford Farm, which currently grows fruits, vegetables, and herbs on its roughly 150 acres of farmland scattered throughout the community. The farm, managed by young farmer Mike Snow, is not just for show; it sells the produce to locals at a small farm stand and through community-supported agriculture “shares,” which provide regular deliveries of seasonally harvested food to subscribers. The theme of food and community carries over to other aspects of the development as well. Willowsford employs a culinary consultant to help residents make the farm-to-table connection, and the clubhouses will have demonstration kitchens for cooking classes and other food-oriented events.
The approach seems to be working even in today’s challenging economic environment. Depending on the house, base prices at Willowsford range from $550,000 to $750,000, which is a popular price point in the D.C. housing market, and house size starts at about 2,800 square feet and goes just beyond 4,000 square feet. “We’re seeing a lot of interest from the 55-plus buyer and young families from Arlington and Alexandria,” says Laura Cole, vice president of marketing at Willowsford. So far, the community has two phases open for sale—The Grove and The Grange—and has seen about 100 sales, which is ahead of expectations for the first year. “We see 2013, 2014, and 2015 as the meat of the market,” Cullen says.