Evans Farm: A 1,200-Acre New Urbanist Development Takes Shape in Delaware County
The first residents have moved in and about 50 single family homes are currently under construction at Evans Farm. Located off of Lewis Center Road in Delaware County, the 1,200-acre development has drawn attention for its adherence to the principles of New Urbanism.
Tony Eyerman, co-developer of Evans Farm along with Dan Griffin, is a New Urbanism true believer. He plans his vacations around visits to places like Seaside, FL, Norton Commons, KY and Stapleton, CO, all of which distinguish themselves from the typical suburban housing development by incorporating walkable town centers and a range of building types into their design, including single family homes, row houses and apartments over ground-level retail. The architecture tends to be traditional in these developments, with single family homes that feature front porches. They’re built on smaller lots and are served by garages that face rear alleys instead of the street.
New Urbanism is a broadly-defined term that has been used to describe all kinds of mixed-use development, including the redevelopment of urban sites that are already located in walkable neighborhoods with good access to jobs and transit.
Evans Farm does not fit into this category. It is being built on farmland and is surrounded by more farmland (and by several low density, single family subdivisions). Although a handful of historic buildings sit across Lewis Center Road from the development site — and State Route 23 sits a mile to the west, with its scattered commercial development — neither could be considered a pedestrian destination.
Like most of the communities that Eyerman has visited around the country, the places that Evans Farm residents will be able to walk to — restaurants, stores, offices, schools, parks, playgrounds, a post office — will all be built at pretty much the same time as the housing.
“The idea is to have walkable pods,” said Eyerman, explaining that there will eventually be at least three central nodes in the development, each of which can be reached on foot by surrounding residents in seven minutes or less. The first of these will sit just north of Lewis Center Road, and will feature a mix of offices, restaurants, apartments and retail.
Work will start this fall on the first four buildings in that initial town center. They will rise along along Evans Farm Drive, a newly-built road that extends north from Lewis Center Road to the first phase of single family homes.
Griffin said that letters of intent have been signed by several businesses interested in occupying those first buildings, including an independently-owned pharmacy that, in a nod to the nostalgic vibe of the development, may include an old fashioned soda fountain.
A mix of office space and apartments will occupy the two floors above the ground-level retail spots. Also planned is a senior living facility and several rows of attached housing — similar to what you’d find on Northwest Boulevard in Grandview, said Eyerman — that will provide a transition from the mixed-use town center to the single family homes to the north.
More retail and apartments, along with an elementary school, amphitheater and community center, are planned for an ovular area that will sit further north, closer to the center of the overall development.
“All we did is take the principles that the old communities — the Grandviews of the world — were built on, and we took the best of that and tried to bring it forward,” said Eyerman, who also cites Old Worthington and the historic planned community of Mariemont, outside of Cincinnati, as sources of inspiration for Evans Farm. “So, we’re replicating history, but we’re doing it with intent.”
It’s a concept that Eyerman has been pitching for over 10 years, first to the descendants of landowner Sam Loos, who were interested in seeing something other than a standard subdivision built on the land their family farmed for decades; and then to the zoning boards of Orange and Berlin townships, both of which approved the zoning for the project with remarkably little public opposition or controversy.
Both townships had comprehensive plans that recommended the development of small retail clusters that were referred to as town centers.
“We convinced the community that the town centers they had in their comprehensive plans, this was it,” said Griffin. “We were very sincere and honest about saying, ‘You get one chance in a lifetime in developing (something like this).'”
“They wanted just a collection of restaurants, (but) there’s more to a town center than just the retail,” added Eyerman, “what we’re creating here is a village.”
Key to the village concept is housing that accommodates a range of age groups and income levels, from small apartments, to large single family homes, to senior housing.
“Why not have a community where, if your lifestyle changes, you don’t have to leave your friends…(or) the community you’ve built?” said Griffin.
That’s not to say that any of the housing in Evans Farm could be described as affordable — even the apartments will be marketed as luxury living, with high end amenities.
The cheapest house built so far has been in the mid $400,000 range (including the price of the lot), although potential buyers have recently shown interest in building smaller homes on the lots, which would bring the overall price down.
Most of the home lots in Evans Farm are 40 feet wide, about a 10th of an acre in size, similar to what is found in many of Columbus’ historic urban neighborhoods. The key to providing more affordable options in the development, according to Eyerman, lies in those relatively small lots, and the potential for them to be filled by more than just a single family home.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are permitted in Evans Farm. Also known as in-law suites or granny flats, ADUs can be rented out by the homeowner or used to house a senior family member. In historic neighborhoods they tend to be built above the garage and face the alley, and there is already at least one unit being built at Evans Farm that fits that description. Urban planners often tout the units as a relatively painless way to increase density and provide more affordable housing options in neighborhoods that otherwise would be out of reach for most people.
“The thought is, whether you’re an entry level teacher in the Olentangy schools…or, you’re a retiree, we have a place to offer you,” said Eyerman, who said that apartments built over garages can also help to effectively bring down the price of a single family home, since that rental income can be directed toward the mortgage. He added that, “the alleys in this community are as nice as the public streets are…these are pretty nice alleys.”
“New Urbanism is about (building) a town that’s inclusive of all lifestyles, all ages,” said Griffin. “We got away from that; 20 years of just building subdivisions, with developers making quick money, everybody then required to get in their car (for every trip)…to go get milk, to take the kids to soccer and baseball.”
There is one type of trip that residents of Evans Farm will likely need to get into their car for, though, and that’s to get anywhere outside of Evans Farm. In that way, the development does not check one of the major boxes on the New Urbanism wish list — transit access.
Eyerman said that his original site plan featured a train station and parking lot in the southwest corner of the development, adjacent to the existing rail line that travels south to Columbus, running parallel to I-71 for some distance before heading into Downtown. That is the line that has long been floated as a possible route for light rail service in Columbus — including in 1999, when a referendum that could have funded it failed at the ballot box, and also in the more recent NextGen plan — although neither of those plans called for service extending as far north as Lewis Center.
“We wanted originally to have rapid transit come up the rail corridor, but it was very clearly (told) to us, ‘It’s pie in the sky, not gonna happen,'” explained Eyerman, who added that, “if it ever happened, we could accommodate that.”
He also pointed out that buses, operated by the Delaware Area Transit Agency, will serve Evans Farm. The space originally reserved for a train station, though, is likely to be occupied by a brewery instead (housed in a building designed to look like an old train depot).
The overall timeline for building out Evans Farm — which will eventually extend to the other side of those railroad tracks, where a horse barn and agricultural center are planned — is about about 10 to 12 years. The first phase of houses (142 lots) is almost sold out, and about half of the next phase are already spoken for.
Whether or not that momentum can be maintained on the housing side, and whether the demand for retail and office space in each of the planned town center areas remains strong, is still an open question. But Eyerman and Griffin, the two founders, remain optimistic, encouraged by the reception they’ve gotten so far from interested buyers, some of whom are moving from historic neighborhoods like Clintonville, others of whom live in a nearby subdivision but are interested in trying something new and are willing to wait for the full vision to come to fruition.
“People wanted this, we didn’t have to talk them into it,” said Griffin. “When you think about suburban sprawl, of 80 by 150 foot subdivision lots where there’s no walking, no parks, none of that, people went, ‘Yeah, we’d much rather have this.'”