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Seeing Green

High-dollar development brings city to country with all-inclusive, inventive approach.

Choosing where to live (for those who can) used to be about making decisions and concessions.

Country? City? The once-vast expanse between?

Want to walk to see live music and go to dinner? You’ll need to live near a city center and deal with traffic and crime. Want to have woods outside your back door and go fishing after work? You’ll have to forego the lively nightlife and conveniences of living in a metropolitan area.

But what if there were a place where you really could have it all?

Developer Dan Griffin believes you can, and he’s crafting it into existence.

When Griffin talks about Evans Farm, a smile sneaks into his voice, and he takes on a buoyancy that betrays his excitement. He and business partner Tony Eyerman are building their own future, and that of thousands of their neighbors.

And it’s shaping up to be an urban utopian oasis in the middle of a rural expanse.

The name of the game at Evans Farm is “new urbanism,” a social concept and design movement that centers itself around a traditional village prototype. One where services, commerce, and gathering places are all within walking distance of the home.

Griffin’s mental collage of a friendly past and a progressive future blooms into the best of both worlds, and he wants it all right outside his resident’s doorsteps.

“We have restaurants, we have salons, we have the YMCA, we’ve got a brewery, we’ve got a recreational facility that is structured from a historic barn. Out the back will be a carved in amphitheater where, on Friday nights, residents will be able to walk right down the street and sit on the lawn and have Friday night movies. There will be a bridge out over the main road where people will be able to walk over to the beach and marina at Alum Creek. It de-emphasizes travel by vehicle. That’s what the new generation wants right now. They want to walk to work or ride their bike. After work, they can walk to a restaurant, or walk to the grocery store, or take a golf cart there. [This is] a place where houses are pulled up closer to the street, where people can walk for services. It’s Granville, it’s Old Worthington. When people would first settle an area, they’d settle real close. It was all walkable. Business and personal life were all in one place. We see it on TV when you look at Mayberry.”

Griffin consistently name-checks the TV town that has come to embody the idealized American community of old. So enmeshed is this ideal that some of Griffin’s team are literally building their lives around it:

“There are a bunch of us [Evans Farm designers, builders] moving in here. You’re going to have a bunch of different people with a bunch of different needs. I’m a hunter and fisherman. I’m an outdoors person; my wife’s the city girl. And she can’t wait to live here because we’re going to have the best of both worlds. If I want to take a hike, we can do it from here because we’re connecting to the park. You’ll be able to walk or take a horse all the way to Cheshire. So it fulfills every country [aspect] as well as nice restaurants. We’ve been contacted by four of the city’s best restaurants to [establish themselves] here.”

Griffin and his team seem to be like veritable kids in a candy store when it comes to designing the town of their dreams.

“We’re building a restaurant with a little platform out the back next to the railroad station so when people go out there and sit and the train goes by, they’ll be eye-to-eye with the conductor. We’re building lakes that have solar powered fish feeders on them. You’ll be able to kayak on a few of them.”

It seems that the developers have left no stone unturned, figurative or literal.

“We’re doing paths through the woods where we mark and label every tree and plant so the school can teach the kids the agricultural side of life, and teach them what’s out there in the world—de-emphasize the computer,” Griffin said. “We’re building an elementary school and a preschool that sit right in the middle of our development so kids can walk to school safely.”

This hyper-engineered community has been planned to the finest detail: from their six- to eight-foot-wide sidewalks built specifically for baby carriages, cyclists and runners alike to be able to share the lane without anyone stepping off to the side, to “functional” front porches (required to be at least eight feet deep) that must be built 24-36 inches off the ground, so that passers by are at eye level with their seated neighbors.

The purposeful design of this village has specific goals in mind: connection, safety, prestige. Other urban centers have walkability, but Evans Farm has had the luxury of removal from an established core. Older urban models have been cobbled together through decades, the good piled next to the less savory bits of city life. And in the rural areas of central Ohio, we have the pendulum swinging decidedly the other way, providing unique challenges—lack of nightlife, long commutes to everywhere from work to the grocery store. These extremes pose the trade-offs that home buyers must navigate. In recent years, buyers have chosen the middle ground of suburban sprawl, but this has seemed to lack a solution to the city vs. country decision model. Griffin wants to give people options in everything from housing to hobbies.

“People want a community, so you have to have multiple housing opportunities. We’re starting with a clear slate. I think we have an opportunity that [places like] Clintonville didn’t have, which is [being] recreated in an environment that adds some little special things. [In Clintonville] how close are you to grabbing a fishing rod and heading to the lake? How close are you to walking to a state park without crossing a main road? There’s a little of that detail that we’re able to capture because we don’t have anything but that clear slate of land.”

All this meticulous planning comes at a price. At Evans Farm, hitting the million-dollar mark on your home would not be a tall task. The residences start at the high $300,000s for multi-family units, and climb from there into six figures. These price-points obviously will put Evans Farm out of reach for some, but the developers aims to pop the gated community-type bubble that could result from the highly insulated and all-contained lifestyle development.

“We have fun cause we meet with neighbors all the time. We meet with the local people, whether they’re moving here or not. We’re putting classrooms in our Ag Center, [which] is going to be used by a lot of the local groups like 4-H. It will have gardens and classrooms that we’ll share with the school system. We’re connecting the Orange Township bike trail all the way through our development so people don’t stop in the middle of Lewis Center and turn around. For People that live on Old State [Road] all the way through this Lewis Center area, this will be their gathering spot. We’re connecting trails to local communities so people don’t have to move there but can be part of Evans Farm. Even the general public understands what an incredible opportunity we have to build something they don’t have. We’ve got over 27 businesses now that are going to open up and start construction this fall. So that quaint little Lewis Center village that people knew at one time is going to be recreated architecturally and with local businesses by the end of 2019.”

And people are buying in: 120 of the 142 lots in Phase 1 are already spoken for, and they haven’t even put the streets in yet. 2,000 lots on 1,300 acres will house an estimated 6-7,000 people when all’s said and done. The infrastructure has been placed, and foundations are being laid. Residents will begin moving in next summer.

Griffin gazes further into the future as he pulls influence from the past.

“It’s how our grandparents grew up. They stayed in one place and had Thanksgiving dinner in one house. But society has changed, and we have started spreading out quicker. We can build a place here that takes the best of all the places we’ve ever dealt with and puts them in one package for generations. Way after I’m gone, people will drive through, and it’ll become a destination place. This is great fun for me, as you can tell.”

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