Willowsford: Sustainable living in Ashburn, surrounded by $1 million homes

Deb Darby, the market and education coordinator of Willowsford, helps a resident at the community's farmer's market. - Courtesy/Willowsford

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2014 Loudoun Business Journal

Just a few twists and turns beyond the ridge that slices Loudoun County into two distinct ideas, past the tangle of new townhomes and multi-use shopping centers, Brian Cullen looks out at 4,000 acres of bucolic countryside and envisions a more refined stewardship of the land between the foothills of the Piedmont and the thriving exurbs to the east.

It's called Willowsford: a patchwork quilt of four villages, some in Ashburn, others near Aldie, connected by agricultural fields, meadows, woodlands and homes set on rolling hills. A farm runs through it, connecting the Willowsford lifestyle to the land itself.

Beyond a collection of homes from eight builders - some exceeding a $1 million price and more - are goats, chickens and a farm market with crops grown on site. Residents can dine on farm-to-fork cuisine or buy fresh meat and produce for their own tables while the kids learn about life on the farm.

Some call Willowsford a commune for the affluent. But Cullen, the president of Corbelis Development NOVA, reaches for something more descriptive. Inspiration, he calls it.

"The keystone of the vision is 'inspired living,' Cullen says. According to the development's site, "Willowsford draws on Virginia's scenic landscape and rich agricultural heritage to create a community defined by its expansive natural beauty, unique and engaging recreational spaces, a strong food and farm connection, and activities that encourage an appreciation for the environment and land stewardship."

In the argument over what the most affluent county in the nation is to become amid rapid growth and the imminent arrival of the Silver Line, Willowsford is a statement.

Protect the land, it says. Cultivate it.

The old cliche for developing property for the affluent is golf. Put up gates, build a golf course and surround it with homes.

Willowsford is being developed to fit a shifting interest and culture around sustainability and community.

"People are interested in knowing from where their food comes," says Cullen. So the developers built Willowsford around a 350-acre farm and put half of the 4,000 acres into a conservancy. A nonprofit, the Willowsford Conservancy, plans to preserve open space for recreation farming, wildlife preservation in perpetuity.

The conservancy's nonprofit status allows Willowsford to apply for farm grants and hold events, like the Rev3 races, on the miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the 4,000-acre development.

The centerpiece of the development, Willowsford Farm, is located on the 2,000-acre conservancy. There, just 5 miles west of Dulles International Airport, Mike Snow grows seasonal produce. From May until November, you might find him harvesting and preparing mixed vegetables and fruit for residents. Each Wednesday the market is open for residents to purchase produce or go out into the field and pick it themselves.

Eventually each of the four neighborhoods in the development will have its own farm. "Agrihoods," as they are becoming known, are thriving nationally because residents buy into the prospect of having a backyard garden without the hassle of running the backyard garden.

"It's great that we get to see the people who eat the food we grow," Matt Keubling, a farm crew member, told Willowsford's Inspired magazine.

Yes, the development has its own magazine.

The good life

Willowsford offers more than an agrihood. The grounds include trails, meadows and two elaborate, resort-like community centers.

Sycamore House was finished this summer. It includes a full-sized kitchen, a lounge, a grand hallway, a gym, access to a pool and large outdoor area - great for throwing parties and special events. The finely-crafted woodwork on its walls, most of which was salvaged from timbered land on the property, gives the Sycamore House its name.

There are four separate neighborhoods in Willowsford bifurcated by a plot of land on either side of Route 50. Sycamore House and two of the main neighborhoods, The Grant and The Grange are on the north side of 50. On the south side of Route 50 are The Lodge, Willow Lake, The Grove neighborhood and The Greens. The Lodge is one of the other magnets of community activity in Willowsford.

Situated overlooking Willow Lake, The Lodge gets its name from its rustic cabin look. Like the Sycamore House it has cozy indoor seating areas, an adjacent swimming pool, an area for grilling and patio gatherings and most of all, access to Willow Lake where residents can ride their boats or canoes, fish off the dock and sit next to a campfire overlooking the grounds.

One of the four neighborhoods within Willowsford - The Greens - is incomplete. Planned as the largest of the plots of lands, the expansion of the property from 245 residential units to 802 was rejected by the county's Board of Supervisors in February.

Inspirations

Willowsford takes inspiration to the homes on the property, too, rejecting the 'sameness' that makes many communities and homes indistinguishable. A line of modern homes called Line K designed by the Dutch architect Piet Boon, stretches the sameness of Virginia Colonial architecture.

The $1.2 million to $1.3 million Oostenwind, Noorderwind and Zuiderwind models remind you of a modern art museum. For an additional cost, Piet Boon's team will customize the home for you.

The Line K homes are being built by K. Hovnanian Homes. The seven other home builders bring a variety and different flavor to each model they sell. Plots of land extend from half-acre to more than two acre lots, with a variety of traditional and more modern homes.

The development's success has garnered Willowsford three straight Great American Living Awards and two consecutive awards from the National Association of Homebuilders. Their critical acclaim has developers coming from all over the country to learn from the Willowsford model.

Experiencing Willowsford

The vision is powerful: Live simply but live well, in nice large homes with plenty of amenities.

Through a community shared agriculture program residents can pay for access to fresh seasonal produce grown on site, they can swim in pools at two main resident centers, their children can watch movies while swimming or act out plays in a large amphitheater on the grounds.

As a way to reward residents and recruit new ones, Sycamore House was converted into a restaurant for a pop-up dinner prepared by "Top Chef" star Bryan Voltaggio in September. Residents current and prospective were treated to a top-of-the-line dinner prepared with produce and vegetables from the Willowsford Farm and dairy from Trickling Springs, a local farm the development has an agreement with.

The development is smart, conscientious, connected and wealthy. Cullen and eight builders are betting on that formula as a model to define Loudoun County into the future.

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