Something Fresh on the Urban Farm
Ann Lowder and Harvi Sahota, directors of design and development for The Town of Hampstead.
SMART CODE EMBODIED
IN EVERY ASPECT OF HAMPSTEAD
by David Zaslawsky
When a reporter is given an opportunity to take a guided tour of the Town of Hampstead by the visionaries who created it, you jump at the chance.
The minute you hop onto an electric-powered vehicle, and there’s talk of turning used oil from the Ham and High restaurant into biodiesel fuel, you realize this is not your father’s real estate development.
On the 3-acre Hampstead Farms, there is a real red barn, with a real farmer who harvests and delivers produce to an on-site restaurant. And members of the Hampstead community can and do grow their own tomatoes, okra, peas, squash and herbs.
“In August, we have these amazing sunflowers,” said Anna Lowder, who with husband Harvi Sahota are directors of design and development for the 416-acre Hampstead project. “We had some sunflowers that were over 10 feet tall.”
And it’s all according to plan.
The Town of Hampstead follows a strict development code, called “smart” code, which mandates things such as tree spacing and playgrounds within a 3-minute walk. (There are nine of them.) Lighting, signage, lots… the code addresses almost everything. It’s the same sort of system used for downtown and the development planned in West Montgomery.
Ironically, that is one reason that Hampstead feels so old-world. It’s an urban farm community.
Conceived about a year and a half ago, Hampstead is a $500 million joint project of The Colonial Co., City Loft Corp. (Lowder and Sahota) and Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., the creator of Seaside and Rosemary Beach, Florida.
Located just a mile-and-half from the intersection of Taylor and Vaughn roads, Hampstead is about two miles from The Shoppes at EastChase. It opened last summer.
“AT FIRST WE THOUGHT, ‘ARE WE BEING CRAZY IN MONTGOMERY? IS THIS REALLY JUST TOO FAR OUT?’ WE’VE SEEN THAT THE BIGGEST FEATURE THAT RESIDENTS AND VISITORS HAVE BEEN ATTRACTED TO IS HAMPSTEAD FARMS,” LOWDER SAID.
Smart code means that it is designed for the pedestrian experience, which allows for smaller, narrower streets. There is an abundance of places for residents to mingle, for dogs to be walked (at “The Barking Lot”) and for children to run around.
“You can see your neighbors all the time,” Sahota said. “That’s a big part of this lifestyle – it’s a place where you really are connected more than perhaps (in) other communities. We have gathering spots, where you really get to know your neighbors.”
Combine those amenities with a town center that features about 65,000 square feet of space for retail and offices and what do you have?
“What we are trying to do here is create a sustainable community that combines everything that people need in their daily lives,” Lowder said. “That is the combination of places to live, places to work, places for educational purposes, civic places like the library, YMCA or churches and give people the opportunity to live in an environment where they can walk and just have a healthier lifestyle.”
And for many, a healthier lifestyle brings us right back to the farm.
The community is developing a composting program that collects organic waste from the restaurants, grass clippings from landscapers, and organic refuse from the residents and reuses them at the organic farm. There is even a drip irrigation system powered by a windmill.
Houses in Hampstead range from $160,000 to as high as you’d like, Lowder said. There are five types of homes, not including the condos. One home on the development easily tops $1 million. While about 35 houses are presently occupied, the master plan calls for 1,700 homes.
But, as Sahota says, the master plan is not set in stone – it’s fluid. It evolves.
There are plans for a 20-acre lake and Lido pool, a dentist office and maybe a church or two. Big dreams include a site for a school.
“Ideally we would want an elementary school,” Lowder said. “And that could be a public school or a private school or a Montessori school.”
The five-acre site for the school would be incorporated with the farm and the soccer fields, an entire area of about 15 acres, Sahota said.
Lowder said she would like to see a salon come to Hampstead, and maybe a retail shop. Her vision: Women would spend hours at Hampstead, going from the café in the morning to the library and YMCA, and then to the spa or shopping after lunch.
The first phase outfitted Hampstead with all the restaurants it needs. There is casual eating at The Tipping Point, a meat-and-three at Farmhouse Kitchen, and fine dining (dinner only) at Ham and High with Hampstead resident Jon Sanchez, who was sous chef at the Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, N.C.
Eventually, Ham and High will open during the day and sell steaks, seafood, pork, cheese, fresh-farm produce and wine. Sahota said that Sanchez “truly believes in the farm-to-table concept,” and he will be using produce and herbs from Hampstead Farms. Lowder described Ham and High as “local, seasonal foods that have a slight Southern influence.”
Wholesale bakery Millie Ray’s is another business that was scheduled to open at Hampstead. Her products will be sold to retail locations in Montgomery and Atlanta, as well as to The Tipping Point.
When 75 to 80 percent of the 120 lots are sold, the second phase around the lake will begin, Lowder said. The third phase will be a more rural setting, Lowder said. It will be tucked back further from Taylor Road.
Hampstead, which opened in October of 2008, will continue to be developed over the next 12 to 15 years, Lowder said.
She describes it as a place that is “exciting, energetic, creative, beautiful – a place where you can find everything you are after in one community.”
Behind the big, red barn at The Town of Hampstead is a modular biodiesel facility.
All the equipment used to convert waste oil from restaurants into biodiesel fuel is housed in a 20-foot portable storage container.
That’s what Clay McInnis, owner of SouthernEco, does – collect the vegetable and animal waste oil from about 10 Montgomery restaurants, including Hampstead’s Ham and High. He also collects oil waste from Sinclair’s, Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Derek’s Filet and Vine, Crockmier’s Grill and Bar and Shashy’s Bakery.
He said any diesel engine can run on biodiesel fuel without modifications. McInnis said he has three diesel trucks and all run on biodiesel fuel.
“We are decreasing production to a smaller, local scale,” McInnis said, referring to the modular biodiesel unit.
He said he collects about 200 gallons of waste oil a week and converts all of it into 200 gallons of diesel fuel, which he sells for about $3.50 a gallon to a Montgomery construction company. McInnis said he makes biodiesel fuel for about 90 cents a gallon.
In addition to picking up free oil waste at restaurants and converting it into biodiesel fuel, he is the Alabama representative and a partner with the Chico, California-based Springboard Biodiesel, which makes the biodiesel processors used to convert waste oil into fuel. He sells those modular biodiesel units, which include processors, pumps, barrels and filtration equipment, from about $30,000 to $45,000.
- David Zaslawsky