Conservation Communities, those that prioritize sustainability and the preservation of open space, cultural, historic, and agricultural resources, have begun to blossom in the US and in a few other countries. Renewable energy, the natural environment, wildlife, and water are the leading resources being conserved in these communities. Curt Johansen, Lagoon Valley’s Development Director has been on a mission for nearly 20 years learning how the principles of Conservation Communities have evolved and can be applied to a 2,700-acre valley located in Northern California, about halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento.
“I view Conservation Communities as cooperating and networking with, not pursuing dominion over, the natural environment,” says Johansen. “There are reasons these communities are not built as often as people would like to see, but as we have shown with Lagoon Valley, this can be changed, and we hope to inspire an alternative vision in home and community building that becomes conservation-driven, featuring an economically viable housing component with a smaller footprint on the land.”
The reasons for the lack of Conservation Communities have many contributing factors, including homebuilders facing expensive regulatory hurdles, labor and materials cost volatility, political resistance, and the tendency to develop every square foot and maximize ROI. Incentives that could reduce costs include regulatory streamlining and exemption from special-interest legal challenges.
In Curt Johansen’s quest to create a model Conservation Community, he has learned from a few excellent examples. One that he found very close to home dates to the 1960’s. Sea Ranch, which is located on the Sonoma Coast, is known for its weathered, timber-framed structures, expansive open space corridors and over 50 miles of trails that provide connection with the natural environment. Another nearby example is Village Homes in Davis, California, which pioneered infill Conservation Community design and has demonstrated significantly higher resale value than conventional neighborhoods nearby.
Other Conservation Communities that have proven to be excellent models for Johansen include Prairie Crossing; located in Grayslake, Illinois, it’s less than an hour from Chicago by train. It has overcome economic downturns, political challenges, and naysayers since its first homes were occupied three decades ago. Its commitment to energy conservation, water quality, green infrastructure, restoration of vibrant prairielands, agriculture, ecological education, and large-scale regional preservation of thousands of surrounding acres is inspirational.
Serenbe is 35 minutes southwest of Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport but feels like a million miles away. Steve Nygren, a successful restaurateur, had the foresight to foster conservation regulations on tens of thousands of surrounding acres. Upon arrival one cannot help but be taken in by the vast protected meadows and forests, and the charmingly well-designed hamlets that are tucked in so elegantly among the open space. Serenbe follows 12 Biophilic Principles ranging from organic food systems to community engagement and waste management. The conservation-driven communities of Serenbe, Prairie Crossing, and Village Homes have profoundly influenced Johansen, and Triad’s approach to Lagoon Valley in Vacaville, California. Triad has developed a complete re-imagining of the land’s potential through collaboration with innovative land planners, environmental groups, biologists, architects, and homebuilders to create a sustainable community unlike any other on the West Coast. 85% of the Specific Plan Area will be dedicated to open space and recreation. Lagoon Valley, the Bay Area’s First Conservation Community, will have an organic farm, an event center and hundreds of acres dedicated to active recreational amenities.
The first four Lagoon Valley residential home builders will be trailblazers, with green building principles, conserving energy and water resources – and setting the tone for the next generation of sustainable home building in California. Lennar, Trumark Homes, Tri Pointe Homes and Lafferty Communities will be building the first five neighborhoods, located just off Highway 80, between the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento. The Bay Area’s first environmentally sustainable conservation community will provide homes just a short walk from neighborhood shops, restaurants, and workplaces.