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Linn County plans Dows Farm ‘agrihood,’ a housing development based around a farm

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Dows Farm Agri-Community open house

A Touch of Class Banquet & Convention Center, Cedar Rapids — Thursday, Aug. 1 at 5:30 p.m.

Rachel Jessen/Little Village

Outside Cedar Rapids, a different type of neighborhood is being planned. Imagine a golf course community, but instead of 18 holes, a small farm serves as the central amenity.

The Dows Farm Agri-Community, an agrihood consisting of varied housing units, a farm and different services and trails, is planned to be built on 179 acres of what was formerly the Dows Farm within the next five to six years. An open house at which the public can learn more about the project will take place Thursday, Aug. 1 at A Touch of Class Banquet & Convention Center in Cedar Rapids from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Beyond the national agrihood trend, the idea for Dows Farm stemmed from Linn County’s purchase of 485 acres in two different chunks of land from the Dows family in 2016. County officials wanted the 306 acres adjacent to Squaw Creek Park to expand the conservation footprint of the park. The separate 179 acres is designated for future urban development as part of the county’s long range comprehensive plan.

Linn County intends to sell the land for development purposes. Les Beck, Linn County government’s director of planning and development, proposed a master development plan to the Board of Supervisors that would work towards a number of goals: “A development that incorporates and protects the site’s significant environmental features, respects its agricultural heritage, and provides a mix of housing types with a thoughtful integration of commercial uses,” according to linncountry.org.

“Rather than just sell it to a developer who would put large lots, real estate housing or something like that, let’s see if we can put together a plan that tries to protect the resources along Squaw Creek,” Beck said.

After putting out a proposal, Reynolds Urban Design of Des Moines was chosen from a pool of 11 candidates.

Development plans for Dows Farm Agri-Community — Linn County

Ownership and management of the Dows Farm Agri-Community is undecided. Based on other agrihoods, Dows may follow a model similar to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs or a nonprofit organization, or remain in the ownership of Linn County.

Jason Grimm, a local food expert, is putting together a farm management plan that will help determine what crops will be best to grow. Residents will be able to participate in the farming process.

Of the 179 acres, 75 percent will be conserved, leaving the remaining 25 percent for development and commercial use.

“I think it’s going to provide a different model of how development can occur in the county,” Beck said.

Dows Farm will consist of housing units of various types and price points comparable to other suburbs, including single-family neighborhoods, a multi-family neighborhood, cloister homes and cottages.

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Following the larger farm-to-table movement, Dows Farm’s plans include a restaurant open to all, and with a menu that utilizes ingredients sourced from the farm. Also planned for the community are a vineyard, orchard and pasture; activity and education centers; a coffee shop, garden supplies store, farmer’s market, daycare and other services in the village commons; and trails linking the neighborhoods and agricultural features.

Though agrihoods are unprecedented in the region — the state’s first agrihood will likely debut in Des Moines before Dows Farm is complete — Beck said most locals are in support.

“I will say that any number of people, when I talk to them about the project, one of their first reactions is ‘Hey, I want to live there,’” he said.

However, there was some opposition to the farm from surrounding neighbors. Negative feedback gleaned from the project’s first open house mostly concerned the number of residential units and the impact on traffic. In response, the Dows plan underwent significant design changes, including reducing the originally planned 351 housing units to 251 and reconfiguring the street system so the community cannot be directly accessed.

Linn County encourages further feedback when they present the latest plan at Dow Farm’s second open house Thursday.


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