Business

Welcome to the ‘agrihood.’ A subdivision built around a working farm is coming to Durham.

Construction has started on the Wetrock Farm subdivision.
Construction has started on the Wetrock Farm subdivision. Courtesy of Wetrock Farm

The story has been updated to correct the type of grapes being grown at Wetrock Farm.

BAHAMA — Around a decade ago, when he was a recent graduate of Duke University, Rick Bagel started drawing up a business plan for what would become Wetrock Farm — a housing subdivision built around a working organic farm.

Now, after years of looking for the right land, navigating the regulatory approval process and raising the money, that idea is finally getting off the ground in northern Durham County.

Construction officially started last month on the infrastructure for Wetrock Farm, paving the way for what eventually could become 141 homes around a 15-acre farm and greenhouses growing blueberries, grapes and a bevy of rotating vegetables. The subdivision is on 230 acres of former tobacco land in Bahama, about 20 minutes north of downtown Durham and just across the city limits.

“We had the property under contract in spring of 2014, and that’s when I started working on it full time,” Bagel said while walking across the property, which is currently dotted with heavy construction equipment. “It took us four years to raise the equity.”

Bagel, the managing partner of Wetrock Resources, is billing it as an “agrihood,” an increasingly popular — if still niche — type of community or subdivision that is planned around a working farm.

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A rendering of the layout of the Wetrock Farm community. Courtesy of Wetrock Farms

Agrihoods have sprouted up across the nation, from cities like Phoenix, Arizona to nearby Asheville. Similar to how many suburban neighborhoods offered a golf course and a clubhouse as an amenity in recent decades — the amenity of an agrihood is a professionally managed farm that creates a gathering space and a food source. Dues from the homeowner’s association would pay for regularly delivered allotments of organic produce.

Wetrock’s master plan also calls for a farm stand, a barn, a muscadine grape vineyard and 150 acres of open space. On top of that, each home will also be required to have solar panels so that the neighborhood can achieve an average net-zero energy consumption, meaning they are producing as much renewable energy as they consume, Bagel said.

This story has been updated to correct the type of of the grape being grown on the farm.

Bagel hopes that the concept will attract people that have an affinity for “local food and open space,” and he thinks most interested residents will come from those working at Duke University or Research Triangle Park. The increasing number of retirees in the Triangle region could also drive interest.

“Nobody wants to be isolated,” Bagel said. “The empty-nesters that we talk to say they don’t want to live in a retirement community, they don’t want a 55-plus experience. But they also don’t want to be the only empty-nester, too. I assure them that we don’t discriminate against any age and it will be a good mix of people.”

Bagel wouldn’t say how much developing the land will cost his firm — beyond saying it was “really expensive” — but the land itself cost him and his investors around $2.2 million, according to Durham County records. He raised the money from local residents, friends and business mentors, as well as from a crowdfunding platform called PeerRealty.

Many passed on the idea, he said, because of the uniqueness of the product or the fact that there aren’t many similar subdivisions in that part of the county, one of the few areas in the Triangle not being built up at a fast pace.

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The team behind Wetrock Farm poses for a photo on the property of the future neighborhood. Rick Bagel, the driving force behind the project, is pictured third from the right. Courtesy of Wetrock Farm

“There were certainly a lot of people that passed because there was not a lot of activity out here,” Bagel said of the Bahama area. “But then of course there are people who see the opportunity and say, ‘I like that it is a little out of the box.’”

Bagel said he picked the land because Durham’s economy was on the upswing in 2013. And that’s only gotten stronger, he added.

So far, one builder has signed on to build homes there — though Bagel hopes more will soon follow. The subdivision is broken down into four different “boroughs,” each meant to be built at varying times. So several builders will be needed to build both spec and pre-sold homes.

Pegasus Land Co., a Durham-based home builder, has agreed to build on 12 of the tracts within the subdivision. Pegasus plans to build three different styles of homes, ranging in size from 1,350 square feet to 1,706 square feet and in price from $389,000 to $429,000. The first homes are expected to begin being built sometime this summer.

Those new homes will be entering a housing market that has been especially hot in Durham, where prices are still generally cheaper than other parts of the Triangle but a shortage of homes for sale has increased competition.

A house in Durham stays on the market a shorter time on average than the rest of the Triangle at 29 days. For the Triangle as a whole, the average time on the market as of January was 40 days, The News & Observer reported.

Bagel himself will become a homeowner at Wetrock in the future. He’s already reserved his own lot.

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.
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