This is the first part of a series of many future interviews I will do with worldwide wellness real estate project developers and investors so you can get an even greater insight on what is going on in the wellness lifestyle real estate market.
Did you ever want to know of how just wanting to protect farmland can turn into a 90-acre thriving lifestyle real estate community?
In today’s article and interview with William Johnston from Agritopia, you will get the answers to this question.
He is a member of the Johnston family who has founded this community.
But, before we dive into the interview I will present you with some general background information about the project.
Agritopia is a homestead morphed into a thriving village centered around an urban farm.
It is located in Gilbert, Arizona and the wellness real estate project was started by the Johnston family in the late 1990s when this area began to grow very rapidly.
They wanted to preserve their close-by farmland and Agritopia was the solution.
The project has a big emphasis on connectivity so that the neighbors know each other and a community can be built.
Here, you find low fences that enable small talk, parks for playtime, sidewalks that connect to schools, restaurants, gardens, shops, and other amenities and open porches that welcome lounging.
As a central point for socializing and making friends or meeting old ones, the project also provides a Coffee Shop.
The whole area of the community consists of 90 acres and features 450 houses. You can find different types of houses, from cottages to single-family homes.
It provides a simple village lifestyle, where everything is within arm’s length.
What you might already assume from the title and the Agritopia name is that farming is a central part of the community.
Right next to the neighborhood, there is a farm where you can find date palms, citrus groves, artichokes, zucchini, olives, tomatoes, carrots, kale, and grapevines.
More than 11 of the 160 acres are certified organic farmland, and the farm grill restaurant sources most of its ingredients from here.
One part of the farming is also the education around it. The Johnston Family Foundation of Urban Agriculture has been founded just for that.
People in every stage of life are welcomed in this community so you can speak of a multi-generational neighborhood.
Therefore, a Senior Living Community was also developed.
The community of Agritopia doesn’t end with multi-generational living, it also provides an artisan store, with wares from twelve talented Arizonan makers.
Among others, you can find here woodworkers, winemakers, letterpress printers, and florists.
Right next to the Agritopia neighborhood, there is the private Gilbert Christian School which offers elementary and middle school curriculums.
At the moment, a mixed-use, upscale development is planned, which will be the urban core of Agritopia.
This will be an area of 20 acres and buildings rising five stories high.
Ground-level spaces will feature health clubs, shops, yoga centers, cocktail bars, and restaurants.
Then, luxury apartments, from studios to penthouses are planned above the dining and retail storefronts.
Interview with William Johnston from the Wellness Real Estate Project Agritopia
1. How did you get into developing wellness real estate projects?
A. Our family owned the farm that Agritopia was developed on, so for our family, farming and agriculture have been a way of life for decades.
Agritopia has an 11.3-acre organic urban farm as the centerpiece of the development and this is the key component to the community.
Education on where food comes from is extremely important to us and the farm is a great way to do that in both a passive and active way.
2. What does Agritopia stand for?
A. It stands for two main ideas: “Agri”- Preserving and promoting urban agriculture, and “Topia”- creating a community that is accessible to all ages and people at all stages in life.
3. What do you personally care about?
A. I care about my family, friends, and health. Luckily, Agritopia has made it possible for all of these three things to stay constant in my life, where this might not be the norm for most developers.
4. What’s the best part of your business?
A. Every day is a new challenge. Whether it is something huge or very small, no two days are alike in our industry. The team that makes up the development company is small but mighty and I truly enjoy the people I work with.
5. What do you like about what you do?
A. I love when something that we develop allows for other people to come together and experience life in a different way. I truly enjoy knowing that our projects help create relationships as well as have a positive impact on the surrounding communities.
6. What would you do differently if you were to start the project again, with the knowledge and experience you have today?
A. I would change some minor things.
For example, how some of the integration between residential and agriculture is structured would be one thing.
I feel like the two work well together but only recently things have really begun to be as cohesive as we had always envisioned them.
This is largely due to having the right people in the right places.
One of my colleagues, Katie, has a focus and passion for directing this piece of the puzzle in a way that has now proved to be successful.
7. What’s the biggest setback you’ve had and what did you do to overcome it?
A. We have one last piece of land that has had a variety of different uses planned for it, envisioned for it, and even conceptualized for it.
Numerous times things have fallen through or apart on these different iterations… which has been extremely frustrating. But what did we do about it?… we showed patience.
Rushing a bad project to get something done will only end up having subpar results. Being patient with a good project will have a much better long-term effect on the community.
8. What would you like to change?
A. If you were to ask my dad, Joe Johnston (the man who turned Agritopia from a dream to a reality), he would say that out of all of his projects, Agritopia is the only one where the actual final result was as good as the dream. So not a whole lot!
9. What are your future plans, what’s your next big thing?
A. We are working on a very large mixed-use project that will house over 55,000 sq. ft. of retail along with over 300 multifamily residential units. It is about a 20-acre project.
10. Are some of your properties for sale? And if yes, what is your asking price?
A. None of our properties are currently for sale. The homes in Agritopia are not on the open market since we have finished the development and sold off all of the homes in the mid-2000s.
11. For how much are they renting for? What kind of tenants do you get? Do you get vacation rentals?
A. One of the unique things about Agritopia is the rental policy in the CC&Rs. You cannot rent out your primary residence in the neighborhood. The multifamily property that we are working on will have rent options but those prices are still being worked on.
12. What are the holding costs per year?
A. That depends on the property.
13. If you could erase one day in your life, which day would that be and why?/ If you had three wishes, what would the second one be?
A. I wouldn’t erase any days because failure is the best teacher and experiencing hardships or difficulties helps mold you into who you become… so I think every day has a purpose in the overall story of life, even the worst of days. As for wishes… that my family will always be healthy and happy 🙂
Thank you, William, for this interesting interview and the insights into Agritopia.
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