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The Real Estate Market Development near Ottawa favours quality of design over quantity of units

The residential development at Hendrick Farm in the town of Chelsea, Que.

Landlab

Last fall, Sean McAdam witnessed a truly Canadian scene.

Mr. McAdam, the president of Landlab – the developer behind the Hendrick Farm project in Chelsea, Que. – was leaving the sales office and drove past a group of four children playing street hockey. Two of the children were speaking only English, while the other two spoke only French.

“It was a Canadian moment! I couldn’t believe it,” exclaims Mr. McAdam, the founder of Hendrick Farm. “It showed the project actually worked.”

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Hendrick Farm, located about 15 minutes north of Parliament Hill, is a unique development adjacent to Gatineau Park. It’s name comes from the working, organic farm at its heart.

First approvals for the project were acquired in 2008, and now it’s one of the most buzzed-about developments in the Ottawa area. The governing principle, says Mr. McAdam, has always been to “listen to the land.”

Sean McAdam, president of developer Landlab, says the plan for Hendrick Farm is 'all based on the land.'

Landlab /Landlab

“There wasn’t a random thought, ‘Would it be nice to have a farm?’ The fact is … there was a farm here,” says Mr. McAdam. “There is a commercial village contiguous to this. There is the Gatineau Park contiguous to this. It’s all based on the land.”

It took almost eight years of meetings with the town to acquire permits before work could begin. Established in the late 1800s, Chelsea is a quaint village just 10 kilometres from Ottawa’s downtown, and existing residents had resisted developments before. Mr. McAdam says the town has been supportive of Hendrick Farm.

This is true, in part, because only 51 per cent of the 97 acres is used for homes while the other 49 per cent is green space, manicured trails, parks and the farm itself.

Almost half of the Hendrick Farm land is green space, trails and an actual farm.

Landlab

Mr. McAdam says one of the business mistakes developers make is focusing on unit count – not the quality of design.

“It has, and has always been, my view that if you design things well and properly … you’re going to achieve cost savings,” says Mr. McAdam.

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“From a business standpoint, you’ll increase your margin because people are prepared to pay for quality. Contrary to most developers' view, I think quality is where the business case is, not quantity.” He says developers from across Canada have reached out to him, wanting to know more about Hendrick Farm.

Construction began about three years ago and Phase 1 homes (single family and townhouses) have been sold out, Mr. McAdam says. Apartments will come in Phase 2, with two low-rise apartment buildings connected with an arch.

Homes in Hendrick Farm are in the back lane to encourage interpersonal connection on the street.

Landlab

The community was involved early on in the process.

“People who I have never met have said: ‘When are you getting the Hendrick Farm project off the ground?’ And I had never heard that before [about other developments],” says Mr. McAdam, a long-time real estate developer.

Every single-family home at Hendrick Farm is customizable (one home, for example, features the exact yellow used by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, since the owners are big fans of the team) and 1 per cent of all home sales – now and in perpetuity – will go back to the Hendrick Farm Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps run the farm.

Prices range from $325,000 to $825,000. Landlab worked with Miami-based DPZ Partners on the design of the neighbourhood.

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Gesa Harmston and her family moved into their custom home at Hendrick Farm in July. She and her husband were born and raised in Ottawa and had been living in Westboro – an upmarket neighbourhood about a 10-minute drive west of Ottawa’s downtown – for nearly a decade.

The development's first phase, which comprises townhouses and single-family homes, has sold out.

Landlab

She says they always felt as though Chelsea was their second home – they would swim in Meech Lake in the summer and ski at Camp Fortune in the winter. Her husband proposed to her in Gatineau Park. But she admits living there seemed unattainable, until they heard about Hendrick Farm.

“Even though we had everything we needed in Westboro, we still loved coming here. Just living in nature as opposed to coming to it or travelling to it. We don’t have to pack up the kids and make a day of it … we’re living in it,” she says. “Not that we own Gatineau Park, but it’s in our backyard.”

Ms. Harmston, a life coach who teaches mindfulness and meditation, says everything about the new neighbourhood aligns with their lifestyle. She was pleasantly surprised to see how natural the community concept was, versus other neighbourhoods where it seemed forced.

According to Mr. McAdam, Landlab plucked the best ideas from neighbourhoods around the world for Hendrick Farm, framed by the idea of adaptive development.

One per cent of all home sales go to a non-profit that helps operate the farm.

Landlab

Adaptive developments are based on what exists on the site before construction begins. Hendrick Farm is built around the farm; one in a wine region such as Prince Edward County or the Okanagan Valley might feature a vineyard at its heart. “We’ve mixed in a typical European way of designing villages and cities, and mixing architectures and design for people and pedestrians – and figuring out the practicality of cars second,” Mr. McAdam says.

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“We’re stealing from New Urbanism, we’re stealing from Europe … I can’t claim there is an original thought here,” says Mr. McAdam with a laugh. “We’ve stolen what we feel are the best ideas from other neighbourhoods and put them all in one new place.”

New Urbanism is a design movement focused on the environment with walkable streets, houses in close proximity and access to public spaces. The design seeks to force neighbours to congregate in common areas.

Homes at Hendrick Farm have garages in the back, for example, and smaller laneways versus many traditional streets you might see in a cookie-cutter suburb.

The design forces interpersonal connection. Ms. Harmston happily says her kids had a play date with their neighbours’ kids the day they moved in. On Day 2, the family was invited to another neighbours’ home for waffles.

“The moment we moved here, we just felt more at home here than we did in Westboro the years we were living there,” Ms. Harmston says. “It’s almost over-the-top how much it works. People are so like-minded because they want to be outside, have this community, and it works. If they wanted to be isolated, they probably wouldn’t move here.”

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