Dows Farm ‘agri-community’ development in Linn County set to begin soon

Supervisors to approve development agreement for 179-acre project Wednesday

Development work on the long-planned and oft-discussed Dows Farm Urban Renewal Area in Linn County is finally set to begin soon.

In a work session Monday, the Linn County Board of Supervisors reviewed a purchase, sale and development agreement with Dows Agri-Community Development LLC and lead developer Joe Ahmann for the 179-acre Dows Farm tract north of Mount Vernon Road and east of Dows Road in rural Linn County, just east of Wanatee Park.

The agreement is expected to be finalized by the supervisors as part of the consent agenda for Wednesday’s formal board meeting.

The project, with a development value of up to $119 million, will become Iowa’s first land trust “agri-hood,” a mixed-use community to be built around a working farm that incorporates retail, a variety of housing, recreation and education, while leaving 75% of the overall Dows Farm site open for conservation or agriculture.

“This has been a long time coming,” Linn County planning and development director Charlie Nichols told the board Monday, noting that the agreement comprises a “game plan” for how each portion of the project will be developed. “This has been reviewed many times by the county to (reach) this final version.”

“We’re really thrilled at what this property can be and your vision,” board chair Ben Rogers told Mr. Ahmann Monday. “We’re going to be walking this road together to create this new to our community, and really new to Iowa, agri-community that has all the potential. I know that you understand that. You have a really great track record. Thanks for sticking with it.”

The idea of bringing an “agri-hood” to the Corridor began in 2016, when Linn County bought the 179-acre Dows Farm property, as well as an additional 306 acres to expand Wanatee Park, for $7.2 million. County leaders shared and refined their vision via open houses and public meetings over a period of years, ultimately hiring Ahmann Companies to develop the property and the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust to manage it.

As outlined, plans for the Dows Farm include clustered development on 25% of the property, or about 45 acres, including commercial, retail and a mix of residential from single-family homes to independent living and multi-family units. Another 45 acres will comprise the farm component, and the remaining 90 acres will be given over to conservation in perpetuity, with a major walking trail planned to enjoy the scenery. In all, Dows Farm is expected to include a mix of 381 dwelling units and 40,000 square feet of commercial space, including an event center, shops and restaurants.

According to the Linn County website, “the Dows Farm Agri-Community will create a unique living, educational and economic experience,” offering residents direct access to trails and open spaces, participation in planting, growing, harvesting, eating and “celebrating food grown on the farm,” and housing options for all ages and income levels.

The project is modeled after agri-community developments in several other states, including Minnesota and Illinois.

“This community will be developed in a sustainable way that efficiently uses land, energy, and water in order to reduce waste and pollution and conserve natural resources,” the Dows Farm project website notes. “Key components of sustainable development include stormwater management, green infrastructure and low-impact development practices; construction and site development practices; and energy efficiency practices to provide for today’s economic, environmental and community needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”