Listening to the Land
How the Willowsford Plan Took Shape
Contrary to popular belief, Willowsford is not a master-planned community (MPC). It’s similar to one in that, like an MPC, it was carefully envisioned from inception, but it had unique advantages because the plan can adapt to residents’ needs, appropriate land uses, and environmental considerations over time.
This requires mastery, however, and for that we turn to Mark Trostle, Executive Vice President of Willowsford Management, LLC, who has been with Willowsford as a land planner from its beginning. Who better to explain what’s behind the thinking? Below, his own words:
The first thing to understand is that Willowsford is in the Transition Policy Area in Loudoun County, which has as its goal ‘a visual and spatial transition between the suburban and rural policy areas.’ In short, as you move from the densely populated communities of eastern Loudoun County into the wide-open spaces of western Loudoun County, there shouldn’t be a sharp edge. There should be a transition.
So in this area, rather than the usual 4 to 8 homes per acre you might see in the average suburban community, we had 0.3 – 1 homes per acre. That was an immediate challenge and an opportunity, because that density can either gobble up all the land with large lots in a traditional suburban pattern, or you can cluster the homes sites.
Obviously, there are economic and aesthetic reasons to cluster, but you can also preserve more of the land in open space, which we were setting out to preserve at least half of. But the most important thing was to save the right half.
We studied the land for agricultural lands, the most scenic, the most environmentally sensitive such as forested wetlands, riparian areas, streams, ponds and so forth.
Then we tried to develop the areas that weren’t forested and save the ones that were. That gave rise to the idea that we should site the houses in what we came to call agricultural theaters. That allowed us to cluster the homes while saving the trees.
We broke up the property so you don’t see it all in one view shed, and we nestled the neighborhoods into the landscape. This preserved the land’s primary visual attributes like the hilltops, forests and hedgerows, and then we filled in vacant areas in between with homes.
I spent many, many hours walking the property. I’d find particularly scenic trees or fields and started identifying them as great parks or tot lots of points of special interest.
Probably my very first week, there was a large open-grown oak tree that was marked to be cleared. I checked the plans and we figured out how to adjust the grading and reroute the road to save the tree. Sometimes, all it took was moving one manhole location to save a great tree. Since we can adjust our plan, we are able to make those changes.
And we got creative. We knew in The Greens we were going to have a clubhouse, and where The Lodge is now is a fairly high piece of ground with views of Bull Run Mountain. But it also had this existing farm pond with a clump of trees on the edge of it. So to make it more substantial and really visually significant, we expanded the lake to make it go around the trees, and now we have Willow Lake, with this island that looks like it’s been there for a really long time.
So we strive for a look that seems timeless. That’s why we do our bridges with steel trusses and stonework that looks like it’s dry-laid. We want the community to looks like it has been here for a long time.
For that reason, we also encourage the use of onsite materials wherever we can. We milled hickory for our fences and boardwalks. The sycamore trees that needed to be cleared for one of the bridges were milled by a local carpenter for the trim in Sycamore House.
Finally, we tried to respect the traces on the land from generations past. People would naturally tend to follow ridgelines and paths of least resistance through the wilderness, and find the easiest stream crossings. And that’s true at Willowsford. There were places that had fords at the end of the farm lanes that were shallow enough to get a horse or cart through, and in some cases those became the best places for us to cross, too, to do the least amount of grading and environmental damage.
At The Grant, a lot of the trail along Everfield Drive follows the old farm lane through woods (instead of being right next to the road like most developments) which gives it a much more interesting feel.
The first time I went all the way through The Grove, we found very large pin oak trees with a small field surrounded by woods, but it was so small, maybe half an acre, that we couldn’t even think why it was a field. But we knew to make that the focus of something so that became Pin Oak Park. We added a pond and sites a picnic pavilion with wildflowers and a vernal pool for amphibians and a giant boulder for kids to play on.
The end result is a community that protects the natural environment, responds to its agricultural heritage, and feels in place on the land. It’s easy to call a place like that home—when the place feels like it belongs, people feel like they belong there.
Willowsford Ramblings is a blog by Willowsford, a community of new single-family homes in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia.55 and older communities, active adult communities, adult communities, agri-hood, agrihood, ashburn va new homes, Chantilly va new homes, Community Supported Agriculture, CSA, eat local, Farm to table, home communities, homes aldie va, homes for seniors, land planning, Loudoun County, main-level living, new build homes for sale, new home builders, new home communities, new home developments, northern virginia, over 55 communities, retirement communities, retirement living, senior independent living, senior living, Willowsford, willowsford conservancy, Willowsford Farm, willowsford va, Willowsford Virginia