Developer brings energy-efficient housing development to Norge

There’s a glimpse of the future next to Norge Elementary School.

On a parcel of land nestled alongside the school, Jay Epstein of Health E Community Enterprises has plans to build Walnut Farm, a community of 75 highly customizable energy-efficient homes. He said it will be the state’s first zero-energy ready community.

Walnut Farm is a unique housing development because of its customization, low energy costs and the digital tools used to design the homes. The single-family homes are also designed to better filter air and minimize pollutants breathed in by occupants, Epstein said.

Homeowners will be able to build a customizable home, selecting from one of 13 models in two series, the Founder and River, as a base. Founder Series models range in square footage from 2,049 square feet to 2,809 square feet and $389,500 to $477,530, according to the Walnut Farm website.

The River Series models range in square footage from 2,300 square feet to 3,298 square feet. Prices range from $424,000 to $554,064, according to the website.

“Basically the whole concept is that different pieces of the house are like Legos and you can interchange them to fit your lifestyle” principal broker Morgan Wojciechowski said, speaking to about a dozen people at an information meeting held Thursday at James City library. “Say you want the master [bedroom] in the back and the living room in the center and a kitchen in the front, we can make it happen.”

Digital tools are used to create the plans for the design of houses. That creates a more predictable outcome and provides a detailed readout of the house’s materials and a better sense of the construction progress for the buyer, who has access to an online portal related to the house, said John McLinden, president and CEO of Digibilt, adding that this development is one of the first in the country to use such a digital design system.

“We believe this is going to add to the level of quality of the home,” McLinden said.

Epstein said the design translates into notable energy cost savings for homeowners, who can expect to save $18,000 over 20 years, or $38,000 over 20 years with solar panels installed on their houses. Homes come wired for solar panel installation, though their actual installation is optional.

A zero-energy ready home meets Department of Energy guidelines for energy savings, durability and health quality. Homes with the designation are able to offset most or all energy consumption with renewable energy, according to the agency’s website.

The development is also planned to have a combination restaurant and community center in the Anderson-Hughes House, an existing farmhouse on the property.

Construction on the first units is underway, and the development should welcome its first residents in the first quarter of 2019, Wojciechowski said.

The project will occupy a single parcel of land owned by Epstein and assessed at $529,900, according to the county assessment office. The parcel consists of about 28 acres.

The development was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2006 under the name Jennings Way, which would have had up to 85 units, according to county documents.

Epstein said the Great Recession put the development on the back burner and he shifted his attention to other development projects in Richmond. He returned to the James City Planning Commission’s design review committee with tweaked architectural elevations, which the body approved in March. County documents related to that design review committee meeting refer to the project as Walnut Grove.

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Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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