Contemporary eco-village bucks housing crash

PALMETTO, Georgia (CNN) — The idea of investing in new home construction and high-end restaurant businesses would send most entrepreneurs running these days, but developers in a small community in rural Georgia say they’re still growing.

Selborne Lane is lined with a mix of residential and commercial buildings.

Selborne Lane is lined with a mix of residential and commercial buildings.

At first glance Serenbe is a bucolic scene of horses and stables ringed by 40,000 acres of dense oak and pine forest, but as you drive around the first bend, a collection of look-alike white houses emerges, giving the distinct impression of a conventional high-end housing development.

But a 21st century high-tech eco-village soon emerges from the mists.

There are paths leading to water recycling facilities, composting, recycling, and 25 acres of organic-certified farmland, four of which are planted with anything from hops for beer making to sweet peas. A silver sign is prominently displayed in recognition of Serenbe’s ecologically sound construction, proving that Serenbe is not the average cookie-cutter housing development.

Serenbe, a community founded on principles of farm-to-table cooking and environmentally conscious building techniques, has seen its fortunes rise while the rest of the country struggles. The development’s founders have sold four homes and five building lots at the development since January alone, and they believe that innovation may be just the thing the economy needs.

Founders Marie and Steve Nygren say they’re running their business the old-fashioned way: looking back to what they call a “village model,” where people shop and dine locally, helping to sustain each other’s business while also creating less waste,

“People are looking for what’s important, quality of life, for them and their children. Many of the residents want to know their neighbors, and we’re creating public spaces where they can interact,” Steve says.

The community started small: the Nygrens bought a farmhouse and 90 acres of land back in 1991. At first they used it as a weekend retreat from nearby Atlanta, but three years later they made it their permanent residence and workplace. Soon the 90 acres became 1000, the farmhouse became an inn, and the Nygrens developed a vision of community.

“We’re intentional in the way that we respect the environment. It’s about the way you live, the way you interact, the way you eat,” says Marie. It has also been a business success: today Serenbe is a four-year-old upscale housing development, where the starting price for a house is $350,000.

In the last three years Serenbe has grown to a community of 160 residents, mostly young families who work in the Atlanta area, the self-employed or retired. So far, 102 freshly built environmentally friendly homes and business spaces have been rented and sold, a small collection of boutiques and galleries has popped up, and at the heart of the community, three restaurants are thriving.

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