Don't Call It An Agrihood: Indigo Developers Say Their Fort Bend County Community Is Something New
Scott Snodgrass and Clayton Garrett have begrudgingly accepted that their master-planned development under construction in Fort Bend County will be referred to as an agrihood — but that’s not exactly right, they say.
Indigo, being developed by their company, Meristem Communities, is hard to define. That's because there’s never been anything just like it, its developers say, adding that while all of its elements have been employed elsewhere, Indigo stacks them together in a way that is novel to both Houston and agrihoods around the country.
The 235-acre community will offer more than 50% open space, and include 750 homes, a 42-acre farm, a 25-acre lake, car-free zones, a brewery, an event center, and some dwellings with front doors that open to parks rather than streets.
The developers hope to create a place for people, not cars. Its town center, Indigo Commons, will feature about 70K SF of mixed-use commercial development, with 85% of homes built within a quarter-mile of it.
Garrett and Snodgrass operate another company, Agmenity, that offers consulting, design, installation and management services for agricultural amenities. Agmenity’s portfolio includes work on Johnson Development Corp.’s Jordan Ranch in the Katy-Fulshear area and Harvest Green, a master-planned community also in the Richmond area.
Indigo sits on property the two men own and previously used as farmland at Texas 99 and U.S. 90. It expects to welcome its first residents in February 2024.
Bisnow virtually sat down with Snodgrass and Garrett to discuss what makes this development different and why they believe it’ll be successful.
Bisnow: What is an agrihood anyway?
Snodgrass: An agrihood is a community that's centered, at least part of its focus, around agriculture and the connections between agriculture and people. Usually, that has to do with some sort of food production. There's usually some sort of a farm component that's built into the spatial design of the community.
And then, hopefully, there's a way for residents of the community and the greater community around the neighborhood also to be able to practice farming, learn a little bit more about where the food comes from. But we would differentiate that … having a community garden in the neighborhood does not make an agrihood.
Garrett: Agriculture has a history of being connected to communities. Our country was built on an agrarian style of economics. We feel like bringing this holistic view, like having an agriculture amenity in a community is sort of a natural.
Bisnow: So how is Indigo different?
Snodgrass: [Agriculture] is an important part of the community, we are dedicating a lot of resources to it. At the same time, there are lots of other things we're doing and we think are really important in the community, too, that may be kind of boring. We have an [alley system], safer streets, but those things aren't sexy, and haven't in the past made for great sound bites. There's no other communities that are doing all the different things we are.
Our focus really is on creating places for people. That's our company's tagline, Meristem — Places for People, and we really mean it. Our focus is not on … how can we get the greatest returns, how we meet the needs of our financiers. It’s been, how can we create the best community for people that the end user is actually gonna live in?
Garrett: We’re not ignorant to the financing, we’re paying attention. It just so happens, in my opinion, that as you start to make some of the choices that are human-related, we've seen our pro forma increase. We're not divorced from the reality of the economics of master-planning.
Bisnow: What makes the Houston area, known for its car culture, an appealing place for a community like this?
Snodgrass: I don't think the fact that's all we have means that's all that’s demanded.
Oftentimes, we hear ‘Oh, we can't do that in Houston.’ We've heard it from our builders. We've heard it from land planners and engineers. We said, ‘Why not?’ [and] ‘Let's do some research.’ We did a lot of demographic research. We had 650 interviews of target customers within our target markets in Houston. We found that there was huge demand for traditional neighborhood design, which means alleys and streets, and that, in fact, the demand in our market was higher than the national average for alley-loaded design. And Houston notoriously has almost no alley-loaded homes. So we saw this huge gap in the demand and what was being provided.
Garrett: We’re also stubborn. We're committed to the people-oriented nature of our development. We're trying to solve this very simple thing, like how can you walk out your door and not encounter a lot of cars, and go get a cup of coffee?
Bisnow: How many people have committed to living in Indigo?
Snodgrass: We’ll have homes for sale in January. We already have more than 500 people on the interest list right now. But that's just from our first press release and our first couple of articles that came out. So we're gonna do a lot of events and community building ahead of the launch to really try to build that interest list out. And we've had people email already, who are like, ‘Where do I put money down?’ We're not quite ready for that yet. But you could start a relationship with a builder if you wanted to speed things up a little bit.
Bisnow: How will you ensure the community stays true to its intended uses?
Garrett: There's this tension between control and flexibility, and sort of letting a community live and breathe. You can embed some practices in place. So one of the things we're really proud of is our HOA and management company, which is called Cohere. Their emphasis is on leadership development of people within the community.
We're gonna have reasonable restrictions, just like an HOA would have on some of the uses. But we really tried to strip out the things that don't provide for flexibility over time. We know that we're going to have a major influence in the place — the design, where homes are located, the design of the neighborhood. But we want to have a living and breathing neighborhood when we're gone.
We've really tried to be thoughtful about the flexibility and the ability for the neighborhood to be self-oriented. [We] have a high expectation of the people who are going to self-select into this community, that they're going to be willing to engage in this process.
Snodgrass: We are not trying to lock in the intended uses of things or the intended character of things because we are going to be wrong about some things …. Ultimately, we want the control to be in the community's hands at the end.
Bisnow: The plan for Indigo includes 100 rental homes. Why did you decide to include that?
Garrett: We want to build a complete community. Most people have lived in a rental scenario in their lives. There are transitional periods of time where people need rentals. The way we're building rentals is sort of dispersed throughout the communities. To people in the street, unless you're really keyed into real estate, you’re not going to know what's rental and what's not rental. They're going to look like regular homes within the community.
Our framework is trying to build a complete community where people have options. We're celebrating people and not the type of product they live in, the type of home they live in. Our expectation is that it makes sense for some people for some period of time, and those people are part of our community, too.
Snodgrass: In Montrose, there's all these great courtyard apartments, [as] they call them. There's one kind of open arch entrance in, and then there's four to eight apartments and this little complex centered around a courtyard. It’s basically a double lot in the neighborhood, and then you get eight units on it.
If you put 300 apartment units into one complex, you're concentrating so much traffic, so much trash, so much sewer needs all in one location. And that can really stress the ecosystem of the city. So rather than doing some giant multifamily, or doing a built-for-rent section, we decided to go with this distributed model.
Bisnow: Will this be a draw for people outside residents of the community?
Snodgrass: The vision for the retail that we're kind of settling in on now is crystallizing, is definitely going to be something that's going to attract people from all over. I think it will pull a lot of people from Katy and Sugar Land and the Richmond area, I think some people in from Houston, to visit.
We intend to have an event center, a brewery. We're working right now on the design of our kind of welcoming center general store. And then there's going to be a lot of small, craft-oriented retail that's food and beverage and health and wellness. It's going to be a really nice place to come, park one time, and then spend half the day. Get a cup of coffee, walk around, let your kids take the soccer ball on the green. Do a little bit of shopping, do a yoga class, then grab lunch and head out. And only get in and out of your car once or twice.