Jay Zawatsky. Photo credit: Washington Post.

The definition of what constitutes a “sustainable” community continues to evolve as entrepreneurs introduce innovations into the marketplace. A fascinating, if potentially flawed, example is Foxmont in western Fairfax County, which is being developed by environmentalist and attorney Jay Zawatsky.

In 300 acres west of Centreville, Zawatsky has plotted 14 five-acre lots  for his first community. Each house will have its own water supply, natural septic field, vegetable garden and compressed natural gas outlet so homeowners can run their cars on cheap, clean natural gas.

“It’s not just a green house, but an entire green community,” Zawatsky told  Tom Jackman author of the Washington Post‘s The State of NoVa blog. “I didn’t want to do what other developers are doing, throwing up big boxes of air. Those are just more energy hogs. I wanted to do it in a way that had the least possible impact on the environment.”

The development also will support a communal garden, and residents will be able to fish bass in Hunter’s Pond and hunt deer in the woods. The development links to nearby equestrian trails. As a bonus, a bald eagle lives near the pond. With apologies to Hank Williams, Jr.: A suburban boy can survive!

Ironically, wells, septic tanks and family gardens are a throwback to country houses from a past era, before county governments started providing urban-style municipal services. The real innovation, other than in repackaging what once were hard-scrabble necessities as environmental virtues, is extending compressed natural gas (CNG) to the subdivision. CNG sells for the equivalent of $1.20 per gallon right now. “Using CNG to replace gasoline and diesel will reduce fuel costs for NoVa drivers by more than 50 percent for every mile driven,” Zawatsky said. “That is like a giant tax cut for NoVa families.”

Energy-efficient homes will range in size from 4,200 square feet to nearly 8,000 square feet, with four to six bedrooms and four to six bathrooms. They will be priced in the $1 million to $1.3 million range.

The red dot shows the approximate location of Foxmont.

Bacon’s bottom line: Pardon my skepticism.  The idea of referring to 8,000-square-feet houses, no matter how energy efficient, as “sustainable” seems  ludicrous. So does the notion of putting single-family dwellings on five-acre lots, which disrupt far more land and stress congested roads far more than smaller, urban lots in walkable communities. Burning natural gas is unquestionably more environmentally benign than burning gasoline, but erecting housing in a location where homeowners will have to commute long distances is not.

Sustainability hype aside, the Foxmont project still could represent a step forward by integrating household gardens and CNG into real estate development. Will the current mania for locally grown foods translate into a demand for home-grown foods? Will people pay a premium for access to CNG? Are there enough people eager to live in western Fairfax County willing and able to pay more than $1 million for such amenities? Those are questions we cannot possibly know in advance. Only through real-world experiments like Foxmont can we find out.


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  1. I’m more skeptical than Jim. I won’t go into the litany of misconceptions embodied in this except to say that it’s obvious
    his market is folks who have a fanciful idea of the realities associated with living off the land.

    Nat as is less than1/2 as energy dense than gasoline so you need twice as much and it retails at compress gas stations for quite a bit more than 1.20 a gallon.

    The thing that really strikes me though is that most folks think growing food is just putting seeds in the ground and that – that is all that farmers do -just on a bigger scale.

    Farming now days is a highly-sophisticated field. Knowing what to plant, when to plan and how to fertilize – with what and when and how to manage pests and weeds so you actually end up with a food crop is not for the average person who is actually trying to grow food beyond a few tomatoes and beans …. and most people now days, are just not willing to put the time and effort it really takes to maintain a true food garden. It’s more a hobby than anything real.

  2. I think this may be over the top but it is no more crazy then the idea that dense urban areas are not energy hogs and somehow green. With natural gas space heaters heating only those parts of the home in actual use, and motion sensing thermostats a large home may be a productive asset as more people work from home.

    If the urban support area is a factor of ten to twenty to one, what makes a concept like this less sustainable. And at those prices, it looks like they will be paying their way.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Deer hunting, eh?

    Those folks better get proficient with a crossbow and bolts because no firearm can be legally discharged outdoors in Fairfax County. If anyone knows differently, please let me me know. I’ll have Great Falls sounding like the Battle of the Bulge if I am allowed to shoot deer.

  4. It’s got a name. It’s called “feel good Green”.

    I can just see the folks in those 6000 square foot homes gutting their deer kills in their back yards ….putting all that venison in their freezers for the holidays. Not sure how many deer per hear someone can get off of about 40 acres but I suspect not many.

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