Episode #14 – Lifestyle Director Donald Smith explains the biggest feature of Orchard Ridge is how the developer was certain to pay homage and respect to the natural topography of this beautiful Agrihood located just outside of Austin.
On today’s episode of Agrihood Radio we’re talking with Lifestyle Director of Orchard Ridge, Donald Smith.
Donald explains how this vibrant Agrihood of the Austin area is known for the natural space. One of the big things that the developer really wanted to do is pay homage and respect to the natural topography of the surrounding area. This is one of the most distinctive features of Orchard Ridge.
The views within Orchard Ridge capture the entire Texas hill country, a site that never gets old. The topography of this Agri-Community is laid out on a track, but there’s different levels of where the homes are going to be situated.
We discuss the different phases and how homeowners have a unique opportunity to appreciate living in the Texas hill country, while enjoying the natural feeling of being out in open spaces.
The developer, Freehold Communities did a really good job preserving most of the natural spaces. We talk about the miles of walking trails and how it feels like you are disconnected from big city life, but again you’re not too far from it.
Austin is one of America’s most dynamic cities. And now you’re about to experience Orchard Ridge, an Agri-Community quickly taking shape to become one of this area’s most sustainable neighborhoods.
Enjoy the interview!
Brett: Hey Donald, how’s it going today man?
Donald: Things are going awesome out here. How about yourself?
Brett: Awesome! Things are going great. You know, we’re in there a couple of weeks ago and I’m very impressed with Freehold Community’s properties. They’re doing a great job. That was the second Freehold property we’ve seen. The first one we saw was Miralon in Palm Springs California, a fantastic property that was. They have the olive trees out there that are going to be huge. Your set up is more of a community garden and orchards than it is a full on working farm.
Donald: Yes. So one of the great things that our developer really wanted to do to really bring that home grown feel to the Liberty Hill area was really give our residents the opportunity, not only be a seasonal gardener or just looking to grow their green thumb. But we do offer community gardens here at Orchard Ridge that offers something for everyone. So we have two different gardens here in the community. We have our founders’ garden which is available for residents. We have 20 garden beds ranging in various sizes. We have larger ones are 16’ x 4’ or smaller ones. And residents can rent those out for the year. They can plant their own flowers, produce, vegetables, and fruits from those garden beds. They also have access to our garden shed. We have communal tools for them to be able to utilize. And then for those who really just want to just appreciate the gardens and the farming, we have our community garden. That is open for everyone that lives here in Orchard Ridge. And just recently here in the last month, we hired a community gardener, who is dedicated to the care and making sure that we have a high variety of different produce and vegetables growing. So when it comes time to harvest those residents are able to go in and whether it be picking blueberries off the bush, or whatever produce is growing out there we’ll have our harvest where residents can come and enjoy those benefits there. Throughout the community, we have our orchard trees, we have peach trees as well. So when those are fully ripe, residents who were just walking around or just happen to be driving home can pick a fresh peach right off the tree there and take it home to enjoy.
Brett: What we like is that you’re so accessible. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. I’m saying this as a compliment. You feel like you’re so removed but you’re only within 30 minutes to Austin.
Donald: Yes. And actually there are two freeways that lead you right down to Austin. So we have the Ronald Reagan highway and just shortly quick 8 to 10-minute drive. I was just actually up there this morning and made my way to make a little pit stop on my way in. The closest grocery store H.E.B., as I said is only 8 minutes away, and then you have the 183. It’s a new highway that they’re building out this way and that is just a direct line straight to downtown Austin. So you know when you want to kind of escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you’re here in the Texas hill country. But you’re also not too far from downtown Austin, and also the park and ride is only just about 8 to 10 minutes away. So if you don’t feel like driving all the way, you can hop on that Metro and take it straight downtown as well.
Brett: So that’s pretty cool. I mean the accessibility is really neat just like you said, a short distance from one of the coolest cities in the country. I don’t remember exactly how many different builders you have there at Orchard Ridge?
Donald: We have 4 builders sharing Orchard Ridge. We have Buffington Homes, Dream Finders Homes, Lennar, and Pacesetter Homes.
Brett: And the average home price? Do you have prices or is that something that we need to deal directly with the builders on?
Donald: Oh, I can give you just general pricing. So the home starts in the low $200’s So, homes by Lennar starts in the low $200’s and then Buffington, Dream Finders and Pacesetter homes start in the mid two-hundreds
Brett: And you’re still on phase one if I remember correctly, right?
Donald: We are in phase one, phase 2 is about to begin. We are going to be opening it up. I actually drove by the site for phase 2, they already got the road paved. The lots have already been dedicated by the different builders, so that should be up and going here pretty soon. So yeah, we’re in phase one getting ready to go into our 2nd phase.
Brett: That’s pretty neat man. If I remember correctly your community is known for oak trees right?
Donald: We’re honestly known for just the natural space. One of the big things that the developer really wanted to do is really pay homage and pay respect to the natural topography of the surrounding area. So that’s one of the really big distinctive features of Orchard Ridge. and one of the things that really truly I love about this community when you’re driving down Orchard Park, I mean you get this wonderful scenic shot of just the entire Texas hill country. And it’s a sight that just never gets old, but the topography here, you’re not just in a community where everything’s just kind of laid out just on a track; but really you have different levels of where these homes are going to be sitting. So once these different phases are complete, homeowners are really going to just really get the opportunity to really appreciate living in the Texas hill country and really also keeping that natural feel being out in the Texas hill country. And so like I said our developers did a really good job in preserving some natural spaces. So when you’re out on our walking trails you really do feel like you are disconnected from just that big city life, but again you’re not too far from it.
Brett: How many miles are those trails?
Donald: Our trails range from anywhere between a mile to 2 miles, but in total once the trail system is complete we’ll have about 5 miles of walking trails that are all interconnected with one another.
Brett: Right on. And I was very impressed with that state of the art fitness center you guys have on property are there. That was pretty sweet.
Donald: The fitness center in the pictures sometimes doesn’t do just. I mean they look great in the pictures but once you go in there the facility is much larger than you anticipated. And everything is a brand new, branded state of the line fitness equipment in there. One of the things that I really like is our cycling machine. It’s a really cool, really interactive modern cycling machine and along with a lot of other equipment. And plus we also have two personal trainers here that teach group fitness classes 3 days a week, and then they also offer private one on one sessions as well. So those are little small additional fees but those groups in the classes are as low as $5.00 a class.
Brett: Well worth it. And is it kind of like a boot camp?
Donald: So yeah we just like to call them group fitness. We feel like the term boot camp kind of scares people away.
Brett: Let’s disguise it, let us soften that term a little bit. We’re going to kick your butt but we’re not going to tell you. I love it, I love it, that’s awesome!
Donald: I took the class a few weeks ago and you definitely get a good sweat. Our trainers are both certified trainers at Gold’s Gym. And their energy is absolutely amazing. I was just actually talking to one of our residents yesterday and she absolutely loves taking the class and is definitely feeling and seen some of those results by doing the group fitness classes.
Brett: You know I’m super happy to hear that. You also lead me into my next question and that’s as far as residents go because as you know we are potential home buyers looking for an Agrihood for our family. We have not lived in one yet, but the idea is we’re completely sold on the concept. This is what we want to do; this is how we want to live. Share with us what it feels like being on the inside. Because from the outside looking in, we see a great community, with a healthy lifestyle, the fitness aspect you have the social events and you have the community garden. So now inside looking out share with us; what is that whole experience like? What do you hear from your home buyers? The people who actually live there, coming from a conventional cookie-cutter subdivisions, now there’s something completely different. What’s their feedback?
Donald: One of the common trends I hear when I’m talking with our residents is that sense of community. I actually lead our nutritional demo cooking classes. I actually just led one last night. We had it in one of our model homes and really believe in that healthy living home grown feeling here in Orchard Ridge. And when I was talking to one of the residents, she was sharing with me that is one of the things she absolutely loves about this community. At full build-out Orchard Ridge is only going to be 780 homes. So we’re going to be a boutique style community. Another thing she told me that she absolutely loves about living here is, on her street, she was the 7th homeowner here in Orchard ridge, and on her street she knows all of her neighbors by names, she knows their pets, their pets names, she even knows their grandkids names. They get together and they host little things on their neighborhood streets. So there’s really a close-knit group of individuals. One resident shared with me yesterday, she just found out that she’s pregnant and it’s their 1st child, and she was talking about how she’s excited how she has these extended aunts and uncles. She was talking about her neighbors. And so for me, you don’t hear that too often, where neighbors are that interconnected with one another; to where they look at their neighbors not as friends but extended family members. So that is one thing about Orchard Ridge that I found just so heart-warming that these residents really do have that strong sense of community, and that strong sense of connectedness with one another.
Brett: You know everything you’re saying is everything we’ve been hearing and seeing. I mean, it’s a common thread that is so unique and so appealing for people who like those features of being connected, having neighbors that you know, and the social gatherings. These amenities are huge among Agrihoods. Not only Orchard Ridge you’re doing a great job, but that’s the biggest draw for us, to be around a group of people that are like minded. I don’t think there are too many reclusive people that live in Agrihoods. I’m not saying that they aren’t any but as a majority, I think these are people who like to be socially connected, interact with her with their neighbors and become friends.
Donald: Yeah and you and it’s not even just a sound bite, it’s something that you do see and feel here. And that is one of the things that I find the most enjoyable about my job and it actually makes my job easier because there is that same common mindset of building that sense of community and sense of engagement. It’s a very community-oriented area in the Texas Hill area where residents do share that common idea. So it’s something that makes Orchard Ridge really special. And one of the things that we also see a lot of, I’ve been seeing a lot more or those families with younger children, like your son’s age where they can grow up in an area where they can play on the streets, and the neighbors know one another and they’re looking out for one another. And we have resident led events. So I mean, although you come with your own dedicated full-time lifestyle director, we have residents that come to me and they want to host and run their own neighborhood events. They had a Christmas carol an event that they took on their own. They had a strolling Carol where they were going through the neighborhood, and that was all organized by our residents. And our residents organized a New Year’s Eve ball drop at 6 pm, so all the “little’s” have a chance to celebrate the New Year before and not having to wait until midnight. Really it’s not just a sound bite, it’s something that is a part of the culture here in Orchard Ridge and I feel it’s what really, truly makes Orchard Ridge special, unlike another community.
Brett: Awesome. Can you believe you’re getting paid to do what you do?
Donald: I feel so fortunate, it’s a great thing. I was just joking with a resident about that yesterday. I’ve always been a person who really enjoys building community and helping build communities of inclusion. And the fact that I come here with this hodgepodge of skills from a degree in recreation, to working in the non-profit world, it’s like this is the perfect marriage of everything that I’ve done throughout my career. I get to see first-hand and have a first-hand influence on really building that sense of community, that really builds into what orchard Ridge is really designed to fulfill and do. And that vibrant community builds a homegrown atmosphere and promotes that healthy lifestyle. From our young families to our empty nesters, I just feel really fortunate that I get to be the person who really helps build that sense of community with our residents.
Brett: I want people to get to know you, I really do. Our family walked in there man, we felt like we had known you for years. I referred to you as the perfect example of a director first impressions because you’re giving that property a great first impression. They have somebody at the forefront right there who loves what they do, very knowledgeable, outgoing, personable. How can people get a hold of you if they want to chat with you, and catch up with you to learn more about that property?
Donald: Oh man, my information is everywhere. I like to look at myself as being really the front porch of the community and that’s one of the things that you also see here in Orchard Ridge, that you also don’t see a whole lot of other communities or that front porch. And so you can go to our homeowner website at MyOrchardRidge.com. That can give you a feel of what life looks like on the homeowner side, but also LiveOrchardRidge.com. You’ll be able to find more information on our homes, our builders and really our amenities. My information, I’m always available. On my business card is my cell phone number, because I want residents to be able to get a hold of me if they have any questions and also my e-mail is: Donald@MyOrchardRidge.com. And I’m always available, always around to answer the needs of our residents, and also our prospects, as I often call them, our future homeowners.
Brett: That’s awesome. I appreciate you catching up with us, your time is more than appreciated and you’re going to leave us with the biggest difference you notice from your experience of ordinary subdivisions to where you work now. I know you said it’s the sense of community; is that on top of that list? Is that number one?
Donald: It really is, it really is. It is really again about bringing a vibrant, fresh and new lifestyle to our homeowners and really building that sense of community, and turning those neighbors into friends. And that makes our neighborhood safer, it makes it feel more inclusive and it definitely makes it feel like it’s home. So life is just a little sweeter here in Orchard Ridge.
Brett: We appreciate that brother. Thank you again for your time. We will definitely be in touch. We are going to be heading back to Arizona in a few weeks. And when we get back home we need to catch back up with you with any question we have. In the meantime if there are any updates that you have over there, you want to shoot them our way, you want to share with our followers, please do that as well.
Donald: Will do. And I appreciated the time, I appreciate the call and like I said you know how to reach me if you have any more questions. I’m going to get back to planning. We have a community block party here on Saturday that I’m putting the finishing touches on, and so I’m going to get back to that. Talk with you guys again soon.
Brett: Sounds good Donald thanks again, man. Take care now.
Donald: You too.
Brett: Buh, bye.
Disclaimer: Agrihood Radio transcripts are prepared by a transcription service. Refer to full audio for exact wording.