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02-07-20 | Feature

From Golf Resort to California Desert Agrihood

By C2 Collaborative

Once C2 Collaborative of San Clemente, California, was brought on board to design a new community in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, they convinced the new developer to convert the 18-hole golf course that had been built by a former developer before being abandoned in the economic downturn of 2008, into 70 acres of olive trees, which once mature, will be processed into branded olive oil, bottled for residents and sold at local farmer's markets.
Also planned for the development is a seven-acre center with a glass-walled fitness area, two resort-style pools, community gardens, bocce ball courts, event areas and a dog agility park.
The contemporary architecture is framed with geometries of succulents and date palms underplanted in bands of bougainvillea.
The "agrihood" encompasses 97 acres of desert open space with rolling hills of olive groves, community gardens, dog parks and oasis-like social spaces with lake and mountain views.
Photo by Freehold Communities

Miralon, one of the largest new "agrihoods" in the U.S. is now being built by Freehold Communities, with help from the landscape architecture firm C2 Collaborative. Its 309 acres offer 1,150 Modernist-inspired residences to harmonize with the architectural heritage of Southern California's Coachella Valley.

A highlight of Miralon is its transformation of a previously constructed 18-hole golf course into working olive and citrus groves, community gardens and walking trails. Former golf cart paths will constitute approximately 6.5 miles of hiking trails. Former tee boxes and greens are being transformed into smaller groves, dog parks, exercise stations, and social areas outfitted with firepits and WiFi. The former golf course's lakes are now water features in the sustainable landscaping. These outdoor spaces are part of Miralon's comprehensive community plan that emphasizes resort living alongside sustainable open space.

"Evolving the existing golf course into habitat-sensitive, olive and citrus is a response to the precious resources of the Coachella Valley including its need for water," said Freehold California Division president Brad Shuckhart. "We considered a wide range of uses, concluding that these crops integrate best with the community's overall approach that values sustainability and social cohesion."

Core Principles
Sustainable principles of the agrihood include resource conservation and efficiency such as: solar energy with every home, a highly efficient community center exceeding Title 24 requirements by more than 15%, impervious surface limitations, front yard landscaping restrictions and Dark Sky compliance.

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Greater sustainability is planned to be achieved through carbon sequestration from olive trees and ground cover, added shade and water efficiency, low maintenance costs relative to other open space planting, a reduced need for pesticides and composting of olive oil byproducts.

In addition, the development aims for a holistic approach to healthy living including an extensive trail system with exercise stations to promote health and wellness, shaded rest areas to allow residents to enjoy the surrounding orchards and open space, the locally grown and harvested olives and farm to table produce via communal garden beds.

Another draw the developer hopes will entice residents is community involvement. They cite neighborhood participation in harvesting activities, encouragement to participate in a community gardening program and onsite educational opportunities.

Olives and Citrus Vs Other Crops
Pursing its vision for Miralon, Freehold Communities enlisted the help of sustainable agriculture specialists to optimize the proposed planting scheme. Blaine Carian is the owner of Desert Fresh, a multi-generational farming concern with operations throughout the Coachella Valley. Thom Curry is the general manager of the Temecula Olive Oil Company, an organic producer of high-end olive oil and olive oil products.

Shuckhart consulted with Carian and Curry to evaluate its orchard planning criteria: annual water consumption, pesticide requirements, the ability of plants to survive at the project location, harvest labor requirements, commercial demand for fruit/produce and the trees' propensity to attract pests.

In addition to olives and citrus, the team also considered grapes, persimmons, pomegranates, date palms, almonds, walnuts and figs. They evaluated the pros and cons of each type of crop and their suitability for the desert climate and ecosystem of the Coachella Valley.

Grapes, for example, require relatively low water use and a relatively short pollination period. But grapes are also susceptible to damage from wind, require significant maintenance on an ongoing basis, and require regular use of pesticides. Date palms have been for generations a traditional crop in the Coachella Valley. But they also had drawbacks in comparison to olives and citrus, including they require very high water consumption and can produce significant waste byproduct and dust.

The vast majority of Miralon's cultivation area - 70 acres of Miralon's 97-acre open-space plan - is therefore devoted to olives, with "pockets" of citrus throughout the community.

Fruit from olive trees will eventually be pressed onsite by Temecula Olive Oil Company. The oil will be bottled and delivered to residents and sold to
the public.

Other Sustainable Components
The enlightened reuse of Miralon land offers other complementary environmental programs, especially water and energy conservation. These include the transformation of the former golf course lakes to irrigation purposes. Miralon's system of lakes serve several important functions including: open space irrigation using untreated water, water reserves with capacity to sustain plantings for approximately 3 weeks in the event of a catastrophic failure of the onsite pumps and stormwater detention as required by state mandates.

And while there is evaporation loss from lakes, Miralon has built compensating offsets. The elimination of front-yard turf is analogous to reducing lake surface area by 2.5 acres (40% of total 6-acre lake surface area). And orchards will act as a windbreak and will create partial shade opportunities that will slow the rate of evaporation from lakes.

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2020.

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