First-time developers start work on new Powhatan homes, with more on the drawing board

Ali Barta at the entrance to Canterbury Farms, the subdivision she’s developing off Manakintown Ferry Road. (Jonathan Spiers)

With site work underway on their first residential development, the family behind a $3.5 million purchase of more than 500 acres in Powhatan County have bigger plans for the property than previously realized.

Development has started on the first of what’s now planned to be three subdivisions of primarily 10-acre wooded lots on two tracts totaling 567 acres straddling Manakintown Ferry Road south of Huguenot Trail, just west of its interchange with Route 288.

Ali Barta, a UR grad who is overseeing development of the land her family purchased in 2016, has been spending her time since learning about the development trade while earning an MBA and a master’s in public policy from UVA.

Barta and her husband Chris, a Collegiate grad who grew up in Richmond and went to Virginia Tech and VCU for dental school, plan to build their own house among the dozens of lots they are developing on behalf of Huguenot Woods LLC. That’s one of two LLCs they purchased the land through with Barta’s three siblings and her father, Greg Amaral, a real estate investor based in California.

“We want to embrace the natural environment and have houses and an overall development that co-exist with nature rather than work against it,” Barta said.

Previously a timber tract, the wooded property features hilly topography. (Jonathan Spiers)

“That whole concept of having something that you love and you want to pass down in your family, generation to generation, is what I would love to see here,” she said. “I don’t know if that’ll end up happening, but at least for me and Chris, we would love to eventually make this a family home that we pass on to our eventual kids and them potentially onto theirs. I get pretty attached to land. I think it runs in the blood.”

Site work has started on the first subdivision, a gated road with 16 10-acre lots just south of Manakin Episcopal Church. The Bartas, both 30, plan to build their house in the subdivision, called Canterbury Farms, named in honor of the Huguenots who emigrated from Canterbury, England, and occupied and farmed the land in the 1700s.

54 home sites planned

Once built out, a second section of 14 5-acre-minimum lots would be developed farther south, likewise off Manakintown Ferry Road. Rezoning for that section was approved in 2017.

Depending on sales, a third section ultimately would be developed, with 24 more 10-acre lots that would fill out the remainder of the two tracts. The property is near the established King William Woods subdivision, which consists of 2- and 3-acre lots.

In addition to the lot they’re reserving for their home, Barta said they have one lot in the first section under contract and have received interest from another prospective homebuyer. Barta has lined up three local builders to construct the homes: John W. Montague Jr., Mako Builders and Pitts & Associates.

The first section will consist of 16 10-acre lots. (Courtesy Ali Barta)

Homes in the first section will be a minimum of 3,500 square feet, with prices for lots starting at $269,000. Sally Syrquin with Shaheen, Ruth, Martin & Fonville Real Estate is listing the lots for Barta, who said buyers will be able to work with each builder to customize their homes.

“This isn’t going to be a large development where all the houses look the same. If anything, what I’m envisioning is a beautiful old stone house that looks like it was built in the 1800s or 1900s sitting next to a house that is Craftsman-style,” she said, “almost how you drive down Three Chopt and Cary and there are those houses that are all different but really well-done.”

Learning the ropes

Barta did not provide an overall development cost, much of which thus far has been spent on clearing trees for the first section’s road, entrance area and other infrastructure.

Among the things Barta said she has learned about development: “Roads are expensive and tree-clearing’s expensive, so we need to recoup some of the initial costs in order to make sure that Section 2 is financially viable.”

In her first crack at real estate development, Barta, who also owns her own business called Nuna Med, said she’s learned a lot working with engineering firm Balzer and Associates and from Bill Stinson, CEO of Chesterfield-based Yard Works, whose son and business partner Billy grew up with her husband. She said local developer Bryce Powell, whose communities include Goochland’s The Meadows at Joe Brooke Farm, also has been a help.

Barta, who was born in Chicago and grew up in California, said she’s also turned a few heads in an industry that’s been primarily a boys’ club.

“It’s been highly entertaining, because I think typically they’re older gentlemen who grew up in Virginia and have been around the block, and then I show up and they’re like, ‘Who the heck is this person? We have a crazy California nut!’”

Depending on sales, Barta said development on the second section could start later this year.

Until their own house is built, she and Chris are renting a house on Ellwood Avenue, having recently relocated to Richmond from Charlottesville.

“We want to be good stewards of this land,” Barta said on a recent visit to the site, which is about two miles west from the Chesterfield County line, where denser development such as Winterfield Place has sprouted in recent years.

“It’s just a matter of when parts of Powhatan, like right here, get developed,” she said, “because we’re only a mile from 288. Looking at this opportunity, for me personally it’s been what can we do to enhance and enrich this area and make sure that we don’t have a bunch of mass development that lasts 30 years and then has to be torn down and ravishes the land.

“It’s a beautiful place steeped in history, and we don’t want to ruin that.”

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