In the picturesque hills above Monterey, a quiet town on California’s rugged central coast, is a pristine, 609-acre forest that one investor purchased with dreams of turning the site into a unique real estate opportunity. When Nick Jekogian, CEO of New York-based Signature Group Investments, acquired the land in 2015 he first conceived of a golf course with Mediterranean-style mansions, a development not dissimilar from others in the area.
However, after spending a weekend on the grounds, Jekogian decided it would be more worthwhile to instead develop it into a one-of-a-kind “agrihood”—a neighborhood providing communal agricultural facilities, farmland, and an abundance of green space for its residents. “I looked at a 200-year-old oak tree and realized that depending on what we do, it could either be taken down in the next few months or last for another 200 years,” said Jekogian in 2017. For a burgeoning class of millennial millionaires, agrihoods have become an attractive alternative to the golf communities and megamansion suburbs that attracted previous generations of wealth.
Jekogian renamed the land Walden Monterey, in a nod to 19th-century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau and the quiet life he led at Walden Pond. The site is divided into 22 lots, each of which will sell for $5 million. Although the project was initially announced in 2017, the community is now accepting offers and buyers will be given free rein to design homes on their 20-acre lots however they please—provided that they commit to two basic rules. The homes can only use renewable energy resources, and they are not allowed to cut down any of the 200-year-old trees currently on the property.
Jekogian laid out these rules to establish Walden Monterey as a neighborhood where the houses blend into the natural environment in a manner similar to other California developments, such as the Case Study House Program in Los Angeles and Sea Ranch in Sonoma County. To give potential buyers a better sense of their investment, Jekogian commissioned architects to develop speculative renderings for home designs that “are light on the land” and range between 3,500 and 5,00 square feet.
Walden Monterey will also be the new site of Walden Gathering, an event series that gathers “a diverse community of passionate innovators finding inspiration from nature to focus on making the world better for the next generation.” Sited 90 miles south of Silicon Valley, Jekogian hopes that Walden Monterey will find wealthy young clients from the region’s tech industry.