Can development and nature live in harmony without sacrificing the needs and desires of either group? The Galisteo Basin Preserve aims to do just that. The 13,522-acre conservation development, located in the Galisteo Basin southwest of Santa Fe, N.M., is designed to integrate with the existing habitat, with 96% of the acreage set aside for open space—both public and private—and all development held to strict requirements for conservation and sustainability designed to foster a community steeped in its surroundings.

In an effort to protect the fragile high-desert ecosystem, the nonprofit Commonweal Conservancy began purchasing the former ranchland in 2003 to create a stewardship community that would demonstrate how developers can simultaneously preserve significant acreage while still accommodating growth. Typical development patterns in the area subdivide land into 40-acres home sites that interrupt the landscape with fences, punch holes in the aquifer, and require miles of roads and new utilities for few homes, all while limiting community interaction. The Preserve instead will consist of a central mixed-use village, two conservation neighborhoods, and five off-grid homes on vast, but undivided, acreage. Land and homes face strict covenants as to development and conservation.

“The Preserve is a re-imagining of how … growth might be better managed,” says Commonweal Conservancy marketing and communications director Lauren Whitehurst. “It’s a different development alternative, instead of perpetuating the suburb and exurb development patterns that are common throughout the West.”

The development centers around The Village, 300 acres of walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods with 965 single-family and multifamily homes. Paths and parks connect the neighborhoods to commercial and community features, including retail space, an education center, and the greater Preserve itself. Outside the Village are the 20-home New Moon Overlook and 22-home Southern Crescent conservation neighborhoods.

The plans support a combined purpose of environmental sensitivity while attending to the needs of the community, including those of interaction, supporting mixed incomes, and a physical integration with the landscape. The goal, says Whitehurst, is to create a “community of land stewards,” by offering an array of open space and community-building opportunities, whether their interest lie in scenery, wildlife, or recreation.

Neighborhoods are planned to be responsive to the topography so as to eliminate grading; what’s more, says Whitehurst, hills, knolls, ridges, and the like foster a better connection between residents and the place they live.

Finally, on the southwest end of the vast open space of the Preserve itself, lies the West Basin (click here for a site plan). The first to be developed, this area is made up of five 100- to 200-acre homestead properties. Each house must meet strict guidelines, with a footprint limited to a main home, a guesthouse, and a barn within a building envelope of 3.5 to 4.5 acres. The homes must be built completely off the electrical grid; the land cannot be subdivided or fenced, which will allow for continued wildlife migration.