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October 9, 2020

Carmelita Gardens: Living “Independently Together” 

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Posted: Friday, October 9, 2020. 3:00 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: American developer Phil Hahn says no one, including himself, anticipated the current political and economic crisis in North America. But establishing a self-sufficient and largely independent community in western Cayo District has put him on the leading edge of development based in part on a vision from his father. 

Carmelita Gardens, built on 100 acres of land in the village of Santa Familia, Cayo, obtained from former area representative and landowner Dan Silva, operates on a philosophy of living “Independently Together,” Hahn tells editor Julia Ho of Live and Invest Overseas. 

Hahn says Silva told him, “Make sure the village wins too,” referring to Santa Familia; he understood that his community would grow and develop as long as Santa Familia benefited as well. 

Thus, the residents of Carmelita Gardens and Santa Familia are in regular exchange: the former create jobs for and train villagers from the latter and fund their community projects. The latter meanwhile welcome them into their community and style of living, making the English translation of the village name appropriate: “Holy Family.” 

Strictly speaking, Carmelita Gardens is not a retirement community, though it attracts many retirees. New residents will be welcomed by established residents, and everything from your designed house to lifestyle is according to that person’s wishes. 

New residents, says Hahn, are encouraged to bring ideas for businesses, such as an artisan studio, or “Mom and Pop” shop to our Town Square and to become a Town Founder. Alternatively, one can make an investment if you share the vision and philosophy of self-sufficiency. “Thus far, investments have been in land and rental units, however, soon there will be Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) to invest in, ranging from agriculture to technology, food services to retail, and hotels to export businesses. I am currently developing the plan for the Carmelita Gardens Merchants Association, including the various businesses planned for the Town Square,” Hahn said. 

The Carmelita Gardens layout is much like a traditional town: a central square with businesses (bakery, general store, café, barbershop/salon, pub, solar company, DIY shop, gardening center/nursery, etc.). The neighbourhoods around the Town Square have garden lots with cottages, then radiating from there are larger village and estate properties. Houses range in sizes and architectural styles, but they all have classical proportions and create a harmonious public realm. Each home is solar-powered, harvests rainwater, and uses eco-friendly wastewater systems. 

The “Independent Together” philosophy means residents can do whatever they like individually and together. It is anchored on individual freedoms and the varieties of “day-to-day life” in Carmelita Gardens. Hahn says residents go about their business largely unconcerned by activities in the outside world. 

If it sounds like Utopia, Hahn cites the experience of his family, which lived through the Great Depression in the small, agrarian community of Frankenmuth, Michigan, which thrived because it was not reliant on the government for survival. An interview for a class assignment provided the seed that ultimately led to Hahn buying 100 acres for Carmelita Gardens and another 115 acres for a seaside community in the Corozal District, in a place he only recognized for having the Blue Hole years ago. 

But Hahn quickly recognized that Belize “was the ideal location, timing, and value I had been searching for. During my first visit, I became absolutely convinced that I could build the self-sufficient community I had always dreamed of.” 

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