Drawn by nearby relatives and a relaxed lifestyle, Jim Kaschalk moved in March from Cincinnati into his 2,100-square-foot home in the Evans Farm development.

A retired government worker, Kaschalk, 64, said he was sold on the whole concept of front-porch living and being close enough to walk to a restaurant, a market or businesses. Plans for what types of shops and businesses have not yet been announced.

More than 140 homes -- starting around $350,000 -- are built or under construction in the first phase of the development in Orange Township, and 12 of them are unsold or not in contract.

So sought-after is the area for its placement within Olentangy Schools and New Urbanism design that few envision anything slowing the crews building out the 2,100-home complex.

But now that the COVID-19 coronovirus pandemic is stalling commerce elsewhere, how it affects progress in one of Ohio's fastest-growing counties -- and how developers respond -- is being closely observed.

Over the last weekend in March, "there was still traffic driving through and looking at empty lots," said Tony Eyerman, a partner in Evans Farm Land Development Co. "The one thing we're preaching is that the community and the neighborhoods are the backbone of our society."

Eyerman envisions families seated on wrap-around porches -- a hallmark of home design here -- getting to know each other and helping each other out.

Centralized shops, offices and markets, along with athletics fields and small parks, would be placed along tree-lined neighborhood streets.

"We're not trying to build a fake community here," he said.

Although some experts predict that recession is inevitable due to the pandemic, Eyerman is proceeding with optimism.

"We had always factored in that the economy was going to turn down. This here is an incredibly impactful thing," he said of mass quarantines, work restrictions and social isolation. "But from everything we're hearing, it's going to last through June or August. We're staying cautiously optimistic."

As the first phase of the project wraps up, Eyerman said, he has little doubt that construction and sales will continue.

"Right now, we are simply waiting for the asphalt plants to reopen (in the warm weather) and start our next section."

Trees have been leveled and streets marked out, he said.

But he said he has heard some builders have halted new construction.

Unless construction supplies dry up or workers become ill, there's little reason to stop the progress, said Jon Melchi, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio.

About 30% of building materials come from overseas, Melchi said.

"As of today, we have not heard of any material slowdown," he said. "We have not seen anything that will affect us long term."

However, there has been "general apprehensiveness" from banks when deciding whether to lend to small developers.

Ohio's closing of many public businesses to contain virus spread has not touched construction, mainly because workers don't have close contact and are outdoors, Eyerman said.

Melchi said pent-up demand for homes, especially in growing areas such as Delaware County, is a powerful driver, even as other parts of the economy wind down.

"Most people think we will bounce back," said Melchi. "We're going to continue to have a need for places for people to live."

As saws buzzed and hammers sounded, Eric Kuebler recently walked his dog in the neighborhood and marveled at the work.

"In the past two to three weeks, this place has erupted in construction," he said. "It's coming to life."

Chris Brengartner, walking her twin shih tsu-Maltese mixes, Buster and Lilly, moved into her home along Evans Farm Drive six months ago. She said she and her husband, Ken, a builder here, have no regrets about moving in, even if a crippled economy doesn't allow for all that has been promised.

"We always say, 'Even it it's one-tenth of what it could be, it's still going to be incredible' ... it's pretty darn cool."

dnarciso@dispatch.com

@DeanNarciso