Hamlets employing the latest energy-efficient technology, yet modeled

Hamlets employing the latest energy-efficient technology, yet modeled after Old World villages, are expected to be built on 571 acres of the Florida Panhandle. The hamlets will be part of a new community called Sky, which is being developed with the help of $1.8 million from Florida’s Renewable Energy Technologies Grant Program.

Land owner Bruce White and his business partner, Jacksonville area architect Julia Starr Sanford, commissioned Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ) to plan the community in Clarksville, about 54 miles west of Tallahassee. White, who became familiar with European villages while visiting his mother’s home in Bavaria, told the St. Petersburg Times, “That medieval layout works. It’s been time-tested.”

White and Sanford want to cluster Sky’s 624 houses in small pods or hamlets, each with attached garden plots. By placing the residences in small groups, they expect to reduce the project’s environmental footprint and use the economies of scale to minimize energy needs and manage wastewater efficiently.

Florida State University’s Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS) will work on analyzing and implementing a number of environmentally benign technologies. Geothermal loops that circulate water through underground pipes will use the Earth’s natural heat to produce hot water, which will be piped to all the dwellings in each pod. A combination of solar collectors, fuel cells, biomass systems, and possibly other techniques will provide power. Centralized chillers will cool the houses. An advanced wastewater treatment facility is expected to use aerobic treatment units, which protect groundwater. Treated effluent could then be used for agriculture or landscaping.

“The plan is to build 25 homes that utilize these technologies, collect and analyze the data to see how well they perform, then use that information to optimize the technology used in future build-out phases,” said David Cartes, an assistant professor who will lead CAPS’ involvement in the project. Cartes hopes to get the development “off the electrical grid altogether.” He sees Sky as having “the potential to serve as a model for future developments throughout the United States.”

Sky will have public gardens, group agriculture with a farmers’ market, and an equestrian complex with miles of riding trails. More than half the land will be devoted to agriculture and open space. Homeowners would own and maintain 150 to 200 acres of pasture, crop land, and orchards. There will also be amenities such as a spa, tennis courts, and coffee shops, White said.

Houses are expected to sell for $200,000 to $600,000. White told the Times that some recent traditional neighborhood developments provide too little outdoor space for residents to “decompress.” The project is scheduled to break ground in 2008.