Sustainable development meets New Urbanism
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    MAY. 1, 1998
Projects will test whether environmentally sensitive building practices are compatible with pedestrian-oriented, human-scale design. ustainable development” in the U.S. often focuses on reduced environmental impact of buildings by cutting energy and water use, and using recycled and renewable building materials. New Urbanism is more concerned with restoring human-scale and “place” to developments by creating genuine neighborhoods, towns and villages. Both design movements have commendable goals — but they rarely are attempted together, and may not always be compatible. Whether a real estate project can embrace the tenets of sustainability and New Urbanismsimultaneously and achieve financial success will be put to the test in a handful of ambitious projects just getting way around the country. Most notable among them are Civano, a 1,145-acre traditional neighborhood development (TND) in Tucson, Arizona, and Coffee Creek, a 640-acre TND in Chesterton, Indiana. Although both projects are in the early stages, the indications are that the marriage of sustainability and New Urbanism is a viable one. Civano, developed by Case Enterprises with the active support of the city, is the first “sustainable new urbanist” TND under construction. It was designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Com- pany, Elizabeth Moule & Stefanos Polyzoides, and Wayne Moody. Sustainable development conjures up images of odd-looking 1970s solar homes and other “alternative” technology houses, which clearly could make a mess of a streetscape. But Civano is a reminder that new urbanist building styles are usually based on historical, indigenous architecture created prior to energy intensive modern climate control systems. “The detailing and scale of traditional homes are, in many ways, in harmony with nature,” says Brad Oberg, director of technology with Ibacos, a Pittsburgh firm that is working with Civano’s four builders to help them meet strict energy and water efficiency standards. Ibacos (an acronym for integrated building and construction solutions), was set up in 1991 by major manufacturers in the building industry to introduce innovations in home construction. Ibacos is now involved in the implementation of two TNDs, Civano and Sum-merset at Frick Park, in Pittsburgh. Oberg explains that large roof overhangs were not just added to look nice — they also control heat gain in the summer. Even when historical details cannot be used to actively lower energy use, they don’t get in the way, either, Oberg says. “None of the solutions will negatively impact the aesthetics of the houses — we’re very careful not to let technology supplant the builders’ choice of style.” Technology aside, perhaps a larger issue is the willingness to change. Getting involved in neotraditional developments requires major adjustments on the part of builders, who are used to constructing suburban styles, and using sustainable building techniques also demands big changes. In Civano, builders are making two paradigm leaps at once. Civano, the test case The first homes are currently under construction in Civano. Phase one of 200 homes with neighborhood retail is scheduled to be completed by the end of 1998. At buildout, Civano is projected to have 2,700 homes, a million square feet of commercial, office and industrial space, a large town center, smaller neighborhood centers, and community and recreational services. One-third of the acreage will remain as open space containing orchards, parks, walking trails, bike paths and a golf course. Civano buildings will be equipped with high-efficiency insulation, water and solid waste systems, and the pedestrian-oriented TND concept will be tested for the first time in this market. Particularly in water-scarce Tucson, the efficient fixtures and neighborhood swimming pools (thus reducing the need for private pools) could prove beneficial. The goal is to reduce energy demand by 75 percent percent, water use by 65 percent and air pollution by 40 (through less automobile use). Businesses locating in Civano are expected to create one job for every two homes. These environmental and design benefits are expected to add, on average, $12,500 to the price of a home, a 9.5 percent premium. After taking into account the fact that homeowners will save money on their utility bills due to energy and water savings, the premium is knocked down to 6.6 percent. “We have to convince buyers that it is worth paying this premium to live in a community with a lot of amenities,” says Lee Rayburn, director of design and planning for Case Enterprises. The prices for Civano homes will be fairly affordable — 17 models range from $85,000 to $170,000 — covering the entire middle of the Tucson market. Case is anticipating a 23 percent rate of return on its investment over a 12-year period. The project is well-financed. Case Enterprises received a $6 million development loan from Banc One. The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) made a $3.2 million equity investment through its American Communities Fund. The City of Tucson invested $3 million to connect the site to water and sewer lines. City officials expect that Civano will generate $10 million in revenue through increased taxes and permit fees. The development has already attracted the Global Solar photovoltaics factory, which opened as the project’s first building in the spring of 1997. With its Sonoran adobe buildings, Civano will certainly look far different from any TNDs yet built, or, for that matter, anything constructed in Tucson since about 1940. Civano will have California Bungalow and craftsman-style buildings. The first neighborhood features a dense, mixed-use, concentric village center with a distinctly Southwestern appearance. Beyond the village center two types of block patterns will be used — one the traditional street and alley system, and the other with homes facing pedestrian walkways (alleys provide vehicular access). Home construction soon will be underway with three regional builders — RGC, KE&G Companies and T.J. Bednar & Company — in addition to Case Enterprises. Wet spring El Nino weather delayed progress by a month. Construction is set to begin on the first neighborhood center, where 35,000 square feet of retail has been preleased or sold. The project grand opening is scheduled for October, 1998. Each of the builders is aiming at a distinct market and home type, which means that the challenges they face in meeting the environmental standards differ. But common design issues include the window types, design of overhangs and level of insulation. House orientation dictates the placement of overhangs and extra insulation, says Oberg. Keeping the duct distribution system inside the building envelope saves significant energy, as do energy efficient appliances. A “batch type” solar hot water system can be installed for $2,000 and provides a lot of renewable energy in the Tucson climate. These strategies together enable builders to significantly downsize the house heating, cooling and ventilation systems, which saves enough money to significantly offset the costs of the efficiency measures, Oberg says. The learning curve on the part of the builders also is important. “The builders fear that they will not be able to learn the new technique fast enough to be productive,” he says. Ibacos is there to smooth the transition. “We hope to give the builders confidence that they can make the changes,” Oberg says. On May 4, Civano was one of a handful of developments recognized by the White House Office of the Environment. The community was included in the new Partnership for Advanced Technology in Housing program. Bringing sustainable development to Indiana The Lake Erie Land Company is a small development company with big financial backing. It is a subsidiary of Nipsco Industries of Merrillville, Indiana, which also counts as one of its many other subsidiaries the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, a power utility. Nipsco has a long-term interest in economic development in northern Indiana, which suffers from a rust-belt image, says spokesman Kevin Warren. The Lake Erie Land Company’s staff includes president Jerry Mobley, who has strong environmental convictions, and attorney Cliff Fleming, who is dedicated to the ideas of traditional neighborhood development (TND). Their ideas merged in the Coffee Creek Center, which combines environmentally sensitive design with a traditional town layout. The street and block system is adjacent to the existing town of Chesterton, Indiana, about 50 miles east of Chicago. The pedestrian-friendly layout and connectivity of the Coffee Creek street pattern are expected to support the continued development of the historic town, according to William McDonough & Partners, the project master planner. Coffee Creek is the first TND designed by McDonough, who is better known as an innovator in environmentally sensitive designs (McDonough is a consultant on the Civano project). It shares the characteristics of many new urbanist projects, including a modified grid layout, neighborhood greens, a mixed use retail town center and workplace district. A prominent feature of the plan is a 240-acre natural park following the path of a creek that divides Coffee Creek Center in two. Only 17 acres of this green swath is unbuildable wetland, according to Warren. The decision to preserve much more land than is “necessary” is at the heart of a tradeoff between sustainable development and the New Urbanism. A developer concerned primarily with urbanism might have added more crossings of the creek and built closer to the banks — perhaps placing the town center near the stream, Warren says. “I don’t see sustainability and New Urbanism always going hand in hand,” he says. “There clearly are cases where a compromise must be struck.” The riparian corridor — with a constructed wetlands, bike trails and walking trails — plays an important role in stormwater runoff and wastewater treatment. Native plant systems will retain rainwater, minimizing runoff and recharging the aquifer. Constructed wetlands will treat wastewater. The tradeoff is that the town center will be less accessible to pedestrians in neighborhoods on the opposite side of the creek. Architecture poses fewer constraints than the land plan, according to Warren. Some houses will feature photovoltaics and all will be energy efficient, but he doesn’t see these features impacting exterior styles. “From an architectural standpoint, sustainability does not mean you have to make a leap into some futuristic design,” he says. “A lot of the innovation is in the guts of the building.” In some cases, McDonough’s designs borrow from traditional features. Warren recalls that in one instance, the architect was recommending ventilation windows just like the ones in Warren’s church, which were sealed off when air conditioning was installed many years ago. “Not all — but some of the ideas of sustainability bring back concepts that people had before they were able to create an artificial environment in buildings,” Warren says. A total of 1,200 housing units and more than a million square feet of commercial are planned in Coffee Creek. Infrastructure construction is scheduled to begin sometime in late spring, 1998. Coffee Creek will take 12 to 15 years to build.