Entire Eagle Co. neighborhoods may go green
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Imagine waking one morning, fixing your coffee, stepping onto your front porch and finding a basket of fresh produce next to your morning paper.
The fruits and veggies were placed there by a local farmer. He’s living three houses down and growing tomatoes, zucchini and bell peppers in a communal garden for the neighborhood.
You look out at the other houses, each one with solar panels on the roof. You listen to the trickling of a nearby creek, which actually powered your coffee maker, and your neighbor’s as well.
It’s the idealistic day in a “sustainable community,” the kind of residential neighborhood that is not only built “green,” but also centered around agriculture, living off the land and the kind of small town neighborliness that disappeared when the suburb was invented.
Considering the country’s current obsession with all things global warming and saving the earth, developers say there’s a thriving market for green communities, and builders in Colorado are getting involved.
The question though is if these types of neighborhoods will become popular in Eagle County. One green community, Winding Creek Ranch, is on the docket in Gypsum, but will others will follow?
Head toward the Front Range, and you’ll see the growing popularity of sustainable communities, like ones created by McStain Neighborhoods, which is considered a national leader in green planning.
McStain neighborhoods can be seen in Boulder, Denver, Lafayette, Lakewood and Loveland. They’re all characterized, for one, by being built to environmental and energy efficiency standards set by Energy Star and BuiltGreen, both widely respected green-building programs.
All the homes have energy efficient features such as sealed combustion furnaces and water heaters, wet-blown cellulose insulation and low-e windows. They religiously recycle waste at construction sites and landscape public areas so they need only a minimum amount of water.
McStain is also planning to build 42 solar-powered homes in Bradburn Village, making it the largest solar-powered neighborhood in Colorado.
And they sell. McStain sells 250 to 350 homes a year. It’s an example how green neighborhoods can both help the environment and be profitable, said McStain representative Jonathan Robert at a Green Building Group meeting in Edwards.
“There’s a moral imperative, it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “There’s also a market imperative. Consumers will pay for it and will eventually demand it.”
While it’s not hard to find green homes in Eagle County, as shown by the annual “Healthy Homes Tour,” they’re not grouped by neighborhoods. They’re scattered.
Winding Creek Ranch, a proposed development in Gypsum which could break ground next summer, would be the first of its kind around here, said developer Kurt Forstmann.
The development will include 273 homes on 981 acres, all nestled along Gypsum Creek, lots of open space, and with all homes set to BuiltGreen environmental standards. All homes at Winding Creek Ranch must obtain a minimum of 50 percent of their power from solar panels located on the home, and all the homes will even be positioned to catch the maximum amount of sunlight possible.
The developers are also considering using electricity generated by Gypsum Creek to power some of their homes.
“Instead of just building one home green, everyone can be green,” Forstmann said.
As for community, the development will include a village center, an interfaith chapel and an equestrian center. Residents would also share in the harvest of a 22-acre vegetable farm.
Putting agriculture back into communities is also an approach being taken by Cottonwood Meadows, a proposed sustainable development in Buena Vista (south of Leadville) that hopes to dedicate much of its land to farming.
Matt Scherr, director of the nonprofit Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, said the community should be watching Winding Creek to see how it grows, and if its successful, follow its lead.
While space is limited in the county, the opportunity to build green is there, Scherr said.
“Only so many resources, so much land, so you need to do it right,” Forstmann said. “Developers have a major role to play in this environment thing.”
There’s obviously and environmental benefit from this type of building, and you’ve heard it before. More efficient homes have a much smaller carbon footprint. You’re saving energy, and you’re polluting much less.
But there’s a social plus to these green communities, Scherr said. When done right, they make for more friendly, more communal neighborhoods.
For years, the perfect neighborhood was characterized by large homes with gigantic backyards, wide streets, cars up front with large garages and big fences. You don’t really have to see your neighbors.
Green neighborhoods, by design, are often more compact. Homes are usually closer together, and streets are more narrow. Parking is often put in the backs of homes instead of the fronts. Porches take over the front now. People interact.
And, the idea of living in a green neighborhood sort of unites people in spirit. Those who live there made a conscious decision to do so, meaning they share a set of values with their neighbors. It creates that old time, neighborhood feel, Scherr said.
“There’s more social glue we all know we need,” Scherr said.
And when green communities start incorporating agriculture into daily life, it really takes us back to our farming roots when you knew exactly where your food was coming from, Scherr said.
Green homes, inherently, will often have a higher upfront cost than other homes. As Edwards resident Kip Reizer points out, price isn’t a problem for so many people who move here, and homes are never on the market for long.
“The people who move here care about quality of life, and if green homes can provide it, they’ll pay for it,” said Reizer, who said he’d like to someday move into a high efficiency, green home. “I think it would be worth it.”
Going green is also a growing priority with local governments, who are all still figuring out how environmentally conscious they want to be, how much they’re willing to pay and what kind of regulations they should enforce.
Eagle County already has its ecoBuild green buildings standards. It requires builders to rack up a certain number of points off of a long checklist of green building measures that focus on increasing energy efficiency, saving water, using recycled materials and improving indoor air quality.
Future developments in Avon’s West Town Center will be required to be certified through the well-known program Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. And big developments like the Westin in Avon, and the proposed EverVail project in Vail are voluntarily looking for LEED certification.
So, it does seem that green communities could fit in with the goals of Eagle County residents and leaders. That’s why local governments need to consider the environment when they’re faced with building proposals, Forstmann said.
To learn more about the green communities mentioned in this article, McStain Neighborhoods, Winding Creek Ranch and Cottonwood Meadows, visit their Web sites.
Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.