The Grow Community on Bainbridge Island was developed with the intention of creating a sustainable, accessible, higher-quality of life for its occupants. Located just outside of Winslow on Bainbridge Island, it is a people-focused green-living community. The team at Evergreen Certified got the chance to visit the project which is currently finishing up its second of three phases. We also got to ask plenty of questions of Greg Lotakis, an important member of the development team.
There are three phases to the Grow Community – the Village (already completed), the Grove (expected completion in November) and the Park (coming in 2016). The Village (phase 1) consists of 23 single-family homes and 20 apartments. The Grove (phase 2) has condominiums, apartments, townhomes, and 4 single-family houses. Finally, the Park (phase 3) will have more townhomes, 4 more houses, as well as a community center. One of the most important features of the Grow Community is that half of the 8-acre development is open green space. “To create that density… on Bainbridge Island, yet delivery it with 50% plus open space is huge” says Greg, “It adds so much value to the community and supports our effort to be stewards of land and wildlife.”
Grow Community was developed under the One Planet framework, which is founded on ten principles “rooted in the science and metrics of ecological and carbon foot-printing.” These principles spoke to the developers of Grow, and have become the basis for many of the decisions and goals that have affected this project. All of the 140+ units, both built and proposed, are also targeting Built Green 5-star. Tadashi joined the project team early on, during the goal-setting and planning process. Since then Evergreen Certified has helped to make sure they achieve their One Planet and net-zero goals, and to verify the projects as Built-Green. The team found that many of the requirements for Built Green 5-star were achieved by pursuing One Planet and Net Zero.
The 23 homes in the Village have several different factors that have made them such a successful endeavor. Greg stresses the importance of investors, stating that:
“Ultimately, we have a group of investors that value the community of Bainbridge Island as well as our responsibility to deliver projects that are sustainable in pursuit, equitable within the community, and are profitable at the end of the day. Our investors have always backed our high goal setting for the project and we wouldn’t be anywhere without them.”
He also emphasized the importance of the people who now live in the Village. They were willing to make changes to their lifestyle and live differently. The Village has shared parking instead of individual garages, an idea that was chosen to promote a tighter community. The homes are small (under 1600 sqft.) so for many people that meant downsizing. Perhaps most exciting, however, was their willingness to get on board with making their homes net-zero by purchasing solar panels. Although this was not required, each homeowner individually chose to make the investment.
The only regrets for the Village that Greg has is how he underestimated the importance of time. With so many goals and intentions to live up to, meeting deadlines became difficult. Greg felt as though time was allocated to places it shouldn’t have been, such as customization. “While we wanted each buyer to get what they deserve in a beautiful net zero home we spent a great deal of time trying to meet each home buyers expectations…and it really added time we did not have. Going forward we hope to focus on giving our buyers a small range of finish packages that meet our sustainability goals, align with our values, are timeless in finish and are beautiful.”
The Grow Community team has learned how to better reconcile the time they have with the product they set out to create. The Grove is coming closer to completion every day, with some move-in dates as soon as November. While building these new units, Greg says the team “… continues to push the limit on providing healthy and efficient homes without requiring our buyers to give up things that make them comfortable.” They are already implementing cutting edge technology, including “advanced techniques in the building envelopes and hot water recirculation system.” This new technology has also brought on challenges, as pushing the envelope often does. Greg discussed how difficult it is to design the buildings so that the new systems work appropriately.
“Many things (like water heating systems) that are new really require careful thinking. These systems cost more than conventional systems with the promise of increased efficiency and savings. If designed into the home poorly you risk wasted money and lost efficiency. Learning how best to incorporate these systems has been a challenge and an important detail a developer must pay attention to.”
The biggest difference between the Village and the Grove is that “[The Grove] is a different product for a different demographic.” Instead of a network of single-family houses, the vast majority of units are apartments or townhomes. The people who are purchasing these units will be living in similar sized spaces, with even more emphasis being placed on shared facilities. Most importantly, the common themes and goals of the entire Grow Community remain. The development is based on community living and sustainable decisions, ideas that will carry them through the third phase of the project.
The Park is expected to be completed sometime in 2016. When visiting the development, it was interesting to see the stark differences between the completed Village, the nearing-completion Grove, and the pile of rubble that is currently the Park. Grow Community, once completed, will have over 140 Built Green 5-star homes, and 4 acres of lush green open space. With the addition of the community center, the development team hopes it will become a treasure for Bainbridge Island.
The finalization of the project also means creating a legal structure for the community and buildings. This is the hard part, and the part that Greg looks forward to the least, stating that “It’s a necessary process and yet for all you do to protect the community it feels as if most home owner association concepts are restrictive. Ultimately, you hope to attract the type of people that will cherish the community and carry the pursuit of the intent forward in a healthy manner.”
Luckily, Bainbridge Island has been the ideal place to find the kind of community that will respect the ideals put forth by the developers. Already, the island has a tremendous sense of community. Greg commented on the sense of ‘place’ that the residents have, and the value they place on their farming history, the nature that surrounds them, and also their accessibility to the urban hub that is Seattle. Grow Community is also very close to Winslow, the biggest town on the island, so that the people who live at Grow have easy accessibility to necessary amenities, including the ferry.
Of course, the remaining question is if Grow can be replicated in other places. Greg believes it can, stating that: “We believe projects like ours, with health and happiness as the community aspiration and a focus on intergenerational living, while being developed sustainably will become the new norm for development. It is our goal to take Grow to other places where it may be well received.” Grow Community has been all about making goals and working towards making them a reality, so there is no doubt that with the right space more developments like Grow are possible.
When asked about why he chose to be a part of Grow Greg talks about his personal experience watching climate change’s effect on the world, and then how it affected his career as a whole.
“I grew up in Alaska. As a kid, I remember being able to see the Portage Glacier from the highway… By college, the glacier had receded so far back into the mountains it was (and is) no longer visible from the road. Being able to see both before and after has always stayed with me. As I moved through my career and gained a passion for the built environment, I felt we were missing a huge opportunity to begin to change the conversation about what was possible in our homes and how we can reduce our impact. It’s a small part of what is needed, but it remains the part I am most passionate about and want to help be the change I wish to see in the world.”
Greg’s words ring true for a lot of people in the green building community. The work at Grow Community is an 8-acre step in the right direction.