As important as building green is to the environment, it’s just the beginning. The real focal point is sustainable development.
For some, this may still be a new term. In general, sustainable development is a comprehensive approach to community planning that views a community as a dynamic, living entity.
It integrates green ideas into every aspect of the community and focuses on creating an environment where humans and nature can mutually thrive for generations to come. Therefore, in each and every decision, the interdependent relationships between the two are carefully considered.
In Developing Sustainable Planned Communities, a book published by The Urban Land Institute, a group of industry experts explore how sustainable development is the umbrella under which traditional neighborhood development (often called New Urban), conservation development, transit-oriented development, smart growth and green building converge. Another component to consider is landscaping.
Noisette, in North Charleston, S.C., has become a nationally-recognized sustainable community and illustrates all of these ideas. Under the thoughtful guidance of John Knott, Jr., a historic urban area that includes parts of the former Charleston Naval Base is slowly being transformed into a vital community.
One major consideration for the Noisette team, like all sustainable-minded community planners, is stormwater management. “We feel confident that we can create a pervious community that will not create flooding or other water problems downstream,” says Mr. Knott. Considering a community’s effect on surrounding areas is an important aspect of sustainable planning.
But Noisette is just one of many communities in the Carolinas that is taking a stand for socially responsible, sustainable development.
“The real estate industry, in general, has the potential to make a significant impact on the environment,” insists Jack Cecil, president of Biltmore Farms in Asheville, N.C., and the grandson of George W. Vanderbilt.
In honor of his grandfather’s passion for conservation, all of the communities within the Biltmore Farms family are sustainable. “It’s incumbent upon our company to plan wisely, to invest in best management practices, and to act in an environmentally-responsible manner, as these communities will likely outlast us.”
With forward-thinking communities like Noisette and Biltmore Farms in the Carolinas, we’re thankful they will.
CASE STUDY: THE CLIFFS COMMUNITIES
Other prime examples of sustainable communities are The Cliffs Communities– all six of them – located in the foothills of North and South Carolina.
For nearly 20 years, The Cliffs has been committed to conserving and preserving the idyllic, breathtaking scenery that its residents are lucky enough to call home. Being environmentally responsible “is part of our DNA – it’s our culture and has been with us since Day One,” insists Rick Hayduk, vice president of hospitality for The Cliffs.
Living in a community like The Cliffs enables homeowners to feel as though they are truly part of a community where the community planners and residents are in harmony, all working towards the same goals.
“We consider it a little slice of heaven,” says Sandra White. She and her husband, Ron, have been multiple property owners at The Cliffs for more than 14 years. The couple splits their time between The Cliffs and their home in Columbia, S.C. They’ve always been interested in the environment and living a healthy lifestyle, which makes The Cliffs a perfect fit.
But The Cliffs isn’t stopping with simply conserving habitats and reducing carbon footprints. In the spring of 2005, The Cliffs launched The Cliffs Organic Farm, which today spans four acres and provides over 100 varieties of all-natural, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, all of which are consumed within the communities. The organic food is used by the chefs in all of The Cliffs’ dining venues and is also offered for sale at gourmet markets within the communities, including a Saturday Market held at the farm.
“It’s not unusual to see one of our chefs down in the farm, working alongside the farmers,” says Mr. Hayduk, “and each fall the executive chefs gather to help outline the plantings for the year. It gives our chefs the opportunity to know where their produce is coming from and how it’s being grown, and they are able to pick it at the peak of taste.”
Then, daily menus are written according to what is available from the farm. Consequently, the top-selling dish on every menu is The Cliffs’ Farm Fresh Salad. “It’s just amazing how tasty a salad can be,” attests Mrs. White. “You don’t even need dressing because the vegetables are so wonderful.”
All other produce that the kitchens require is outsourced from organic farms, all from within 100 miles, if possible. The farm also harvests plants and flowers that are used in the displays in all of the wellness centers and clubhouses.
The Whites have taken The Cliffs’ environmentally-responsible message to heart. When they decided to move forward with constructing a new home at The Cliffs, they had already decided to make it green. After doing plenty of research on their own (“I read everything I could get my hands on!” says Mrs. White), and purchasing property in The Cliffs at Mountain Park, they then took their plans straight to their community representatives. The Cliffs referred the Whites to Scott Johnston, of Johnston Design Group in Greenville, S.C., and following their first meeting the Whites knew Mr. Johnston would prove to be a great asset. When construction is complete, Mr. and Mrs. White will be the proud owners of a nationally certified green home – they are aiming for Platinum, the highest LEED for Homes classification. “We are flattered that The Cliffs have asked that our home be a showcase home as part of their green initiative,” says Mr. White, “and we are optimistic The Cliffs representatives will help us make this project a success for us all.”
But, to truly honor the sustainable community they call home, the Whites are also aiming to be accredited by the National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat Program. They will be careful to disturb as little of the landscape as possible during construction, will be conscious of planting varieties and will eliminate pesticides and chemicals from their yard. A zinc roof on their home will also be beneficial. “The rain runoff is completely safe for the land because zinc is a natural mineral,” explains Mrs. White. “A cistern will collect the runoff and will be used to irrigate the property.”
For the Whites, their environment and health-conscious lifestyle just makes sense, and their green home at The Cliffs will be an ideal testament to their convictions. “It’s about building a quality home with quality materials,” says Mrs. White. “It’s all about choices, and we really like the choices we’ve made. It’s perfect for us.”
CASE STUDY: HIDDEN LAKES
Forward thinking homeowners like Mr. and Mrs. White are also drawn to Hidden Lake, a Crescent Resources community near Raleigh, N.C., provides a wonderful example. Crescent has partnered with Audubon International, a not-for-profit environmental education organization, to help ensure the creation of highly sustainable, healthy communities.
“Our main priorities center around wildlife habitat – being as ecologically sensitive as possible – and water quality – both protecting it and managing stormwater. We want to leave enough of the site intact that natural systems can deal with stormwater,” says Sarah Anderson, the permanent natural resource manager at Hidden Lake. Ms. Anderson follows the day-to-day activities of the community, including overseeing Crescent’s own green building program – the Green Leaf Program – and is available to guide homeowners both through their home and landscaping decisions, as well as their enjoyment of the scenery and wildlife in and around the community.
To preserve the beautiful setting, the buffers around the community’s lake were expanded from 50 to 100 feet to trap sediments and provide wildlife corridors, and only man-powered or electric boats are allowed on the lake. Additionally, a 100-acre preserve has been set aside at one end of the lake, making the community just as much a home for wildlife as it is for humans.
Along community roads, impervious curbs and gutters were left off, and in places where the roads encounter wetlands, bridges were installed to minimize impact. Homeowners also have limits on impervious surfaces, and may not clear more than 28 percent of their homesites. “If a homeowner does surpass this,” explains Ms. Anderson, “they are required to compensate with rain barrels and pervious pavements.”
“After seeing Hidden Lake, I understand why Crescent chose to plan it this way,” attests LaVare Leith, a Hidden Lake homeowner. “The land is so beautiful, you feel like you are someplace else. Of course, the lake is beautiful, but it’s also the rolling hills and trees. I’ve never seen a place this beautiful.”
Preserving these picturesque, serene environments is at the forefront of sustainable development. “This community is so calm and relaxing,” continues Ms. Leith. “I love the wildlife – every night I see deer in my yard.”
Ms. Anderson has found that Crescent homeowners, like Ms. Leith, have embraced the lifestyle more than she ever thought they would. “A lot of people want to do the right thing,” she says, “but they just don’t know how. And once you explain it to them, they absolutely buy into it.”
SUSTAINABLE REVITALIZATION: OAK TERRACE PRESERVE
Some of the most admirable sustainable communities, however, not only honor the environment, but also breathe life into older, less notable areas.
Noisette Company is working tirelessly to accomplish that worthy goal in North Charleston, S.C. This forward-thinking community planner has set out to revitalize the 3,000-acre historic center of North Charleston, which was formerly the site of a naval base. In revitalizing this abandoned urban core, the Noisette community focuses on sustainable development, taking responsibility for the community’s environment, social needs and economic vitality.
One of the Noisette communities is Oak Terrace Preserve. In February 2007, J.R. Kramer, his wife, Holly, and their infant son became the very first family to move into a home in the neighborhood.
Like all of the homes in the community, the Kramers’ is EarthCraft certified. By purchasing the home during the construction process, they were able to customize it to their liking. “We had lots of flexibility,” remembers J.R., who did not feel confined by the home’s green design. He also appreciates the extensive certification process that qualified his home for its EarthCraft seal. “As a landscape architect, I’m accustomed to working with contractors, and so I know that sometimes, due to no one’s fault, little things can get missed, and sometimes those little things can be very important down the road. It was great to have that outside, third party to ensure that every ‘i’ was dotted and ‘t’ was crossed.”
This scrupulous process pays off, literally. In their previous home in West Ashley, a suburb of Charleston, the Kramers’ utility bills were regularly between $180 and $250. Now, in their larger (approximately 1,600 square-feet) EarthCraft home, their utility bills have been under $100 nearly every month, despite the fact that both Mr. and Mrs. Kramer work from home and Mrs. Kramer is a stay-at-home mom. “There is always someone in the house using electricity, running the dishwasher, or washing baby clothes in the washing machine,” says Mr. Kramer.
His favorite green features of the home include a tankless hot water heater, which provides constant hot water, and their bamboo and cork flooring. The couple also appreciated using no-VOC paints, particularly in light of having a baby in the house.
The home’s durability is another great feature. In particular, the home is protected by Hardiboard siding and a metal roof, which came with a 40-year warranty. “It was painted a natural aluminum color to reflect heat, whereas a shingled roof would absorb heat,” explains Mr. Kramer. Their deck is also sustainable – rather than traditional decking, theirs is stain and rot resistant.
As much as they appreciate their home, it is, however, their new community that makes their new, green lifestyle so truly special. The whole neighborhood is extremely pedestrian friendly. The Kramers live on a main road, which is lined with seven-foot wide sidewalks made from recycled rubber. This inventive trait is kind -- not only kind to the environment, but to joggers’ feet as well. Traditional sidewalks also meander through the rest of the neighborhood. Mrs. Kramer walks in the neighborhood daily, and the family enjoys bike rides to the park at the Navy Yard.
The revitalization of this formerly depressed area is inspiring. “It has affected Park Circle in such a great way,” says Mr. Kramer. “Young professionals and children are moving in; there has been a decrease in crime; property values are increasing … the Navy Yard is really a capital improvement project. It’s not your typical development where a company just comes in and builds homes in two years and then disappears. This is making a place for future generations, and like a city, it evolves over time.” Mr. Kramer thinks that the industry will eventually evolve to the point that sustainable communities and green building will become the norm. “It makes too much sense – environmentally, economically – not to.”