Sustainable neighborhoods?

‘GREEN’ LABEL <br>John Anderson of New Urban Builders explains the LEED-ND concept at a Chico gathering Tuesday.

John Anderson of New Urban Builders explains the LEED-ND concept at a Chico gathering Tuesday.

Photo By Marisol Salgado

Perhaps you’ve heard of LEED-certified “sustainable” or “green” structures, such as the new Student Services building under construction at Chico State University. But have you heard of LEED-certified “green” neighborhood developments?

It’s a new concept, called LEED-ND, that sets certification standards for housing development projects, and it was the topic of a presentation sponsored by New Urban Builders Tuesday evening (Sept. 19) at the University of Phoenix.

“LEED-ND is a necessary set of standards used to determine how sustainable the house really is,” said John Anderson, NUB’s vice president of planning and design. He argues that without standards, sustainability claims for houses would hold no merit and it would be difficult to verify their level of sustainability. “It’s a nice objective benchmark.”

LEED-ND is designed for housing developments like NUB’s Doe Mill Neighborhood that seek to be certified as sustainable. It focuses, for example, on public transit, even assigning extra credits to houses if they have a “car sharing” system in which a car can be rented by the hour within the neighborhood. From vegetated rooftops to civic art that serves a purpose and daylight harvesting, from automatic indoor lighting adjustments to using natural light, the possibilities are endless.

“There is a lot of attention being placed on the arrangement of buildings in neighborhoods because of efforts to conserve resources,” Anderson said.

Architect Doug Farr, president of Farr Associates in Chicago, presented an overview of LEED-ND to a group of approximately 50 people composed of developers, realtors and even a structural engineer. Some were homeowners looking for environmentally conscious housing alternatives.

Farr and his architecture and planning firm are recognized as leaders in sustainable designs. “I stepped away from money-making work to volunteer time to this project because I believe in it,” Farr said.

With a new pilot LEED-ND-certified housing development set to launch later this year, LEED-ND is creating a buzz throughout the country about opportunities to think green. Farr said there are about 300 people on a waiting list for the pilot program, which is like a think-tank effort, for this new method of developing neighborhoods.

Anderson said plans for pilot programs in Chico are uncertain at this point. “What we at New Urban Builders plan to do is adopt the best practices from LEED-ND to build in better ways.”

The cost to build a LEED-ND-certified house is higher than that of a regular house, but the difference is leveled out by energy efficiency and features that would reduce transit time. “Energy efficiency became an interesting footnote onto our design,” Anderson said. Now, energy efficiency is becoming a deciding factor for buyers, especially young buyers who have a higher awareness of sustainability, he said.

“Urbanism plus high-performance environmentalism is a good thing,” Farr said as he addressed concerns about costs for LEED-ND buildings. Anderson is quick to note the costs associated with building a sustainable house are equivalent to buying a nice dishwasher.