Location cubed

Readers bombard us with questions about site selection

I’m south Sacramento born-and-bred, so as a kid north Sacramento always seemed a faraway land. But last week I made the trek. I was already at work in Midtown, which made the journey a little closer than I remembered and, yeah, it took six minutes.

I figured that because I’m expected to write about SN&R’s green renovation of a building on Del Paso Boulevard until the completion of the project in fall 2008 and I’d already spent a month on research, I should probably go out and actually see this so-called building in-person (I’m a real thinker!).

And so I dropped a digital camera in my black pleather purse and headed out Highway 160, across the American River to North Sacramento.

The building used to be a drive-in restaurant, dry cleaner, grocery store and most recently an IMG furniture showroom. The earliest section was built in the 1940s with parcels added through the 1960s. From the outside, the old structure looks pretty sweet, with a buttress roof and elongated front walls covered in deep red and orange hues. But do not forget the wise words of your mama: Looks can be deceiving and it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The building’s interior needs major troubleshooting. Or so I’m told. A chain-linked fence surrounding the parking lot prevented a first-hand glimpse.

(I considered jumping the fence, but a shady looking character across the street was giving me stink eye, so instead I hopped in my car and took off giving him some stink eye right back.)

As I drove down the boulevard, a Sacramento Regional Transit light-rail train came a’barreling down on me, which incidentally brings me to my first point (yes, I will be making some highly informative points here): When it comes to green building, site selection is the most important decision you make, according to veteran Sacramento architect David Mogavero and a half dozen books I’ve read on the subject.

When SN&R owners Jeff vonKaenel and Deborah Redmond discussed where we should move, proximity to staff members’ housing was a priority. Deborah mapped where employees lived, with most residing in Midtown near our current office. Being close to work and in an urban center means we have the option of driving our cars less and we have better access to eco-friendly modes of transportation. And what’s the friendliest mode? Feet, of course, you silly.

I plugged our current address into the Walk Score Web site and it measured 94 out of 100 because we’re close to several grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, gyms and hardware stores. The Del Paso building only scored a 64, but SN&R owners banked on the area’s potential. The building is near a bike trail and in an urban redevelopment zone.

SN&R may not be building a new structure, but just in case you are, when choosing a site on which to build, look for spots near light-rail stops and bus lines to encourage the use of public transportation. Other good rules of thumb: Refrain from developing land within 100 feet of wetlands (duh), land identified as habitat for threatened or endangered species (double duh) or prime farmland. Instead, shoot for urban areas with existing infrastructure and develop infills—vacant plots of land within a built-up area—to ease the already heavy environmental burden caused by the building industry. Remember, 40 percent of the world’s energy and natural resources are used in the building industry.

Don’t be deterred from redeveloping any of the roughly 450,000 brownfields in the United States. These sites carry the potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awards grants to help with environmental clean up.

Where, you ask, am I getting all this incredibly helpful information?

Hold your horses, homeboy, I’m getting there. I’m the journalist and I’ll be asking all the questions, so stop grilling me.

First, I want to make my second highly informative point: If you want a green building, the best way to start is to improve or renovate an existing building. By reusing as much of a building as possible, you extend the structure’s life cycle, conserve resources, reduce waste, and minimize the greenhouse-gas emissions it takes to manufacture and transport new and recycled materials. It’s like you’re a dumpster diver dressed in a three-piece suit and, hello, that’s super hot.

Unfortunately, SN&R’s building does not constitute “existing” as determined by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards because it’s undergoing a major renovation.

And what is LEED, you ask? OK, what did I tell you only two paragraphs ago? Just for that you’re going to have to wait until next time for the answer.