spacer search
Our newest project; California's first affordable carbon neutral home & transportation system. See for a look at the design review approved plans...
Main Menu
Contact Us
About Us
Home arrow Blog arrow 3/25/07- TAKING GREEN UP A NOTCH

3/25/07- TAKING GREEN UP A NOTCH PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dana Perrigan   
Sunday, 25 March 2007

12 Year Dream to meld sustainability, green technology, and new urbanism at former high-tech campus in Rhonert Park

The hippies, it turns out, were right.

Now that scientists -- championed by former Vice President Al Gore -- have accumulated enough evidence to prove that global warming is real, the environmental lifestyle promoted by those long-haired, pot-puffing purveyors of peace and protest has been validated as well.

And while so-called green building has been embraced by more developers -- entire panels and seminars were devoted to it at this year's International Builders' Show in Orlando -- a Sonoma County firm has decided to take it one step further.

Codding Enterprises, a real estate, property management and construction company that has made the bulk of its corporate living in the shopping center industry, plans to create a sustainable village on 175 acres in Rohnert Park.

There, built on the site of the former Agilent Technologies campus on Valley House Drive, will rise a community of about 2,000 homes and businesses, centered around a town square, using the latest principles of sustainability, green technology and new urbanism.

"I think what's new about this project is that we're trying to marry these three elements," says Geof Syphers, Codding's chief sustainability officer. "It's a new perspective."

If all goes according to plan, the $1 billion, multi-staged project -- called Sonoma Mountain Village -- will be completed in about 12 years.

To make the plan work, Codding spent $7.5 million to create the largest privately owned solar power installation in Northern California -- 90,000 square feet of solar panels capable of generating 1.14 megawatts to power 1,000 homes. Central heating and cooling will be provided by a converted power plant left behind by Agilent, using a four-pipe, fan coil system popular with luxury hotels. Modifications to the system are expected to make it carbon neutral within five years.

Homes will be placed on the site to take advantage of passive cooling created by prevailing northwest winds. Another idea is to build a network of cisterns to collect rainwater, which will be used to flush toilets.

But Sonoma Mountain Village is about a lot more than using environment-friendly technology.

"This is really about lifestyle," Syphers said. "We want to make sustainable living easy for people. We want to make it appealing."

To make it easy, 80 percent of the homes will be located within a 5-minute walk of the town center, where residents can buy groceries, get a haircut or lounge with a latte. About 700,000 square feet of commercial/retail space is being planned for the town square and outer retail strip. The homes -- ranging from 500-square-foot condominiums to 3,500-square-foot single-family residences -- will be within a 10-minute walk of the train station, so getting around by car will be an option rather than a necessity.

The community will include parks, an international-size soccer field, a fitness center, basketball courts and other amenities.

Because studies have shown that narrow streets are safer for pedestrians, the plan is to have them, along with row houses, with stoops in front and garages in back, to make walking more appealing. Small parks are to be located every four or five blocks. Codding plans to use multiple architects and builders "so it doesn't have a cookie-cutter feel."

"It's about being healthier," Syphers said. "It's about walking more places, about lowering expenses so that you don't have to work so hard, and it's about feeling connected to a community that is doing something positive."

Sonoma Mountain Village is also about adopting sustainable construction methods by using existing resources, Syphers said. The asphalt from the parking lots once used by Agilent employees will be ground up and used to pave the streets. The four large office buildings will be refaced and converted into a mix of commercial, retail and residential space.

"Part of sustainability for us is not creating a lot of landfill," Syphers said. "For the past five to eight years, developers have been pushing the limits on efficiency, but sustainability is something altogether different."

It is also, at least on the scale to which Sonoma Mountain Village aspires, somewhat rare. Syphers, who, in addition to his duties implementing environmental policy at Codding, speaks at conferences and teaches courses in green building project management, and has traveled to Spain, Colombia and London to study similar projects.

"Far and away," Syphers said, "the biggest aspect of our job is not technical -- it's educational."

Part of the educational process, which includes bringing in various experts to explain sustainable building methods, is directed toward the staff at Codding.

Founded by the Codding family in Sonoma in 1849, the firm was initially involved in home construction. Later, it entered the highly competitive arena of commercial building and management of enclosed malls and shopping centers. In 1950, it built Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa's first commercial shopping center. Now it owns, manages or has under development more than 3 million square feet of commercial space in California.

When Brad Baker became president and chief executive officer of Codding Enterprises in 2004, he decided to shift the firm's focus.

Baker says the commercial mall/shopping center industry is dominated by four or five real estate investment trusts, which control about 75 percent of the business.

"Here we are, an independent company against these 800-pound gorillas" says Baker. "It's really a national competition."

Baker, who says he was brought up with a strong sense of environmentalism and serves on the board of American Biodiesel Inc., suggested to the board of directors that the firm shift its resources to an area in which it could become a leader.

"So we've really done a 180-degree change in our business," says Baker. "We're trying to lead the way. We think it's extremely do-able. We expect it to be a mega-trend in future development."

Baker also expects sustainable development to be profitable. The $7.5 million solar installation is expected to recoup its costs in 12 years, with an 18 percent profit. Costs for the cisterns of rainwater will be ameliorated by not having to lay pipes for a storm drainage system.

"When you get a good team together, you stop thinking about just efficiency," Syphers said.

Another part of the educational process, he said, has to do with the city, which must approve each aspect of Sonoma Mountain Village before it can be implemented.

The narrow streets, for example, must have room for fire trucks. The idea of using rainwater to flush toilets may conflict with city codes that deal with the use of water.

"We're looking at an innovative approach to things," says Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park vice mayor and councilman. "I expect that we'll have in place ordinances that will be in line with what they have planned."

Mackenzie says much of what Codding has planned at Sonoma Mountain Village fits in with the city's recently adopted green building ordinance. In general, he says, there is no political resistance to the idea of sustainable building, but there will be what he calls "reality checks."

"We're very excited about this proposal," he says.

All in all, Syphers said, there may be as many as a dozen issues surrounding codes, designed around insurance laws, that must be dealt with.

"So we're in the middle of trying to get approval for a lot of things, and those things aren't a slam dunk."

Neither is creating and sticking with the final plan. Through the process of development -- major construction is expected to begin in two years, with about 500 homes built every three years -- the plan will be polished and, occasionally, modified.

The preliminary development plan, unanimously approved by the Rohnert Park Planning Commission, has been endorsed by the Sonoma County Housing Coalition. Codding is seeking endorsements from the Sierra Conservation Committee, Greenbelt Alliance and the Accountable Housing Coalition as well.

"We're creating a little village here with a high level of sustainability," Syphers said. "We're trying to find a way to have 8 to 10 billion people on this planet and make it work."

Green Building Resources
Buildin Design & Construction
Common Sense Design, resource page
Environmental Building News
Frank Lloyd Wright
Get into Green, at the National Building Musem
Green Affordable Housing
Green Building Community.Com
Green Sage
International Initiative for sustainable built environment
LEED for Homes, energy certification from the USGBC
List of recycled building products from the Ca.Integratd waste management board
Marin County Green Building Program
Marin Max Reuse
National Renewable Energy Labratory Homepage
Oikos Green Building Source

(C) 2023
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL License.