Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Getting Greener

Dateline: 3:55 pm November 23, 2009 Filed under:

With so much attention given to green development these days, I figure it is worth looking back at a green building five years after opening to see how things are going. Five years ago I wrote a case study for the Urban Land Institute about Colorado Court, a 44-unit affordable housing project in Santa Monica. Colorado Court was cutting edge at the time. Let’s see what we can learn five years on.

In 2004, Colorado Court was just two years old. Developed by the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, it includes a number of green features, including carpeting and insulation made from recycled materials, efficient light fixtures and appliances, low-VOC paints, and a site plan that features drought-resistant plants and captures 95 percent of runoff. Most significant are photovoltaic panels and a gas turbine that generate electricity for the building. Excess electricity generated was intended to be sold back to the utility (called net metering). The gas turbine also features a waste heat recovery system that provides hot water for the building.

(I cannot overlook a killer location in Santa Monica, within walking distance of numerous destinations and transit, which is the other half of green development.)

Alas, whereas leasing has fortunately never been a problem, the project has encountered hurdles. Initially, the developer had to work with a state legislator to change state laws on net metering to allow Colorado Court to sell power back to the grid. However, state law forbid properties generating power from two sources to net meter, much to the chagrin of CCSM.

The increase in gas prices in 2007-08, combined with computer system failures, forced CCSM to shut down the gas turbine. While this is frustrating for the developer and green building proponents, the silver lining is that with just one power source, Colorado Court can now net meter. Indeed they do sell solar power back to the grid at times during the day when power usage on-site is less.

CCSM reports that they learned much from Colorado Court, despite setbacks. Use of energy efficient systems and materials continue and have been improved on successive developments and remodels, and ongoing energy audits measuse savings.

We’re getting greener. It is important to test new ways to reduce our carbon footprint and build greener communities. They don’t all work as intended, but those that do can and are being standardized across the development industry. So let’s give credit to the pioneers like CCSM and projects like Colorado Court.

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