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‘Green’ is driving force for this housing

Environmentally friendly housing is popping up across the United States, and projects include features like Smart cars as well as electric mopeds for residents.
James Bill, project manager of Urban Design Development Corp., poses with a Smart car at Forbes Industrial Park, a condo development site in Chelsea, Mass. The developers plan to stock their main parking lot with the two seat, fuel-efficient cars, which are just 8 feet long and will be available for use by residents.Chitose Suzuki / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

If Linda Plano buys a loft condo at Forbes Park in Chelsea, she'll probably have to leave her Volkswagen GTI behind.

It won't fit in the parking spaces.

Forbes Park developers plan to stock their main lot with a fleet of two-seat, fuel-efficient cars that are just 8 feet long — and available on demand for residents.

"I would look to make sure there's room for groceries," Plano said of the DaimlerChrysler-manufactured Smart cars being marketed as an amenity at the Chelsea project. "Assuming that it's affordable, then this is a great idea."

It's one of the eco-friendly features being offered at the 225-unit project where condos start at $250,000.

And it highlights what industry observers say is an emerging style of residential development: going green.

The costs of fuel has put increased emphasis on efforts to be energy efficient. Sales of sport utility vehicles are down, while hybrids are more popular than ever.

Electric mopeds at Dallas lofts
Two-seater too big? In Dallas, an electric moped comes with each unit at "Buzz," a planned 49-unit loft development near City Hall. Zad Roumaya, the sculptor-turned-developer who is behind the project, said he dislikes traditional amenities.

"You can't drive your swimming pool to the market," said Roumaya. "You use the pool twice a year."

The Dallas development, where units range from $120,000 to $225,0000, is a short walk to two rapid-rail stations, and will include wind power and water re-use. Two hours of recharging will get you 30 miles on the eGo moped.

"Fuel prices are pushing people toward fuel efficiency," he said. "Three bucks a gallon. Even if it takes that sledge hammer, it's going to become the norm."

Last year, more than 14,000 "green" homes were built, compared to 61,000 in the prior 14 years combined, according to the National Association of Home Builders, which has standards for what constitutes "green," such as water conservation and basic energy efficiency.

Other green features
It's not just fuel-efficient vehicles that are being featured at housing complexes.

The Davis Square Lofts in Somerville, built by the Forbes Park developers, capture and re-use storm water, and extensive ventilation is designed to make air conditioning unnecessary. They include "sky walk" hallways, which eliminate the need for interior lighting.

At Chelsea's Forbes Park, the home of a former printing plant along two creeks that flow into Boston Harbor, three buildings will be razed to make way for canals, a dock will be built in hopes of a water taxi to Boston, and there will be 106 parking spaces designed to snugly accommodate Smart cars that get 60 miles to the gallon. Regular-sized parking spaces also will be built, but the Smart cars get the best location.

The Solaire, a 27-story apartment complex in Manhattan, became the first green high-rise in the U.S. when it was completed two years ago. It was designed to consume 35 percent less energy than a typical residential tower.

Earlier this year, a 37-story rental complex, the Helena, also opened in Manhattan, featuring a 35-passenger hybrid shuttle that uses compressed natural gas and makes rushhour runs to and from a nearby subway stop. Both are "LEED" certified — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The conservation movement gained some followers during the oil crisis in the 1970s, when Americans started thinking green, said Cornell University professor Joseph Laquatra, who teaches design and environmental analysis.

"Until then we had very little awareness," he said. "Lead was still in paint. We were still using asbestos in joint compound."

The latest fuel crisis appears to be giving the movement another dose of momentum. It doesn't hurt that buyer demand and government tax credits for efficiency are making green construction more profitable for developers.

Mainstream builders buying in
Although it remains a tiny fraction of the market, that may change. John Loyer, of the National Association of Home Builders, said the nation's largest home builders are recognizing benefits of green building.

"It's becoming a real priority," he said.

Los Angeles-based KB Home, one of the nation's largest home builders, this summer unveiled its first "California friendly" landscaped community — a 70-home development in Temecula Valley, 35 miles east of Laguna Beach in Southern California. It features drought-tolerant plants and "smart timers" that water plans according to need and that turn off when it rains.

"It's something that homebuyers are interested in," company spokesman Daniel Weidman said.

Urban Design/Development Corp., the developer of the loft condos in Chelsea, a gritty city next door to Boston, bills its Smart car plan as a first in the nation. Cambridge-based Zipcar and Seattle-based Flexcar offer car-sharing services to the general public in more than 20 cities, but typically not exclusive-use deals like the proposed Chelsea project, where they've drawn plans for 106 Smart cars, at an undetermined monthly user charge.

Project manager James Bill said they preferred an exclusive-use arrangement because access to a car is more critical in Chelsea, which has no subway station for quick commutes into Boston.

For Plano, the associate director of the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, it's a big draw.

"You're buying your way into a community that thinks similarly, and that's appealing as well," she said.