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Density Bonus for Solar-Powered Grow Community, Bainbridge, WA

Case Study by Chris van Daalen, Principal Investigator
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Density Bonus for Solar-Powered Grow Community, Bainbridge, WA
Photo Credit Asani Developments, LLC
Energy
Land Use and Development
Density / FAR Bonus
Density Bonus for Certified Green Housing
City of Bainbridge Island
Heather Wright, Sr. Planner
Bainbridge Island Holdings LLC
Multifamily
1600
Jonathan Davis, Davis Design Studio (Phase 1), Cutler Anderson Architects (Phase 2), Hartman Architecture & Design (Phase 3)
PHC Construction
Tadashi Shiga, Evergreen Certified
Bainbridge Island Holdings
Built Green 5-star One Planet Living Community
05/2012

Abstract

Grow Community is a new development of 142 residential units on 8 urban acres, all built to the highest level of green building certification. It was permitted under Bainbridge Island's Housing Design Demonstration Program (HDDP) ordinance which offers developers a 1.5 times the base density allowed in the underlying land use zone in exchange for high-performance.

Permitting Process

By participating in the HDDP program (see related Policy Profile), the project would not only undergo the normal land use permitting process which is costly and time consuming. They were also committing to meet a number of additional requirements, such as smaller home sizes, a diversity of housing types, and “deep green” performance goals tied energy, water, stormwater design targets. The HDDP incentive allowed this project to increase height and density, in exchange for committing to meet these goals.

The development was permitted in 2 phases, using a standard land use application review process applied to this housing type, with additional review steps including a conceptual proposal review to make an initial determination of eligibility for the HDDP incentive. Subsequent steps included a pre-application conference, public participation meetings, as well as ongoing assessment and corrections to maintain eligibility for the program incentives.  This culminated in Design Review Board consideration, and a Hearings Examiner review, public hearing and approval granted with conditions.

Code RequirementCompliance Path
City of Bainbridge Island Housing Design Demonstration Program (HDDP) BIMC 2.16.020.Q requires Built Green 5-star certification, innovative site design and diversity of housing types Applicant provided a conceptual proposal, held public meetings, and underwent pre-application review, to gain City Council approval for HDDP standard modifications and density bonus via underlying land use application review.  See Staff Report and Hearings Examiner Decision for more details

Project Description

All units meet Built Green 5-star certification, and the Grow community was the first residential community in the United States endorsed by BioRegional as a One Planet Living Community.

The HDDP incentive offered modifications to development standards such as setbacks and parking requirements, which made it possible to use alternative site design concepts including “agricultural micro-hoods” with large open spaces and community gardens. Grow qualified as a Tier 2 project under HDDP, allowing them to increase to 1.5 times the base density allowed in the underlying land use zone.

Additionally, renewable energy incentives available under state law, were used by the development team to offer an easy and affordable solar option to all home owners, in the process becoming the largest solar-powered community in Washington.

The 3-phase project went through two rounds of review by the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board (DRB), first in 2011-2012 leading to approval of Grow Community I in August 2012 with a total of 43 units:  23 single family units and two rowhouse apartment buildings totaling 20 multifamily units. Then with Phase I construction mostly completed, then DRB again considered Grow Community II application in 2013 and 2014 with another 88 units of single-, multi-family condos and apartments, and a community center which included revisions to the site plan in response to concerns raised by neighbors and hearing examiner. (see BIMC 2.16.030 through 2.16.210).

During this time, the project also underwent an environmental impact assessment and was issued a “finding of non-significance” pursuant to the State Environmental Policy Act (WAC 197-11).  A local citizen briefly threatened an appeal, concerned over the effect harvesting rainwater could have on the island’s water table, impacts on traffic air pollution, etc. but after one of the appellants learned about the project’s green design, the appeal was dropped. With the SEPA decision in-hand, the Planning Commission could then consider the land use application, which it did at a public meeting in May 2014; they recommended the Hearings Examiner (HE) approve the project with conditions.  After a Public Hearing in June, the HE granted conditional approval and the project was set to be completed.

That was the normal design review process, the same would have applied to any large multifamily development in that zone in the Winslow Master Plan Area.

GrowCommunitySitePlan.jpg
Grow Community Site Plan

In order to maintain compliance with the HDDP Incentives however, the Grow Community had to show how their designs would comply a number of other requirements:

  • The City’s Comprehensive Plan with growth focused in the Winslow
  • The Built Green 5-Star Certification checklist
  • Achieve minimum energy and water benchmarks
  • Provide a diversity of housing options
  • Design a vibrant pedestrian-oriented, multi-generational urban village

They embraced these goals and created a remarkable housing community that contributed to the City’s urban development goals while achieving near net-zero energy performance.

Additional Resources:

Related Policy Profile:  2009 Housing Design Demonstration Policy, Bainbridge Island, WA Grow Community Summary Report 2014-2015
Grow Community Website One Planet Living Annual Verification Report

Motivations:

Asani LLC is based on Bainbridge Island, a community which is a hotbed of leadership in the green building movement.  So for the developer, going for a deep green project was in their ethos, the type of project they were looking for.  Greg Lotakis, Project Manager says “We live here, wanted to do something spectacular on Bainbridge.”

Yet they knew from experience that a green certified project is hard to sell to investors, leery of all the complex requirements of the HDDP incentive.  Without the incentive allowing them to add more units to the base zoning density, the financial aspects of the project more difficult.

They made practical compromises to achieve the highest environmental performance, quality of life and affordability they could while making it a profitable development. For example, instead of striving for HDDP’s optional (at the time) affordable housing target, they instead focused on housing diversity including rental units, so people who maybe couldn’t afford to buy, could access the community for under $1,000 / mo.

Energy Efficiency

The homes are all highly insulated, air tight, and all-electric; most have solar power bringing some homes to “net zero energy” while others are within 10 to 20% of “net-zero energy” depending on occupant behavior (i.e. homes that produce all the energy they use). Systems within each home that contribute to this result - include all LED light fixtures, air-to-air electric heat pumps, heat pump hot water heaters, and heat recovery ventilation for whole house air exchange.  The below grade parking in Phase 2 allowed more innovation in air‐to‐air heat pump technology with integrated water heating “plants” for each of the multi‐family buildings, increasing water heating efficiency by as much as 300%.  The multi-family buildings’ energy performance is being studied through a grant-funded partnership with Bonneville Power Administration and EcoTope a mechanical engineering firm.

Solar Energy Innovations

To become the largest Solar Community in Washington, Grow had to use creative methods for designing and selling a solar option to owners – partnering with manufacturers, a preferred installer and Puget Sound Credit Union to provide secondary financing.  The package included as little as $0 down, fixed rate, and automatic application of the annual production incentive so the bill pays itself. This offered homebuyers an “easy button” to choose Solar.  During the first phase, 100% of the new single family home owners chose the solar option and 23 systems were installed on as many housing units, totaling more than 130 kW.

For the “Salal” multifamily building, the development team took a chance on an innovative approach, pooling the buying power of the individual condo owners to install a 44kW solar system serving the entire building through one meter, with private submeters that track each of the individual units energy use. By including partial ownership of the solar array to each condo owner within the building declarations, they were able to create “undivided fractional interest” in the system making each owner eligible for the full state incentive payment up to the $5,000/year cap.  See WA Dept. of Revenue Excise Tax Advisory 3197.2015 for more information.  As of early 2017 there is more than 300 kW within all phases of Grow Community.

Design / Build Process

This wasn’t the first project to go through the HDDP process, but is so far the most complex.  Lotakis described a collaborative process in which developers, designers, and City staff learned together by doing it.  “As a developer unless you’ve gone through it, can be a little daunting” says Lotakis, “meeting the HDDP tier structure, housing diversity requirements, green certification, etc.  We rely a lot on a collaborative working relationship with the City, continuity of working with the same staff person from beginning to end of a multi-year project, to help us meet all their goals for HDDP and our goals for the project.”

GrowSeedPath.jpg
A Micro Agri-Hood
They also benefited from a group of supportive investors who shared a vision for a deep green community, and took inspiration from “pocket neighborhoods” designed by architect Ross Chapin and others in Europe.

The project has several phases and created several design experiences that are all tied together by the underlying theme of Community.  Jonathan Davis with Davis Architecture Studio, was hired by the project owners to design the first phase, a beautiful 23-unit single family and 20 unit multi-family “pocket neighborhood” with featuring shared courtyards and parking on the perimeter.  They have a lot of community open space, raingardens and vegetable gardens integrated as amenities.  In Phases 2 & 3 much of the design was completed by Cutler Anderson Architects, who were challenged with maximizing open space, increasing one-level living through multi-family, and pushing the cars further from the day to day by getting them in below grade parking structures.  Finally, Hartman Architecture and Design was brought on to help the team complete the Community Center and last multi-family building – incorporating all elements of design aesthetic while delivering efficient, yet elegant solutions to the projects final design needs.

Cost / Benefit

Ultimately, incentives like the HDDP are designed to shift an industry toward affordability and energy efficiency.  With willing developers this can add value and improve financials with increased density in areas designed for such growth.  With these incentives do come increased conditions and deliverables so it remains important that design and development teams are knowledgeable, efficient, and establish a shared vision for the project early.  Additional federal and state incentives for solar were organized by the development team to align solar product manufacturers, installers, and financial lenders so each home owner is given the opportunity to purchase solar after move in of their home with very short payback (~5 to 6 years). The PV for each home is grid‐tied with net metering support by the local utility provider (Puget Sound Energy – PSE).

The Grow Community project success relies on many variables.  Some are unique to what is being done at Grow.  Others are common to real estate.  “Location, understanding your market, and having supportive ‘comparables’ still represent the foundational elements of Real Estate that you must be attentive to for success" says Lotakis.

Full List of Certifications and Awards

  • Built Green 5-star
  • One Planet Living Community
  • Built Green Hammer Award for Multi-Family (2015) and Single Family (2014)
  • NAHB Best In Green Award for 2014, honoring the very finest in sustainable design and construction.
  • Green Home of the Year Award in the Best Community Project category for 2014 by Green Builder magazine
  • Named as one of the ten best Urban Agriculture projects worldwide by Urban Land Magazine.
Project Contacts
Approving Official: Heather Wright (formerly Beckmann , Senior Planner City of Bainbridge Island (206) 780-3754 Developer: Greg Lotakis Asani Developments LLC 206-780-7458 Verifier: Tadashi Shiga, Built Green / Energy Verifier Evergreen Certified 206-491-7111
Solar Energy Financing: Shannon Ellis-Brock, Chief Operating Officer Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union 425.283.5155 Public Meeting Facilitator: Marja Preston, Fmr. President, Asani Oranje, LLC
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