Category Archives: Density

Housing Summit 2014: how to get more housing on less land

The following post is by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties:

Housing affordability and the impact of the Puget Sound region’s dwindling supply of buildable land was the focus of the recent Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ (MBA) 2014 Housing Summit in Bellevue.

“Accommodating Housing Needs with Less Land” included presentations by top national and regional housing experts and a panel discussion with state legislators and homebuilders.

Are we running out of room to build new houses here?

“There is an explicit link between the availability of buildable lands and housing affordability,” said MBA Executive Director Shannon Affholter. “The Summit served as a starting point in a frank discussion about what’s working, and what’s not, in meeting the Growth Management Act housing targets and the region’s growing needs.”

A presentation by Todd Britsch, regional director for Metrostudy Inc., a leading provider of research and analysis to the housing industry, underscored the immediate challenge to the buildable land supply: based on projected population growth, King County has 3.87 years of supply remaining of assumed total inventory, and only 3.29 years of supply in Snohomish County.

“We’re seeing lot prices absolutely skyrocket, and the numbers are staggering. It’s a long-term issue and we have to address it sooner rather than later,” he said. “And if we don’t, the Puget Sound region is going to become the next San Francisco Bay Area, where only the ‘elite of the elite’ can afford to own a home.”

Nancy Bainbridge Rogers, land use attorney at Cairncross & Hempelmann, noted that GMA-mandated Buildable Lands Reports generated periodically by counties don’t provide a full and accurate picture of future trends.

“The reports compare housing targets to the actual growth. The reports must determine whether sufficient land exists to accommodate population projections.  Unfortunately, the reports are not required to include a feasibility component or an assessment of affordability.”

A lively panel discussion focusing on legislative solutions included Senator Joe Fain (R) 47th District, from Auburn; Senator Marko Liias (D) 21st District, from Mukilteo; Representative Jay Rodne (R), 5th District, from Snoqualmie; and Representative Larry Springer (D), 45th District, from Kirkland. Other participants included homebuilders Mark Kaushagen of the Pulte Group and Lynn Eshleman from Pacific Ridge Homes.

Individual panel members cited specific action items that could advance the goals of housing availability and affordability, including:

  • couple housing demand with affordability in future planning
  • passage of a transportation package and infrastructure financing bill
  • comprehensive review of the Urban Growth Boundary and its possible expansion
  • require cities in King and Snohomish counties to do a planned action on remaining undeveloped lands to assess infill housing opportunities
  • eliminate redundancies in the review and permitting process, and establish a meaningful time limit in which permits can be outstanding.


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It’s time to redesign our neighborhoods

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

After participating recently in the King County Sustainable Cities Roundtable to discuss “Beyond Net Zero: Resilience, Regeneration, and Social Justice” Ron Sims agreed to an interview for the Daily Journal of Commerce’s Green Building Blog.

Q. As the King County Executive, you worked to promote sustainable development through policies, such as the green building and low impact development demonstration ordinances. And, as the Deputy Secretary of HUD, you got to see first-hand how communities across the country are addressing the issue of sustainability. From these vantage points, where do you think we should be focusing our energies?

Ron Sims

A. The neighborhood.  A well designed neighborhood correlates directly to a good quality of life. And that means things like community gathering places and safety, such as from crime, pollution; access to nature, such as street trees; and more transit options, such as walkability, and bike lending stations.  It’s easier to create new neighborhoods with these features than it is to redevelop existing neighborhoods, but we have to incentivize reinvestment that incorporates these design features for truly sustainable communities.

Q. How would you propose going about doing this?

A. I’ve never seen a developer turn down density bonuses in return for more bus stops, low-income housing, etc.  We need to get creative and open the door to more thoughtful mixed development, including residential options. We can tie some of this to demolition in an area. But we need to plan further out.  We need to ask the question: “What should this neighborhood look like in twenty years?”

Q. Sustainability advocates hold that sustainable development incorporates not simply environmental health, but economic vitality, and social equity, as well. Sometimes this gets lost in the development timetable. How can we do a better job of maintaining the prominence of all three legs of the stool as we try to practice what we preach in the field?

A.  I repeat: We need to begin planning long term to take advantage of opportunities as they come up, and to have a roadmap in place.  It’s by redesigning existing neighborhoods to be healthier, safer, greener that we’ll be addressing social equity, and the health of our economy.  Right now, energy efficiency is “hot.” But new technologies and new neighborhoods are still the domain of the well-to-do. It hasn’t gone viral. If we really worked on existing neighborhoods, we’d be addressing issues faced by the poor and culturally diverse.  You know, you can predict health and longevity rates by zip code.  Neighborhoods should and will still have their personalities, their “feel,”  but every neighborhood should have the basic green features I mentioned earlier.

Q. Is there a leverage point that sustainable advocates can focus on to bring about better neighborhoods and a better quality of life for all?

A. There’s actually two.  Most people are unaware, but at HUD we learned that the most significant cause of mortgage defaults in this past recession was the cost of transportation —  it amounted to 42% of income. This was often in excess of the 34-36% of income of the average mortgage. If someone lost a job that required them to have a car, they were still left with a car payment. So better transportation planning (including infrastructure improvements) would help.  Energy costs was another big chunk of the reason for defaults — 28-30%, so the emphasis on energy efficiency is good.

Q. With the specter of climate change-related disasters becoming more real, there has been a greater focus among sustainability advocates on “resilience” in the face of catastrophes. Disasters seem to bring out both the best and worst of us. How do we prepare and use the opportunity to course correct for the greater good?

A. I’m repeating myself, but it’s to plan, plan, and plan again.  We learned a lot from the Nisqually Earthquake; we were able to apply what we learned when 9/11 happened.  After the earthquake we decided we needed to build a structurally and technologically sound center that could function independently.  We learned to plan for the “worst” case — and not the best “reasonable” case.  We had to plan, memorialize in writing, and train.  Going forward, we need to take climate change and related disasters into consideration when we are re-designing our neighborhoods — particularly the infrastructure side of things.

Q. Last question: What advice would you give young green building professionals and public sector advocates who are looking to be leaders in the kind of sustainable transformation  you are talking about?

A. People think change is easy. I like to say, we are running a marathon, but because we’ve run out of a lot of chances, we need to do it at a sprinter’s pace.  Will this be rewarding every day? No it won’t be. Will it be a long path? Yes it will be.  If you believe that what you are doing serves the greater good, some day (not now) you will be able to take a deep breath, reflect on what you’ve been able to accomplish, and say WOW.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.


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Which Living Building are you most excited for?

In the Pacific  Northwest, there are a number of living buildings in different stages of development. But in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C., there are three projects that stand out and will be fascinating to compare.

The projects are Seattle’s  Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, Portland’s Oregon Sustainability Center and Vancouver’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Though each is very different, they are large and significant enough to be comparable.  Unlike most living buildings, which have to date been smaller structures in isolated landscapes, each of these is in the center of a city. Each are being built by nonprofit or educational organizations. Each will act as a nexus of sustainability for their respective communities.

Of the three, CIRS in Vancouver is furthest ahead, and should be ready for occupancy this summer. The 60,000-square-foot, four-story structure is a dry-lab research facility for the University of British Columbia. It’s budget is $37 million Canadian. It was designed by Busby, Perkins + Will. I wrote a previous post about the project here.

Courtesy Perkins+Will Canada Architects Co.

Next, comes the Bullitt Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. The Bullitt project, on Capitol Hill, will be six stories and a basement over 52,000 square feet. It is designed by The Miller Hull Partnership and Schuchart is the general contractor. Point32 is the development partner. Completion is planned for next summer. Bullitt is not releasing its budget but plans to release other detailed information on performance and development. At the design presentation for the project earlier this month, Jason McLennan of the Cascadia Green Building Council said “I think this is the most important building being built in the country today,” he said. “It’s going to open up a whole new set of eyes.”

Image courtesy The Miller Hull Partnership

Third, is the Portland project. It recently completed final design and should begin construction in early 2012, with an opening in late 2013. The team includes Gerding Edlen, SERA Architects, GBD Architects and Skanska Construction. The Portland Daily Journal of Commerce reported that the project’s budget is $59.3 million, not including $4 million needed to align streetcar tracks beneath it. The seven-story building will be 130,000-square-feet. It’s funded by the City of Portland, the Portland Development Commission and the Oregon University System.

Image courtesy Oregon Sustainability Center.

Though each is similar, a “green competition” has sprouted from the beginning between the Seattle and Portland projects. Time recently published a post on the “green war” here.

Though each building must accomplish the broad goals of the living building challenge (provide all energy, treat and provide all water) they are meeting the goals in different ways. In large part, jurisdictional codes and requirements have influenced design. The Vancouver building, for example, is essentially becoming its own waste treatment plant and will provide all its own water. The Bullitt project will use composting toilets, and is struggling with the ability to treat rainwater. I’m excited to see how each performs.

Which building are you most excited for? Which one do you think is the prettiest, or the one that you respond to best aesthetically? Answer our poll at right or comment below with your reasons!

P.S. For more on Seattle’s first building designed to living building standards that is complete, the Science Wing at the Bertschi School, click the living building tab or go here. It hasn’t received certification yet but is on track to do so!

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Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

If you don’t have a subscription to the DJC or don’t click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month’s excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year’s coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you’ll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called “Watch out for ‘greenwashing’ by service providers.” Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There’s this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There’s this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called “Two Seattle projects set ‘net-zero’ water goals,” which looks at the region’s water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School’s Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there’s this article by Elizabeth Powers at O’Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I’ll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city’s role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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Skanska’s Seattle development division bodes well for sustainability

One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.

My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that

The Grunwaldzki Center in Wroclaw, Poland, uses 30 percent less energy than Polish code requires. Image courtesy Skanska
Lisa Picard has been hired as executive vice president to lead the local development division. “The fundamentals in Seattle are great,” she said.

The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won’t necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today’s times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.

That’s interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.

Most developer’s green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I’ve been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff – net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies – there’s still a hefty premium, even if there’s a huge benefit.

According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company’s sustainability policy, click here (beware- it’s pretty overwhelming).

By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.

I’m curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn’t be able to. Of  course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.

If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we’d end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?

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