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February 8, 2012

41 Columbia City townhouses are both affordable and green

Journal Staff Reporter

Image courtesy Weber Thompson [enlarge]
Prices in The Allegro range from $270,000 to $315,000. The units have two or three bedrooms and are between 1,000 and 1,400 square feet.

Too often sustainable homes combine high energy efficiency with high prices. But the team behind one project in Columbia City wants to break that trend, and offer housing that is both sustainable and affordable.

The Allegro is 41 townhouses now under construction in Rainier Vista. Prices will range from $270,000 to $315,000. The units have two or three bedrooms and are between 1,000 and 1,400 square feet.

BDR Homes is the developer and contractor. Weber Thompson is the architect.

Paul Glosniak of BDR said his firm is committed to Built Green. The Allegro is on track to receive 300 points on the Built Green checklist. He said it generally takes about 180 points to get a four-star certification.

“What we're trying to do is create a balance in affordability and sustainability,” he said. “I think green building is appropriate at any price range.”

The two-story units have fenced yards and detached garages. Upgrades are offered.

Total housing costs, based on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage including homeowner dues and property taxes, will start at $1,425 a month.

The first building is being framed and a foundation has been poured for the second. The first units should be done in June.

Glosniak said he wants to meet the needs of today's home buyers. The Columbia City neighborhood and proximity to light rail will make Allegro attractive to first-time buyers, empty nesters and others.

Kristen Scott, senior principal at Weber Thompson, said Allegro shows green housing doesn't have to be expensive.

“It's a real shame when cutting-edge design ideas end up being only adopted by the elite and by the wealthiest segment of our society,” she said. “It's really got to become... just the way things are built for everyone. To do that, you've got to make it a lot more affordable. That is happening and that's a positive thing.”

Changes in the last five years have cut the cost of green. Materials and systems like low-VOC paints and efficient heating are no longer exotic so those costs have come down. “It's hard to find a contractor now that doesn't recycle 95 percent of on-site construction waste,” Scott said.

One way to keep Allegro's prices low was to create an open and efficient floor plan that makes every square foot count.

Scott said the team benefited from Rainier Vista's lay out, with deep lots and pedestrian walkways. Many other townhouses have “tuck under” garages that are a part of the housing unit. The Allegro team used detached garages in back, allowing units to have an L-shaped private backyard.

Using a detached garage also brings more light into the living space and let designers put porches in front to encourage interaction between neighbors.

Glosniak said the project is unique because it addresses sustainability on a broad level by being well sized and efficient inside, and also near services and transit.

“We've got everybody covered,” he said. “You can live big in a small space and... live big with mass transit and your energy efficiency and sustainable products. All those things added together are more important than the individual pieces.”

Another part of sustainability is creating projects that make sense for the developer. Glosniak said it would be great if his business could build to the highest level of sustainability but that won't help if projects are overpriced. He said his team tries to be smart and seek out green materials that are comparable in cost.

Allegro is BDR's third project in Columbia City. Scott said it was fun because the units are modern, not like the craftsman style that is often used by area developers.

Each townhouse has upgraded heating/ventilation systems, energy efficient windows and low maintenance materials.


Katie Zemtseff can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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