Wednesday, January 27, 2010

uHome Studio Begins!

This is at the Studio location in the Arcturis office in the Laclede Gas Building downtown. Here the students are meeting me and the rest of team as we discuss roles in the project moving forward. Professor Koster has a challenging course laid out and the students seem fully engaged in the challenges ahead. As Director of Operations for Trumpet LLC I will also serve as LEED PM for this project.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

St. Louis-area home sales lag nation in

Saturday, January 23, 2010

from the Post-Dispatch

Tight credit market threatens 'green' U. City project
By Tim Bryant
Friday, Jan. 22 2010
The tight credit market is threatening to delay a project by some of the area's "green" experts to build nearly two dozen highly energy-efficient custom houses in a tired corner of University City.
Plans for the project, called uHome U City, began three years ago and were firmed up last fall. But no bank has been willing to make loans to build houses on two streets in the Sutter Heights neighborhood.
"We knew this was going to be a very difficult project to finance from a buyer's perspective," said Petree Eastman, the assistant city manager and a driving force behind uHome. "But like any urban pioneer, you've got to start somewhere.
"Joining the city in the project are Green Space Construction Co., consultant Richard Reilly, Washington University's Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts and Arcturis, the architecture firm that is providing space for students to design the houses.
The program has some unusual characteristics:
— All the design work will be done by graduate students.
— No private developer will be involved.
— Buyers will pay nothing for a house site and will get substantial financial incentives, including eight years of property tax abatement.
— Washington University and University City employees will get additional buyer subsidies totaling thousands of dollars.— The houses will be loaded with "green" features but top out in price at $200,000.
Eastman said she hopes a lender will step forward and allow construction and sale of five to seven uHomes this year. The biggest hurdle is that banks are balking at making $200,000 mortgages in a neighborhood where houses typically sell for between $50,000 and $150,000.
UHome leaders are trying to convince banks that Sutter Heights is worthy of new investment. They cite that the neighborhood is near the Loop, the Wellston MetroLink station, the $36 million Kingsland Walk development and parks. Eastman points out that buyer subsidies and the energy savings built into the project's houses would free money that owners could use to stay current on their mortgages. Through St. Louis County, the city already has obtained five vacant lots for potential uHome buyers. The city spent about $2,000 on each lot to get clear titles and might later obtain as many as 23 lots for the uHome project.
"The first five will be the hardest," Eastman said. "The second five will be easier. The third five will be even easier.
"Thirteen graduate students at the Sam Fox school signed up this week as uHome designers. With faculty oversight, they will draw plans for two- and three-bedroom houses of about 1,300 square feet. "Crazy spaceship" and bland "cookie cutter" designs are forbidden, uHome leaders said. Approved designs will be contemporary but compatible with the early 20th century bungalows, Dutch colonials and other homes in Sutter Heights.
Buyers of uHomes will be allowed to "tweak" the designs before the houses are built, said Don Koster, a senior lecturer at the Sam Fox school and a uHome leader.
"In terms of aesthetics, we hope that they will fit into the neighborhood in a formal sense and in a proportional sense," he said. "We hope they will be forward-looking and progressive in their design aesthetic.
"Recycled brick, concrete, interior doors and other items could be used in the uHomes, project leaders said. Geothermal heating and cooling, solar power and even wind power might also be incorporated. The plan is for the houses to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum status from the U.S. Green Building Council.
"We'll also be looking toward using modern materials that can be sourced locally," Koster said. "The value for the students is to get hands-on, real-life experience."
Reilly, director of operations for Trumpet LLC, a green builder and engineering firm based in Festus, said he hopes that finding a large number of potential uHome buyers will persuade banks to finance house loans in Sutter Heights.
"If there are enough buyers interested in participating in the project, that might be the proof needed right there," he said. "This project has so much potential to deliver something satisfactory in a neighborhood so close to so many amenities."
UHome leaders said the program could eventually spread to more than 100 vacant lots in University City. Megan Nasrallah, the Arcturis architect leading the firm's uHome effort, said designs for the first five houses should be ready in time for construction to begin in June.
In addition to tax abatements and energy-savings tax credits, uHome buyers also could qualify for tax credits, awarded by lottery, from Missouri's Neighborhood Preservation Act. In addition, Washington University employees would get $6,000 in forgivable loans for buying houses in the city's northeast quadrant. City employees would get $4,000 grants.
"Our dream buyer is a Washington University faculty member married to a city employee, and they win the Missouri preservation act lottery," Eastman said.

uHome uCity comments in Post Dispatch piece

Comments on the above article in the Post Dispatch

AnAmericanFlag January 22, 2010 12:08AM CST
Green = Liberal Handout to Minorities

Big T Machine January 22, 2010 12:26AM CST
Wow, I can't think of too many neighborhoods worse than this one to build new homes. Back in the late 80s, St. Louis County decided to put its police academy a few blocks north of this site as a measure to help stabilize the neighborhood. The result: Crime is still high, more houses are dilapidated, and the Wellston School District is dissolving. If these do-gooders really wanted to do something impressive, they should move this project on the south end of U. City near its border with Clayton.

Big T Machine January 22, 2010 12:29AM CST
I also wanted to add, the designers should include boarded up windows, leaning porches, and overgrown weeds to fit in and maintain the current feel and charm of the surrounding neighborhood. It would be wise for the yet to be established UHome Neighborhood Association to consider paying for around the clock armed security. I’m guessing any cost savings from the “green” amenities and tax credits would be lost on security, increased home and car insurance rates, and replacing the stolen and damaged property insurance won’t cover.

apache January 22, 2010 4:56AM CST
They have to be kidding!! The area named is about as dangerous as you can get. If one would run a computer scan of crime activities in that area in the last twenty five years, it would fill a book. Eastgate, Westgate, Sutter & Olive, are high crime areas, and of course Wellston boarders that area. The County Police Academy has a fence around it. Now, why would they want to fence in a Police Academy? Washinton U, is tring to make a silk purse out of a pigs ear. There have been more homicides deaths in that area than you can imagine. Lenders beware, its not a area you want to be on a cloudy day, muck less after sun down.

mcglurk January 22, 2010 7:09AM CST
"Green = Liberal Handout to Minorities"hmmmm, the ignorance in that comment is profound, and to drape it in our American flag and values, now that is selfish and downright mean.It is a step up in human dignity to help other people and to do what we can to honor and respect the earth we live on. And I say this as a staunch conservative. It is sad indeed that these so called conservatives who hide behind a false notion of what a true conservative philosophy means. Pathetic really. These are just mean selfish people.

supersleuth January 22, 2010 8:00AM CST
I see the crazies are out in full force this morning.

supersleuth January 22, 2010 8:04AM CST
So according to the comments so far, the best idea to make a bad area better is to....leave it alone, wish it away, and perpetuate the negative images that others may (falsely) have about it. If this is such a bad idea, what genius ideas do you guys have to get this neighborhood back on its feet (and no, "firebomb it" is not an acceptable answer)

jjk January 22, 2010 8:07AM CST
If green is so great, why do we always have to pay people to do it?

Big T Machine January 22, 2010 8:37AM CST
Supersleuth, I have no false perceptions about this neighborhood. I know this neighborhood well and what I said about crime and the condition of the homes there are true. Since you ruled out firebombs, how about a few daisy cutters or MOABs? I would recommend dissolving the City of Wellston and then having the St. Louis County Police Dept. take over patrol. The incompetent Wellston government has done nothing to enforce codes or raze houses that are no longer structurally sound. The Wellston Police Department is ineffective and had corruption issues in the past.

supersleuth January 22, 2010 8:45AM CST
This isn't in the city of wellston. This is in University City. But thanks for offering your twisted opinion on how law enforcement should operate. If you think the StlCo cops alone can fix what ails Wellston you're kidding yourself. Also, razing houses costs money, which Wellston has none of.

Brian L January 22, 2010 8:47AM CST
So, the choices I see are this:A) do nothing, let the neighborhood continue to deteriorate, have these five empty lots that provide no tax income to the city and act as a shelter for crime...orB) Do something, have people buy the houses, create new construction jobs in the area to build the homes, and provide a tax income source to U-City and the county (after the tax abatement ends in 8 years, to be fair)...And the loonies choose choice A.

Dano1 January 22, 2010 8:51AM CST
I'm sick and tired of all of the handouts given by taxpayers. The taxpayers were not asked to give, but forced to give through the government by legal robbery. Is robbery moral?If they can do something without using taxpayer funds to help private entities, I'm all for it. Forget the "greater good" argument as the "greater good" is different depending on whom you speak with. My recommendation would be for U. City to raze all condemned properties and for interested parties to buy these city owned properties directly from U. City for market value. Another issue is that real estate tax rates may be relatively high due to the lower values of all properties. The reason is that all services like police, fire, and education are somewhat fixed costs, yet still have to be paid for.

Big T Machine January 22, 2010 9:05AM CST
Superslueth, this is one block from Wellston.

DollarBill January 22, 2010 9:32AM CST
I for one hope that this is a success and goodness spreads from the construction of these houses. If this is such a good idea, then they should be able to easily seek private financing for the project. Doesn't WashU have some extra money they could provide for funding? Heck they could reap the benefits of the interest income, as long as the project is a success.

mind January 22, 2010 10:01AM CST
I like the idea, but the banks are right that $200,000 in this neighborhood is too expensive and will never sell. The students and faculty are a bit foolish in thinking the energy savings in a 2-3 bedroom home will offset the increased cost of the house. They should scale down the plans to make them cheaper.-U City resident and LEED AP

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Habitat and SIPS

The Habitat Crew is doing a fine job in Florissant on the final home of the 2009 build. This home features SIPS (Structural Insulated Panel System) and if you click on the image you can see some detail and the important role of sealants in the installation.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Development: More Questions Than Answers

Urban Pioneering
Mixed-Income Housing
Work-Force Housing

All these terms have many connotations and some serve as euphemisms for less 'attractive' practices and most of it is somewhat confusing to me and potentially counter productive for sustainable infill projects of the type I am currently involved in.

How to get banks to partner with communities to build affordable housing in a working class neighborhood when the comps don't match up? It seems impossible. There are many reports and studies that indicate that affordable housing doesn't negatively effect middle class neighborhoods. Would the inverse have to be the case? Would building a relatively middle class home in a working class neighborhood necessarily bring the value of the home down?

There are many studies indicating that mixed income neighborhoods can help end the cycle of poverty. Most cities were born with mixed income planning and it seems to me (as a matter of observation) that the automobile brought upon the undoing of economic integration as part of the urban fabric.

Now, as many struggle to protect and preserve our environment and our historic building stock it seems that transit oriented development, mixed income and mixed use development are considered solutions to our current concerns. These kinds of projects will reduce our dependence on the automobile, keep workers near work and contribute to a vibrant cultural life.

It seems to me that current real estate appraisal practices and lending practices have not grown/changed in ways which will easily accommodate new development patterns. I still have far more questions than answers but I hope a dialogue can be expanded to integrate all the stakeholders in a meaningful way so that urban and inner ring redevelopment can be a model of sustainability, fairness and pride for our region.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Walkable Communities: How does yours measure up? will let you plug in an address and see how your neighborhood stacks up for amenities in walking distance. This is a nice and easy way to get a snapshot of an area you're interested in.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sketchbook is a link to a project I signed up for. I turned in my sketchbook this week and this link details the show schedule from Brooklyn to L.A. It will be in St. Louis on April 16-18, 2010. More later.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Save-A-Lot Workshop

I will be presenting to Save-A-Lot staff at their Corporate HQ, near Rams Park, later this month. It will be a presentation of sustainable remodeling info and a hands on demo of simple weatherization techniques at a lunch and learn.

I am also working with their Sustainability Team about a broader program involving their retail outlets.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cleaning the Mississippi River

St. Louis Beacon story on stormwater/wastewater treatment and the Mississippi River gives me a photo credit and re-links to the voiceover stuff I did for them in Dencember.

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Transit-Oriented Development from the Post

Transit-based development takes hold here
Sunday, Jan. 03 2010
At one level, transit-oriented development seems like a no-brainer.
Clustering condos and office space and stores, all around a MetroLink stop. Getting people out of their cars and onto the trains. Creating dense new chunks of urbanism. "Smart growth" for the 21st century.
And in a few places around MetroLink's 37 stations, that has happened. There are a few office buildings where there otherwise might not be. New homes that sell better because they're close to rail.
But by and large, for a variety of reasons, "TOD," as it's known, has been slow to catch on in St. Louis. Beyond downtown and a few key stops, the dominant feature of transit stations here is a giant parking lot. There's little new growth around them.
Now, a couple of projects on the drawing boards might start to change that.
One is at the Forest Park-DeBaliviere station, on DeBaliviere Avenue, where builder McCormack Baron Salazar wants to put up condos, retail and a garage on what is now a 100-space park-and-ride lot with a strip mall next door.
It's a spot that chief executive Richard Baron has been eyeing for eight or nine years, an "ideal place" for this sort of development, he said. But between MetroLink's expansion and then the transit agency's financial troubles, the timing was never right.
That changed last fall, when the federal government made $1.5 billion in transportation funding available as part of its economic stimulus package. Metro and McCormack Baron partnered to apply for $19 million, a good chunk of the $43.2 million it would take to build the development project.
Plans are still in the early phases, said Cady Scott, who is leading the project for McCormack Baron, and there will be community meetings to seek input. But it would probably involve about 147 condos or apartments, with retail on the ground floor and a garage to replace the 100 parking spots now on the site. The bus station and the entrance to the MetroLink platform would be improved. And, Scott said, they would hope to better integrate the station with the surrounding neighborhood.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for TOD," Scott said. "We should have something that really creates a sense of place around the station.
"Another proposal on the boards is in north St. Louis County, where DCM Development wants to put an office building and retail on 17.7 acres just south of the North Hanley station.In recent months, DCM — which also built the Meridian, an office and retail complex at the Brentwood station — has been talking with St. Louis County officials about plans and financing. North Hanley is the only MetroLink stop situated in unincorporated St. Louis County, said County Planning Director Glenn Powers. He would like to make the most of it.
It's a chance to put some density in a place that makes sense, Powers said. But it is unclear just how transit-oriented the project will wind up being. DCM did not return calls seeking comment; Powers said public hearings for the project — originally set for spring — were being delayed a bit while the developer firmed up its plans.
"Their interest in doing something a little bit different is genuine," he said. "But they have to respond to market realities. I think we're both pushing for more TOD, but whether we'll get it or not remains to be seen.
"While both projects are opportunities for transit-based building, they also highlight some of the challenges such projects face.TOD projects often take place in the middle of existing neighborhoods, so McCormack Baron must assuage nearby residents who may worry about a big clump of new buildings. It also must negotiate land rights not just with Metro, but also with owners of the neighboring strip mall. If it doesn't win federal funding, the developer may just put a smaller project on the parking lot, Scott said.
And then there's funding. There are 1,380 projects that applied for those federal stimulus grants, 21 in Missouri alone. Combined, they're seeking $56.5 billion, while the U.S. Department of Transportation has but $1.5 billion to give.
The weak economy hasn't helped.
For years, Washington University has been trying to find someone to redevelop an old auto shop it owns on Delmar Boulevard, just west of the MetroLink stop there. It's a good spot between the train station and the burgeoning East Loop, said Mary Campbell, the university's vice chancellor for real estate, and they've gotten some interesting ideas for it.
"Unfortunately, nobody's been able to pull the ideas off the shelf and get financing together to do anything," she said.
There are other challenges more unique to St. Louis.
The decision to run much of MetroLink on existing rail lines saved money in building the system, but also made many key stops tough to develop around, said Jerry Blair, director of transportation planning at the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. "That's a huge factor," he said. "Generally for TOD you're really looking for walkable spaces. Being in a rail corridor or along a highway, you're restricting your options."
The big parking lots at many MetroLink stations are a factor, too, several people said. DCM's project at North Hanley would be across a massive surface lot from the actual station — a walk of at least a quarter-mile. And a focus on commuter parking adds a burden to any new proposal, said Tom Shrout, executive director of St. Louis-based Citizens for Modern Transit. "In fast-growing cities that have classic TOD, you don't see nearly that much parking," he said. "There's a lot of discussion in some communities about maximum parking requirements, instead of minimums."
Also, unlike many transit agencies, Metro doesn't have any staff particularly focused on development around its stations. That complicates matters a bit, several TOD advocates said. Spokeswoman Dianne Williams acknowledged that, but noted that given the agency's budget shortfalls, "right now we have been much more focused on keeping transit on the street."But development is part of Metro's job, too, Williams said, and it partnered with McCormack Baron on the DeBaliviere stimulus grant. They would welcome other projects, too, she said."We know it's happening," Williams said. "And we're certainly cooperating."
There may be more opportunities for TOD down the road.
Beyond the stimulus grants, several experts expect federal funding for transit-based projects to grow in the next few years. A new transportation budget program now in the planning stages is expected to include more money for TOD, and a proposal in Congress called the Livable Communities Act would provide funding to plan these sort of projects.
Combine that with energy concerns and a desire to drive less, downsizing baby boomers and growing ranks of young people who may want to live in denser urban environments, and demand for transit-based projects is likely to grow, too, Blair said."There's a market out there for this," he said. "I don't think we've quite recognized it yet."
After all, Powers said, a place where thousands of people visit every day, and from which you can travel the region quickly and without a car, is a pretty good asset from a development perspective. Planning to use them better, he said, is a step in the right direction.

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2010 and Consulting Projects

I am looking forward to 2010 and thinking about ways to enhance this blog. I am involved in some consulting work that is yielding some quality info and research results.

On the residential side I have worked with a team to demonstrate that a LEED Platinum home with 3 bedrooms can be built for well under 200k in the St. Louis area. This has been accomplished by bidding out, in market rate conditions, an established and verified set of LEED Platinum plans.

Other work I'm doing is yielding results on the commercial side with holistic research into vct, vct alternatives and especially the maintenance and care of flooring that will have the least negative impact on IEQ/IAQ.

I will try to enhance this blog with more, on the ground, useful info from the trenches of my work in sustainability, the construction industry and the arts community.

Best of luck to all in the New Year!

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