Green Building Contest in Devens

August 24, 2009 : The Lowell Sun, by Hiroko Sato

Robert Culver, CEO of MassDevelopment, once said he had just one problem with so-called eco-friendly homes: No developer had been able to show him concrete data proving that green homes can be built as economically as they claim.

That may soon change.

MassDevelopment, a quasi-state economic development agency, is holding a Model Green Housing Competition, requiring developers to pitch strategies to create sustainable homes that can be sold for “moderate prices” of $225,000 to $330,000. One or two top contenders will get exclusive rights to develop two pieces of land the agency owns in Devens.

The catch is that all eight single-family homes and up to 12 multifamily units to be constructed must be “zero net energy” or “near-zero net energy,” meaning they generate most, if not all, of the power one needs to live in the house. The agency will track energy consumption after the homes are occupied to see just how green homes stand up against their conventional counterparts and publish the results.

The competition started in April, when MassDevelopment issued a request for qualification, asking each applicant to form a team that includes various expertise, such as engineering and finance. Nine teams applied and the agency whittled the pool to four last week. Those teams are ready to draft detailed development plans for the final throwdown.

Multifamily dwellings will be constructed on a 26,000-square-foot section of a 1.2-acre parcel on Bates Street while single-family homes will be located on a 3.42-acre parcel on Adams Circle. The agency won’t choose a winner until January and what the four teams propose to do remains a mystery, for now. But they all have extensive experience in creating sustainable homes.

Transformations Inc. of Townsend, for example, is developer of Coppersmith Way, a 41-unit green “affordable housing” subdivision in that community. For $195,200, one of the zero net-energy homes offers three bedrooms and 30 photovoltaic panels designed to sell any power left unused to the electric company. From 18-inch-thick super-insulation to bioswales that minimize water runoff, the subdivision is filled with eco-friendly features.

Another finalist, Metric Construction Corp. of Boston, is constructing a new YMCA building in Martha’s Vineyard. It will feature a green roof and a peaked roof made of special shingles that is strategically placed to reflect the sunlight where it’s most concentrated. Metric’s team members include Steven Winter Associates, which helped make Children’s Museum Boston more green, installing a gray-water system to recycle rainwater for flushing toilets.

Other finalists, Evergreen Collaborative and Ajax Development Partners of Lexington, as well as the Lane Cos. and Icon Architecture of Boston, couldn’t be reached for comment. But their portfolios, found online, are impressive, too.

MassDevelopment spokesman Richard Henderson said the agency hopes developers will look at the project as a model and understand that, if they built homes this way, they can sell the units and will be successful. And, I’m sure they are ready to take up MassDevelopment’s “show me the money” challenge.

© Copyright 2009 The Lowell Sun.