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‘New Urbanism’ Praised at Celebration of Village Hill Northampton Housing

November 19, 2011 : Daily Hampshire Gazette, by Dan Crowley

NORTHAMPTON – The redevelopment of the former state hospital grounds reached another milestone this month with the completion of the Morningside and Eastview housing enclaves at what is now known as Village Hill Northampton.

Despite a battered economy and downturn in the housing market, 11 single-family homes and 11 townhouse condominiums at Olander Drive and Moser Street were built and sold in a three-year span, representing the energy-efficient, new urbanism that its creators envisioned for the property years ago.

“We now have a neighborhood here,” said Acting Mayor David J. Narkewicz during a celebration Friday in Beech Tree Park nearby. “Just incredible.”

“Northampton has made a real commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency,” he said. “Not only do we have LEED homes, we have a LEED neighborhood.”

Indeed, Morningside and Eastview may be home to the first entirely LEED-certified neighborhood, according to state officials with MassDevelopment, the state agency overseeing the site’s entire overall development. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a national benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

The 11, high-end homes on Olander Street known as Morningside and 11 townhouse condominiums at Eastview on Moser Street were built by Wright Builders Inc. of Northampton, who received high praise from local and state officials for taking a risk on the project in a down economy and seeing it through. “It’s one of the more exciting projects we see when we look across the whole state,” said Nancy Howard, chief operations officer at MassDevelopment. “We’re all very excited about the future and how this is moving along.”

In a speech Friday, Jonathan Wright, founder and co-owner of the company, thanked a wide range people for the success of the project, including area design firms Kuhn Riddle Architects and the Berkshire Design Group, as well as the Center for EcoTechnology, among others.

Wright became so invested in the project that he and his wife bought one of the Morningside homes this month and invited people to tour their home Friday. “I deserve only a tiny measure of credit,” Wright said. “Most of it goes to the rest of the Wright Builders team.”

Among others who bought homes in the development are Northampton City Planner Wayne M. Feiden, whose family moved to Olander Drive earlier this year, as well as Valerie Andrews, a freelance journalist, who relocated from California with her husband.

“When I saw the photographs of this place, I absolutely fell in love with it,” Andrews said Friday. “The vision of community is really emerging as we all get to know each other.”

Orville Pierson, another writer, talked about how he and his wife, Judy, came to settle on a townhouse unit at Eastview nearby. The 11 units at Eastview are situated in three separate buildings across the street from the single-family homes on Olander Drive. The Piersons were looking to downsize from their Florence home and decoded they were driving too much. They had a long wish list for their new home: no maintenance, solar energy, a mile or less walk to downtown, new construction and a first-floor master suite. As luck would have it, Eastview had everything they were looking for on the very first day they set out to look for a new home.

“It’s extraordinary,” said Orville Pierson.

The townhouses at Eastview sold mostly in the mid-to-upper $200,000 to $400,000 range with upgrades while the 11 single-family homes at Morningside – built with craftsman, Victorian and farmhouse-style features – sold mostly in the high $500,000 range, though one sold for nearly $700,000 with upgrades in late 2008. The homes are on approximately quarter-acre lots and just a stone’s throw from the mixed-income Hillside Place and Hilltop apartment complexes earlier built by Community Builders Inc. of Springfield.

Northampton Realtor Patrick Goggins, who marketed the homes and handled the sales, said almost all the new homeowners at Morningside were already area residents or people with regional connections.

“It’s mimicking the villages of Northampton,” Goggins said of the new neighborhood. “That’s the theme. The new urbanist theme.”

As MassDevelopment describes it, new urbanism is a growing movement among planners, urban designers, architects, developers, public officials and residents working to promote neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl.

Wright Builders Inc. is not done with its imprint at Village Hill Northampton. The company recently reached an agreement with MassDevelopment to build another six single-family homes at the end of Olander Drive that will be known as the Beechwood development at Ford Crossing. The beechwood name is drawn from the towering old beech trees dotting this area of the north campus. These homes will range in size from 1,700 to 2,200-square-feet and be built in craftsman and farmhouse styles. They, too, will be LEED certified and Energy Star-rated homes with starting prices at $489,000.

Also still in the residential pipeline for the north campus is a planned bungalow complex of more than 20 homes north of the community gardens. MassDevelopment has inked a deal with the Pecoy Companies in West Springfield to build these homes, which are expected to sell in the $300,000 range. In addition, Agora Homes and Development, LLC of Skaneateles, N.Y., a company that specializes in building energy-efficient modular homes, has signed an agreement with MassDevelopment to build four moderately priced cottages on Laurel Street behind Kollmorgen’s new headquarters on the south campus.

“We’re going to see this forward to completion,” said Howard of MassDevelopment’s commitment to a full build out at Village Hill Northampton. “From our perspective, we’re just moving along. We don’t see any interruption to our progress.”

© Copyright 2011 Daily Hampshire Gazette.