The New Green

By Greg Pratt, YAM Magazine

Allan Lingwood lives in the Juliet, the condo on the corner of Blanshard and Johnson. What he thinks about after he flushes is the environmental aspect of the building he lives in; it’s his dual-flush toilet that’s making him think of green issues. But he’s often reminded of the environment as he goes through day-to-day life in his condo. From the low-Volatile Organic Compound paints and carpets and Energy Star appliances to the bicycle repair area, Lingwood sees first hand how developers are trying to make new condo developments in Victoria have less of an impact on the environment.

For Lingwood, a 29-year-old sales representative for a harbour marina and resort, one of the most basic ways to be green-minded was to live in a smaller space. And so his hunt for a condo began.

“We were thinking about buying a condo, and definitely the environmental footprint came into mind,” he says. “Living in just under 1,000 square feet is a lot better than living in 2,000 square feet, where you’re only going to use 1,000 square feet anyway. Let’s try to utilize as little space as possible.”

Other benefits come with buying into a new green development. “Buying a condo in a newer building, just knowing it’s up to date with the new regulations and everything else, that was definitely part of our buying decision,” he says. “We were happy with the price point relative to other condos downtown. The environmental factors are still sort of a luxury. However, if you can get them, that just adds to your happiness with your buying decision.”

Of course, sometimes the details of environmentally minded buildings get lost in all the chaos of buying a condo. And, after all, the average Joe or Jane does not construct buildings and may not know about water-efficient taps or the use of local and regional materials in the construction of the building (both features the Juliet boasts). Sometimes, it’s just the end result that matters, and, sometimes, that actually also means lower costs and nicer aesthetic appeal to residents.

“There was some big thing about the rain issues, and I think it was just to minimize the amount of window cleaning that needed to be done, which saves on the cost for us to clean the windows,” says Lingwood, “because, of course, that’s a matter of having to have someone hang off the roof and rappel down the building.”

The Condos that Chard Built

Dave Chard is sitting on the roof of the Juliet, one of Chard Development’s buildings. Inside the Juliet, the suites are bright, modern, and sleek. But Chard’s looking elsewhere right now. He points out the Corazon to the north, his first development here in town, a building that was completed in 2006. And a half-block up Johnson, his latest condo project, the 834, is being built.

Chard is a real estate developer. He’s motivated by green, yes, but all kinds of green, as the myriad environmental features of his buildings prove.

“No matter where you are, I don’t think it’s appropriate just to continue pushing out over more land,” says Chard, “whether it be farm land or forest land, we’ve got to have a smaller footprint.”

The 834 continues with Chard’s goals of developing with the environment in mind and of urban renewal downtown. In a sense, he wants to bring some love back to the downtown core.  

“I think we certainly are doing that,” he says. “I think we’ve been successful. We’ve had purchasers from Corazon buy into the Juliet, and they’re also coming and buying into our next project. When you sell units to a customer for the third time, you figure you’re doing something right. And it’s a positive initiative to go forward.”

So going forward Chard is, with the 834. The building — currently in construction — will feature environmentally friendly amenities such as a rooftop organic herb garden, a living, oxygenating green wall, and in-suite energy monitoring that lets the resident know where their electrical energy is going. It will also have a graywater heat exchange system, which will heat the building for a lower cost by using water draining from showers and other sources throughout the building. And Chard is focussing on a lower price point for this building to boot.

“One basic environmental initiative is just trying to build smaller units that are more cost-effective,” he says. “And also it allows more people to live downtown.”

Chard points out that building up instead of out is a basic way to start a project off with the environment in mind. He says that in a space the size of a condo, there are typically two residential lots where two families would live; he’s got 96 families in the Juliet.

“So which way are you going to go?” he says. “Are you going to spread out and try to utilize land or are you going to go up and try to get some efficiency? We’re trying to do the efficient thing and, from an environmental perspective, density is considered good.”

As Chard looks over Victoria, it’s obvious he loves this town, and it’s obvious he loves his condos. He also loves building in a way that minimizes impact on the environment, and he says a key way to be progressive in that arena is actually by looking back.

“I think you have to look for new ways; how can you move it forward?” he says. “A lot of it is common sense, something I think was lost in development for many years. It’s going back and just trying to be practical. Keeping it simple is quite often a good environmental initiative.”

As Green as Dockside

Not only does Victoria have environmentally friendly condos downtown, but it also has Dockside Green, known worldwide for its progressive features. A community of its own, Dockside consists of several buildings — both built and currently being built — on Tyee Road. The units are attractive, pleasant, and well planned, with the green aspects going on behind the scenes. For example, Dockside provides heat and hot water using clean energy gasification, which generates low-cost heat from local waste wood for biofuel, and is also attempting to become the first greenhouse gas-neutral community in North America. The on-site sewage treatment plant is capable of saving 70 million gallons of water a year. The buildings boast motion-sensing light switches, community rooftop gardens, features that filter and treat storm water, and a waterway that uses reclaimed water.

Joe Van Belleghem is one of Dockside Green’s developers and he’s helping to lead the charge in Victoria’s green scene. Asked if using all this technology — and implementing all this nature — is worth it to him and to the consumer, he replies, pointing at a green wall sprouting strawberries and dill, “Someone will say, ‘That costs a lot of money.’ But you know what? It costs a lot of money to put marble on the base of your building.”

Does having a building with features like Dockside’s drive up prices? It does. “There’s no question our buildings cost a little more because those things cost more money,” says Van Belleghem. “But when you look at it overall, it’s all one pot of money, so as long as you’re making a good return on your investment, then it’s the smart thing to do.”

He adds that they have saved money by not having to fight to get the right to build like lots of developers have to and by not having to advertise as much because of all the press the building has received. “We take those savings and put them into a better building.”

The interior of the Juliet is “cosy” but well-utilized, smaller spaces are more environmentally friendly.
And better to Van Belleghem is greener. He wants to make buildings that bring people back to nature. “The world is urbanizing at a very rapid pace and our children are really losing their connection to nature,” he says. “So what we wanted to do, as developers, was really bring ecology back to an urban centre. It reconnects people with nature. That’s one of the strongest things we’re seeing here — people really love the feel of this place, versus having a condo where you maybe get a little piece of lawn you never use.”

Dockside has many other features big and small: on-site solar waste compactors, a car-share program, and fresh-air systems, and tenants even get six months worth of eco-friendly cleaning supplies. It is clearly one development that is minimizing impact while remaining architecturally impressive.

“I’d rather put money into a better product that sells faster than spending it fighting the community or not doing the right thing,” says Van Belleghem.

The Greenest Solution Real estate developers who are building with green initiatives in mind are meeting the growing demand of a market that wants to feel good, or at least better, about environmental impact.

Charles Campbell, communications director of the Dogwood Initiative, a land-reform organization, says, “I think there’s a lot of potential here and it’s very encouraging that developers are responding to peoples’ desire to live in structures that have a lower overall environmental footprint,” he says. “However, we need to make sure that green developments aren’t just for the green-trendy rich. We need government to move quickly to mandate more elements of green design into building codes and to up incentives to retrofit our existing buildings so that the whole range of existing and future development becomes lower footprint.”

Back in the Juliet, environmental issues all come back to the toilet for Allan Lingwood.

“The water’s a big thing,” he says. “The toilets that they have here, they’re such a great little invention. You just figure, ‘Why isn’t this everywhere?’”

Give it time, and it just might be.