There grows the neighborhood
By HENRI GENDREAU
Bainbridge Island Review Staff Writer
August 24, 2012 · Updated 9:02 AM
Something is growing in Winslow.
Grow Community — one of a few green communities in the United States — is sprouting at the corner of Wyatt Way and Grow Avenue.
So far, three homes are open to the public as models of the additional single-family dwellings to come in what will be a 131-residential unit complex when complete.
Grow Community is the first residential community in the country endorsed by One Planet Living, a model outlined by BioRegional to make “sustainable living easy and affordable for all,” according to its website.
The idea is to create a way of life where resources from one planet are enough for the world — rather than the estimated five planets necessary, if every person on the planet used resources as Americans do.
Leading the development team at Asani, the Bainbridge development company spearheading the project, is Marja Preston, senior director of development for Grow Community.
She said the goal of the development is to create “an intentional urban community that enhances the quality of life of its residents by making sustainable lifestyle choices both accessible and cost-effective.”
One of the main aspects of the development is net-zero energy homes, meaning that the solar panels covering the roofs will provide all the energy needs of the houses.
And it’s hard to envision a community more committed to reducing the planet’s carbon footprint: Solar panels made in Washington state provide all of the power in the complex, including charging the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car, which residents will be able to share. Although only one is in use, developers are planning on getting five more.
Bikes are also part of the sharing program for easy transportation, and developers pointed out that residents wouldn’t have to go far for basic needs.
“One of the main ideas here is to create a five-minute lifestyle,” said Sam Rexford, head of social outreach for the Grow Community, meaning that those living there would only have about a five-minute walk to shops, groceries and the ferry.
Although now in its initial phase, the 8-acre development site will eventually include 50 single-family homes or duplexes and 81 apartments and townhouses.
Construction is expected to begin in the fall for the first 3-acre phases that will include 25 buildings. Developers estimate that this first phase will take about one year, with the entire project completed anywhere from three to five years.
Local architect Jonathan Davis of Davis Studio Architecture + Design said the time frame was tentative, depending on the interest of the community.
“We will build it as the need is there,” Davis said.
The development also boasts local sustainable materials; buyers can opt for fir flooring from the San Juan Islands, and several of the model homes include wood from a Seattle company, with many materials from within a 100-mile radius.
The development will include community gardens, ensconced by eight homes to make up a “micro-neighborhood.” Residents will grow their own food and developers are thinking that excess produce will be donated to Helpline House.
Davis said that the garden will allow for a greater sense of connection.
“To have this opportunity for interaction, you create community,” Davis said.
This effort will be enhanced by the construction of a community center, which will serve as a community meeting place.
“We want a place where people gather when there’s a time of need,” Davis said.
Davis explained that the Grow Community will be perfect for families, retirees and people from all walks of life.
“We want it to be very inclusive,” he said. “Our goal was to have a range of people here.”
On par with this thinking, Grow Community developers are striving to make the homes affordable.
“Everything were trying to do here is to keep the base price down,” Preston said.
One of the lowest homes available is estimated to be around $259,000, compared with the median home value on Bainbridge of $539,000, according to a 2012 market update.
The least expensive units, the studio apartments, are expected to be priced between $750 to $900 a month.
The cost of living is also significantly reduced by the cost of the utilities. Because residents have the option of getting electricity from solar energy, utility bills are estimated at about $700 a year.
Like any development, the Grow Community has warranted some scrutiny, specifically from the historical community.
Some have objected to the demolition of several historical buildings, including the 1910 Pratt house, remodeled in 1950, and possibly built by William Grow, on the corner of Wyatt and Grow, according to a report on the historical significance of the property by Jon and Toby Quitslund.
David Williams, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, noted that the commission was “disappointed that the early 20th century Pratt House was demolished to make way for the Grow development.”
However, Preston said that developers were working to salvage key components of the building to reuse in the construction of the community center.
While Williams said the commission would “look forward to the result of that effort,” he was also concerned by the plans to remove the 16 houses built in 1957 for military families on what is now John Adams Lane. It is hoped that at least one will be preserved.
There remain members of the historical community who respect the development for its forward-thinking vision.
“If it hadn’t been an issue that they have been taking out a piece of history, I would say that it’s worthwhile,” said Rick Chandler, curator at the Bainbridge Island Historical Society Museum.
He admired the movement toward energy efficiency, however.
“As a builder, I appreciate the direction they’re going,” he said.
Davis, Preston and Rexford said that the community response was overall very positive and the number of people who have made offers on the homes surprised them.
Of the 19 homes to be constructed in the first 3-acre phase, 10 reservations have been made. They have also given tours to 750 visitors in the first two weeks.
Despite the interest and publicity, Davis cautioned that there was still a ways to go to make the vision a reality.
“Until we actually bring people in here it won’t be Grow Community.”
“Here is a potential,” he added. “A potential for an amazing community.”
Rexford also emphasized that the people living there, who will include both Davis and Preston, were integral in making the Grow Community a success.
“It’s important to note it’s not just sustainable homes,” Rexford said. “It’s about the community.”
Tours of the three homes are available daily in the afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment. The Grow Community is located at 440 Grow Ave. NW.
For more information, visit www.growbainbridge.com or call 206-452-6755.