A New Neighborhood Approach: Meeting Fort Collins’ Affordable Housing Gap


headshot

Bruce Hendee, RLA

IBE Advisory Board Member


Affordable housing became an issue in Fort Collins shortly after the end of the Great Recession. At that time, a perfect storm of conditions led to a dramatic decrease in the availability of affordable housing that has continued to this day.

In 2014, Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity’s Board of Directors and Executive Director, Kristin Candella, recognized the need to address this shortage of affordable housing stock. In response, the Board set an aggressive goal to build 50 new affordable homes by the year 2020, more than doubling the homes built by Habitat over the last twenty years—an especially challenging task given that all are built with volunteers. The goal required a new neighborhood approach that would yield more homes in less space to keep individual costs down.

harmony-1

Harmony Cottages perspective.

The Perfect Storm for an Affordable Housing Crisis

As the lingering effects of the Great Recession began to wear off, there were few new housing units on the market. New housing starts had slowed due to the shortage of credit available from lenders in response to tightening legislation from the Federal Reserve. Developers were reluctant to invest in new projects because of the weakened economy and the Construction Defects Law, a new state law that made it easier for builders to be sued in building new condominiums. Construction of new condos came to a halt, putting further pricing pressure on entry-level housing.

At the same time that housing starts were at a dramatic low, Fort Collins was recognized as one of the best places to live and raise a family in America. The city and the Front Range became one of the favored locations to move. Simultaneously, Colorado State University was anticipating significant growth in student enrollment and had over $1 billion in new construction planned over a 10-year period, while Fort Collins-based corporations (such as Woodward and Otterbox) were building major new manufacturing and corporate facilities.

The resulting storm of immigration, lack of housing under construction, and a newly emerging, booming marketplace for jobs created a vacuum in available housing. The shortage caused housing prices to rise and affordability to become an issue.

Cottages and New Urbanism: Maximizing Space & Minimizing Cost

To realize the vision for 50 new affordable homes, Habitat for Humanity decided on a site located at Harmony and Taft Hill Road. But the original land plan contained only 30 lots whereas close to 50 were required to meet the goal. Additionally, the cost of lots would be too high spread over only 30 lots. With a targeted objective of attracting residents making an income in the 35-60% range of area median income, Habitat had to keep site and home costs down in spite of a rapidly escalating residential market.

harmony-2

Harmony Cottages site plan. Image courtesy of Ripley Design, Inc.

To meet this challenge, Habitat teamed up with a local social impact developer and retained a design team that included two IBE Advisory Board members, Bruce Hendee, ASLA, and Greg Fisher, AIA. The team also included local landscape architecture firm Ripley Design, which has significant neighborhood design experience.

The team was given the charge to develop a denser site plan that added more lots while creating a great community. Design began with an intensive charrette and used a blend of New Urbanism and Pocket Neighborhood concepts, which originated from early neighborhood designs begun by Ebeneezer Howard and Frederick Law Olmsted during the Garden City Movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s. This concept evolved around small garden commons surrounded by cottage-style homes. To increase density, Fisher developed a duplex home style with gabled roof lines that made the duplexes appear as though they were two single-family homes. The community court concept, paired with the unique duplex style, enabled the project to expand from 30 to 48 units, a nearly 60% increase in density. An added benefit was the preservation of 40% open space.

A Collaborative Model for Affordable Energy

A key project requirement was to create highly efficient, low-cost homes. For families earning a low to moderate income, paying for heat often falls to the wayside in the interest of other, more critical needs. Therefore, a design that would keep residents comfortable at a very low energy cost was key.

In consultation with the City of Fort Collins Utilities’ Integrated Design Assistance Program (IDAP), Fisher designed homes with an exceptional building envelope and highly efficient electrical systems. IDAP enabled the team to conduct energy modeling of envelopes to further improve performance. The design process is still underway but has already yielded benefits, including analyzing the impact of the insulation. Spurred by a meeting that IBE facilitated early in the design phase, all insulation was donated by Johns Manville, helping bring down costs.

All homes were designed to accommodate three-kilowatt solar panels without charging residents more for their homes or more in energy costs. Fisher ensured the homes were positioned to ensure maximized rooftop orientation of solar panels. The solar provider, Namaste Solar, has generously offered to donate $1,200 of the cost of every solar panel for the first phase. Kyocera, the solar panel manufacturer, is considering providing reduced-cost solar panels. And, the City of Fort Collins is considering matching financing up to $25,000 toward a solar installation for the first phase through an income-qualified solar program.

The total cost of solar per dwelling unit is approximately $12,000. With initial donations of approximately $5,000, the remaining balance is $7,000 per unit. Two approaches are being considered to cover this balance: a Habitat fundraiser and social impact investment. Through the latter, philanthropic investors would purchase the solar panels and be repaid through a 30% solar tax credit combined with capturing the net difference in energy costs through net metering. Once repaid, the money could contribute toward new social impact investments.

A Youth-Designed Playground

A unique detail of the neighborhood plan is a playground designed in large part by Kinard Middle School students. With the landscape architects and school staff, students researched playground design for children with various disabilities and met at a local neighborhood park to draft designs atop sidewalks and picnic tables. The fresh perspectives they generated greatly enhanced the community design.


The Harmony Cottages project site is now under construction with plans to build six to eight homes per year, based on availability of donations and volunteer labor. With home construction beginning in 2017, estimated buildout is 2023-2025.

To learn more, visit the Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity’s website.


About Bruce

Bruce Hendee is the former Chief Sustainability Officer and an Assistant City Manager with the City of Fort Collins. Bruce is also founder and former owner of BHA Design, a landscape architecture and planning firm located in Fort Collins.

He has organized and directed various efforts in the Fort Collins area, including development of a new division within the City called Sustainability Services. While at the City, he led an effort to create a new Climate Action Plan, a new Economic Health Strategic Plan, and development of a Social Sustainability Department. In 2012, the division was recognized with the Robert Havlick Award awarded by the International City/County Managers Association) as one of the most innovative new city management systems.

As the CEO of BHA Design in Fort Collins, he led the firm in numerous projects along the Front Range including master planning and design for University of Colorado Health, PVH, Harmony Campus, and Medical Center of the Rockies. Other notable projects included the master plan for the Downtown River District, Fossil Creek Park, Spring Canyon Park, and projects with the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.


IBE Facilitates Colorado’s First Outdoor Green Wall

andy

Andy Madrick
Sustainability Associate, Landscape Architecture


In 2014, the City of Fort Collins launched the “Nature in the City” initiative to ensure every citizen has access to nature close to where we live and work. The focus of the initiative is on how our built environment can better contribute to our sense of nature within Fort Collins. One of the deliverables that IBE has been supporting is the development of a set of design guidelines aimed at implementation of design features that enhance ecological function and access to nature within the built environment.

However, many of these approaches have not been proven in our regional climate. One of these design features are ‘living’ or green walls.Living Wall

Partnering to Build Colorado’s First Outdoor Green Wall

IBE lead the administration, design, and installation of the first perennial, outdoor green wall in the State of Colorado in collaboration with: Perspective Design, the Urban Lab, CSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and The City of Fort Collins Planning, Parks, Operation Services, Stormwater, and Natural Areas departments.

Why a Green Wall?

Green walls improve both indoor and outdoor air quality, provide the building insulation from heat and cold while protecting the wall from water and sunlight.  They help lower summer temperatures in cities by reducing heat gain on hard surfaces, known as the urban heat island effect. Green walls add vegetation to the urban environment and provide habitat for urban animal species.

Green walls are also great for people. Studies have shown that viewing and interacting with greenery reduces stress and mental fatigue, while improving feelings of neighborhood safety and overall well being.

The Fort Collins Green Wall project will serve as a high profile case study on the feasibility and creation of green walls in arid climates. The wall has been designed to showcase plants work best in a vertical setting and how urban habitats can be enhanced through green walls.  The project will continue to monitor success, evaluating the resilience of the plants, the efficiency of watering, and if energy savings are seen in the adjoining building structure.

 

Learn more:

American Society of Landscape Architects, Green Infrastructure

City of Fort Collins Nature in the City Initiative

The Urban Lab 

 

Biophilia and Placemaking: Influencing Design Decisions

Sustainable Building Associate
What role does nature and our inherent need for natural connections or biophilia play in placemaking?  To understand the relationship between placemaking and sense of place and biophilia, we must first understand biophilia, biophilic design, and placemaking.
According to E. O. Wilson (1984), biophilia is defined as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life; the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.  Wilson and Kellert (1993) take this definition one step further, and define it as “the inherent human inclination to affiliate with natural systems and processes, especially life and life-like features of the non-human environment”.   So if biophilia is the connections we seek with the rest of life, it would make sense that biophilic design would be the “deliberate attempt to translate an understanding of the inherent human affinity to affiliate with natural systems and processes (known as biophilia) into the design of the built environment” (Kellert, 2008).
Placemaking or sense of place as it is sometimes called is thought to be “an overarching idea and a hands-on tool for improving a neighborhood, city or region” (What is Placemaking, 2015) that is “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces” that “capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, ultimately creating good public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing” (Placemaking, 2015).
How might we use biophilic design to promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being?  According to the text Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life (Kellert, 2008), there is an element of biophilic design that specifically addresses place and place-based relationships.  This element and the corresponding attributes can be used to connect the built environment to the area in which it is located.  Kellert (2008) defines place-based relationships as “the successful marriage of culture with ecology in a geographical context”.  Through biophilic design you can create place-based relationships through a historical, cultural, geographical, and/or ecological connection to place.  You can also use the landscape and materials of the location to create place through the use of indigenous materials, use of the landscape in defining the building form, and creating wildlife corridors and promoting biodiversity.
While the Biophilic Design text gives wonderful descriptions of these elements and attributes of biophilic design, it was still somewhat theoretical and conceptual to me as a designer and educator, so I sought out images of that I thought exemplified some of these attributes.
 

Cultural and Historic Connection to Place:

Mesa Verde Visitors Center, Mesa Verde National Park, CO   Design by: Landmark Design and ajc architects

 Indigenous Materials:

Myrick Hixon EcoPark, La Crosse, WI  Design and Photo by: Whole Trees Architecture & Structures
 

Ecological Connection to Place:

Nest Home, Onomichi, Japan  Design by: UID Architects   Photo by: Hiroshi Ueda
References:
Kellert, Stephen R., and Edward O. Wilson. The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, D.C.: Island, 1993.
Kellert, Stephen R., Judith Heerwagen, and Martin Mador. Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008.
Placemaking. (n.d.). In  Wikipedia. Retrieved February 27, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placemaking
What Is Placemaking? (n.d.). In Project for Public Spaces. Retrieved February 27, 2015, from http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/
Wilson, Edward O. Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984.

Using Biomimicry in Sustainable Design

By: Cassandra Kliewer
Sustainable Associate

Nature is the best learning tool. After generations and generations of improvement, nature has perfected itself to work best with its environment. Taking a closer look at an organism and the way it operates can inspire design. Janine Benyus, a biologist in the biomimicry world spoke about the innovative technologies inspired by nature: “learning about the natural world is one thing, learning from the natural world, that’s the switch.”

Biomimicry is designing technologies based upon natures’ sustainable strategies. When biomimicry is applied to design, efficiencies in energy, materials, and space are conserved. The people inventing these efficient designs range from professionals in the field, to students aiming to improve technology. In an effort to engage youth in the biomimicry community, Biomimicry 3.8 has created a competition for the best design inspired by nature.

Youth around the world have entered the challenge to design efficient technologies. The concepts in the challenge were inspired by their region-specific issues and applied natures’ efficiencies to create new technologies. Students from McGill University of Montreal, Canada addressed the problems related to cargo ships transporting organisms by inventing an air ballast system. Since cargo ships transport a lot of weight ballasting water was created to help a cargo boat stay afloat. Water is added when there is no cargo, and when there is cargo the water is released. The transfer of water to different bodies of water introduces non-region specific species. If the species is introduced to a region where it would thrive, it would become invasive and thus disrupt the ecosystem. The team from McGill proposed to replace the water with air. Filling the ballast tanks with air when the ship has cargo, and emptying the tanks when the ship is empty will replace the need for water. This design was inspired by the cuttlefishes’ ability to control buoyancy. Another team in Yucatan, Mexico designed a stable form of transportation. The alternative before this design was working tricycles which were unstable and inefficient. After study snakes movements, the team designed a quadricycle that operates via hand steering movements. At the Institute for the Built Environment (IBE) we strive to create efficiencies in construction to preserve the beauty of this planet. By using the U.S. Green Building Council rating system, IBE applies biomimicry technologies to construction projects. With construction comes options for implementation of new technologies. Everywhere you look in nature you can see efficiencies that have been improved over generations and generations. Some of the greatest inventions have been inspired by nature.