Green-Built Community Turning the Tide in Atlanta
In at least one Atlanta community, fire officials have acquiesced to the growing popularity of narrowing local streets so that pedestrians don’t have to worry about cars tearing through their neighborhood, Pam Sessions, president of Hedgewood Properties in Atlanta, told NAHB’s Green Building Conference, which was held in that city last week.
Streets in Vickery, Hedgewood’s 214-acre master planned community in Forsyth County north of the city, are only 9-1/2 feet wide leading up to the houses themselves and 19 feet wide for two-way traffic.
Fire chiefs have argued for years and years in favor of needlessly wide streets to accommodate fire engines, but Sessions said that her development’s system of alternate roads and mountable curbs ensures that emergency vehicles aren’t hindered. Officials may not be overjoyed by narrow streets, she said, but they are starting to accept them because they are clearly something that the home-buying public favors.
Following in the footsteps of traditional town planner Andres Duany, Vickery has put the emphasis on creating a sense of place, said Sessions, in a mixed-use community that follows the rules of classical architecture, showcases authentic materials and quality craftsmanship and achieves harmony with the natural environment.
More than a third of Vickery is being set aside as green space or parks, Sessions said, and tree preservation is an integral part of the community’s design. Retaining walls have been used to save some trees on individual lots and the home builder conducts a tree rescue operation that allows trees to be transplanted. Aside from opportunities to develop parks and interconnected walkways, trees impart “a more established look for the neighborhood,” she said, although, regrettably, “some jurisdictions don’t allow trees to be put on the streets.”
While smaller lots are one of the trade-offs for living in communities like Vickery, privacy is not something people are willing to give up. Vickery residents have private gardens and outside rooms, and the landscaping minimizes sod and uses native plants to reduce maintenance and conserve water.
Water conservation, along with traffic woes, is one of the top concerns shaping Atlanta’s future, Sessions said. The city is relying upon the Chattahoochee River for 98% of its water supply and is already consuming water at an unsustainable rate.
To reduce its contribution to the local landfill, Hedgewood grinds organic and construction waste on site, Sessions said, and the materials are used for erosion control and mulch. The cost is neutral and tipping fees aren’t high enough in the area to produce any savings.
Since discovering the benefits of integrated design and whole system thinking in home building, Sessions says that her company builds nothing but green homes. “I couldn’t see asking our home buyers, ‘do you want a better home or not,’” so top-quality is all that is being offered.
Hedgewood is a leading participant in EarthCraft House, a voluntary, environmentally friendly building program of the Greater Altanta Home Builders Association that was created with the Southface Energy Institute. As part of receiving that certification, Sessions said that blower door pressure and duct leak tests are performed on every home she builds, providing her buyers with an additional measure of quality assurance.
Like other green building proponents, Sessions builds tight homes with correct ventilation systems and pursues other techniques as well to ensure that living in them is more energy-efficient, healthier and more comfortable. Contributing to marketing efforts was one resident who contacted the builder to report that moving into a new green-built home had resulted in a dramatic improvement in the health of her young asthmatic daughter.
“The market really is leading to sustainable practices if you track the trends of where people are going,” said Sessions, but initial efforts to get the zoning to build Vickery were “very challenging,” taking nine months, a relatively lengthy period for the Atlanta area.
“We met with group after group” in order to overcome public opposition to Vickery, she said. Sessions asked the community to allow her to build just one home to show what was being planned and that opportunity has opened up new opportunities everywhere.
Apparently, those initial efforts were fairly convincing. A staunch Vickery opponent “just bought a house in the neighborhood,” she said.