“Today, to hit the market, you have to look at the end user,” says Rick Lococo, managing partner of Seabourn Cove. “We have people waiting in lines. The velocity is fantastic. These people can all buy homes, but they want to live in high-end units. They are educated and prefer energy efficiency and are concerned about the environment.”
Built in two phases, which should be complete in early 2013, the community will offer townhomes and garden apartments ranging in size from 888 to 11,718 square feet of living space.
“We are offering units that have electric bills 40% less than the typical unit, and water bills 25% less,” says Lococo. “It is significant, which means people will stay here longer and our turnover rate will be lower. We also loaded the development full of amenities, like a ¼-mile eco-walk, which is the first for the city, that has public art and native plantings. It’s a real magnet for people.”
The question about whether home buyers and renters “really want green”—which dogged the industry in its infancy—is resoundingly answered by the popularity of this project. At this writing, with housing showing an uptick in late summer, new projects would be wise to take a page out of Lococo’s book and use sustainability as a differentiator because it is working. The good news is that with creative partnerships, it doesn’t have to be financially onerous.
Lococo and his team created their own reality. After all, building green, particularly in a project this large, isn’t a simple case of switching out some products. And the city of Boynton Beach didn’t have a comprehensive green program in place to use as a template. “Our project forced the city to come up with a green initiative,” Lococo explains. “We pushed them for two years to develop one.”
In response, the local Community Redevelopment Agency passed a program where developers could apply for a DIFA (direct incentive funding agreement). Using this program, the developer essentially gets a tax credit of about $200,000 over a ten-year period to help offset the cost of green features. Lococo estimates the company spent an additional $3 million on the green features and components necessary to make the building envelope tighter. The advantage, of course, to the city is that the land, which was abandoned and not bringing in revenue, now has a growing tax base.
While the CRA handled the funding end, the city was responsible for choosing the green program to govern the project. According to Nancy Byrne, director of development for the City of Boynton Beach, “We latched onto the National Green Building Standard as it is based on the IGCC which is the building code in Florida that builders could adhere to and follow. It also allowed us [the flexibility] to say what was important to our community.” This fall, the NAHB Research Center awarded the Gold designation to the community, based on the National Green Building Standard.
Of equal interest to Byrne and the city was the project as a whole. “We consider this a community of choice,” she says. “People will choose to live here because the developer put in charging stations, and it is ecologically designed with an art walk, water recapture on site, and amenities like that. This brings in a different stature of residential client.”
Byrne recommends putting green programs on the front burner to cities who have queried her on the project. “This community has brought an enormous amount of press to our city.” She was so impressed with the results that she implemented a small but innovative program in the city, where 1/10,000 of every penny brought in through building permit fees goes to a fund to incentivize people to use the green building program. “Through this program, I have $10,000 now, which could pay for things like additional design costs or audit fees.”
Once the big picture concept of a large-scale green neighborhood was created, the details became the focus. Building green structures is one thing, but maintaining their efficiency over the long term is another.
Because Seabourn Cove used public taxes to finance private development, the city, which has approximately 66,000 citizens, requires Seabourn to conduct an energy audit of 32 units each year to show that they have maintained their energy efficiency. “When you can show the reduction of greenhouse gases, it is a public benefit,” explains Byrne.
Seabourn Cove has implemented a program of ongoing annual energy audits that will test and assess every system in the community from light sockets to window frames to air-conditioning units and the efficiency of the building envelope. A third-party certifier oversees this testing.
Drew Smith, president of Two Trails, the third-party certifier, calls Seabourn Cove a standout for a variety of reasons. “The details are so impressive on this project, particularly the attentiveness to air tightness in the envelope and ductwork.”
The project was “smoke tested” in the pre-drywall stage to make sure there was no leakage. Two Trails also conducted a blower door test on each building and made adjustments to reduce leakage. “The developer was already doing a great job when we came in to do the testing, but the testing made it that much better,” Smith says.
Most impressive to Smith is the fact that Lococo’s team not only fulfilled the obligation of the green program and the city’s expectations, but they also continue to test the units. “I don’t see this kind of attention to getting it right even on custom residences. They are focused on the best quality they can possibly provide.”
To achieve this level of excellence, Seabourn Cove has one employee whose sole job is focusing on green and following the requirements to stay green. In all, the buildings undergo four tests, two of which are pre-drywall. “Every year, 15% of our units will get a random test to make sure they are still in compliance with the Gold standard.”
Smith is seeing more activity in the certification end of the industry. “Most definitely more buildings are being certified. Most of us are busy and it’s growing astronomically, even just over the past six months. We won’t be back to the boom, but we’re headed in that direction.”
Perhaps as important as getting a project like this built and maintaining its certification over time, is encouraging the residents to live more sustainably themselves. The developer offers a resident awareness package that includes information about energy- and water-efficient items found in each home and guidance on what types of low-VOC paint can be used for touch ups, appropriate light bulbs, and the like.
“Every single day a reporter is here with a camera to take a look at this project,” Lococo says. “Other developers look at it and call us; there is buzz throughout Florida because people are concerned about the environment and money.”
For Lococo, the next step is renewables. Originally he wanted to make this community net zero energy, but dialed back the plan because of financial constraints. He believes that the intense interest in this development is a harbinger of bigger things to come for the building industry, including the creation of a true net zero energy development on a mass scale.
To view this article as it appears in our September 2012 issue, with more information on the green amenities and additional photos, please visit our Magazine Archive.