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A look at Dockside Green

Apr 30, 2010

by Kate Howe, urban planner for VIA Architecture

As planners and designers of award-winning projects like South East False Creek in Vancouver, we’re always interested in innovative development approaches that lead to financially viable sustainable neighborhoods. One such project currently in development is Dockside Green in Victoria, BC.

This project is comprised of light industrial and mixed uses along the waterfront, with commercial, residential and open space tied to a walkable neighborhood. At full build-out, Dockside will have 2,500 people in three neighborhoods and 26 buildings totaling 1.3 million square feet.

What is most interesting about DockSide Green is not just its green building and urban design, but that it is financed and 100% owned by Canada’s largest Credit Union, VanCity – which donates 30% of its profits towards community development. For an America bedraggled by our Wall Street bail outs, and besotted with financial institutions who seem to be competing for most out-of-touch, this idea seems simply radical.

The project is still in its first phases, but according to the developer (Joe Van Belleghem, also the head of the Canadian Green Building Council and Windmill West development) overall costs were just ONE percent more than a traditional development. And yet, each of its 26 buildings will achieve LEED Platinum….how is this possible?

Well, when the numbers are added up, it becomes clear that sustainability makes business sense. Windmill West uses what they call a “holistic costing method” combined with integrated site and building design. The commercial and residential buildings share energy costs efficiently with a biomass gasification plant (developed by local company, Nexterra). Green stormwater infrastructure and low water use applications lessened the need to build expensive sewage treatment systems. They also save money by building less parking infrastructure. And much of the parking they have created is shared through programs such as a Smart Car Co-op. The product itself – both living and working spaces – will save buyers money over the long term through lower heating bills, not to mention the many other benefits from going LEED Platinum: better public health through walking, clean air and access to open space.

For all the amenities built into the project, buyers still needed to be educated about the long term savings from going green. According to Van Bellengham:

“What we’ve tried to train our people [to do] is to really make sure the customer knows what they’re getting. Because if you’re saving a lot of energy and water and sewage and you start to look over time how much that will save you over a 20-year period, it’s phenomenal how many dollars you’re saving. Nobody thinks of that.”

When put that way, maybe people do care about green building. As of this writing, about 95 percent of the first phase of Synergy’s residential units are sold or leased.

Why, in other locations, is it so difficult to convince corporate financial institutions that sustainability is really the only way to design?- And how do we start to build a long term green financing model?