Growing Community // A New Island Community Where Sustainability Is Built In

By Nancy Goll

Bainbridge island is abuzz with prius-driving, bike commuting, composting locavores. Now a new community going up in Winslow will raise the island’s green cred even further.

The Grow Community, taking shape at Wyatt and Grow, is one of only a handful of neighborhoods in the world endorsed by One Planet Living, a framework for “enjoying a high quality of life within our fair share of the earth’s resources.” As a One Planet Living community, Grow must comply with 10 principles that include zero-carbon buildings, sustainable materials and a focus on the local economy (see sidebar).

It all began with a dream. Marja Preston, the senior director of development at Asani LLC, and architect Jonathan Davis of Davis Studio had both enjoyed living in tight-knit neighborhoods. She lived on a quiet street on the island “protected” by a German shepherd that slept in the middle of the road all day. “We knew the kids on the block would be safe running around with Tiger serving as a speed bump,” she said. Davis and his family had lived in Venice and on a boat in Marina del Rey, two California communities that embraced camaraderie.

Their shared dream was to replicate that experience for more people. “We thought about what elements of the physical environment have shaped that and how we could reproduce it here,” Preston explained. “We didn’t want to just build houses. We decided to build a community.”

The dream community would have to do more than just encourage neighborliness. The Bainbridge-based investors who own the property were looking for “something spectacular” that met Built Green 5-Star or LEED Gold requirements.

“We wanted net-zero-energy homes and we knew we wanted the houses to be in the $300,000 to $500,000 range—and one had to be less than $300,000,” Preston said. “It was incredibly hard to do that. We did not want to go cheap on materials or design. That was a huge challenge we handed the design team.”

Huge indeed: The photovoltaic cells alone for one of the single-family models cost $40,000. Throw in ductless heat pumps, heat recovery ventilation systems, energy- and water-saving appliances, and double walls with interior and exterior insulation, and a less dedicated team might be tempted to lower their standards. Instead, what buyers get are reasonably priced homes that, besides meeting One Planet’s requirements, qualify for Built Green 5-Star and far exceed Washington State energy codes. Homebuyers will receive a one-time federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of the solar panels. Because the panels are made in Bellingham, buyers also qualify for a state tax rebate (up to $5,000 per year), based on how much electricity they use.

The first owners are moving in this winter. On move-in day, the home’s electricity meter will be at zero.

Through the darker months, the home will run a power deficit offset by whatever energy it collects during sun breaks. In sunny months the photovoltaics will produce energy and the meter will run backward. “At the end of a year, the meter will be back at zero,” Davis said. He based the energy-consumption model on a family of four that uses a TV, two smartphones, computers, electric appliances and other energy eaters. He insists residents won’t have to sacrifice hot showers or wear parkas inside in order to meet the net-zero-energy goal.

Inside, the contemporary-style homes offer streamlined, light-filled rooms. Buyers can choose from three interior packages, each based on their floor preference: local fir or ash, cork, or bamboo. All models come with black PaperStone kitchen countertops (made locally in Hoquiam), stainless-steel appliances and built-in bedroom storage. The homes don’t have garages (and residents are limited to one car per household), but because many garages also house “stuff,” all homes come with an enclosed shed.

The living spaces are only a part of the Grow story. Several p-patches, a community center and bright orange shared bikes are among the planned amenities. An on-site eco-concierge will manage the community activities and encourage sustainable lifestyle programs. And then there is the car-share program, begun with a solar-powered Nissan Leaf. Residents will eventually have up to six shared vehicles to choose from, including models that can tackle snowy mountain roads.

The people who are attracted to Grow—ranging from starter families to seniors with some serious downsizing ahead—are ready to commit to a very different lifestyle. “We knew it was risky timing, with the current economy,” Preston said. “But we also knew we were onto something. People move to Bainbridge Island very intentionally. They’re very committed and concerned about how their community looks and functions.”