A Platinum Setting: This 15-acre, mixed-use, harbor-front development in Victoria, B.C., will set records for sustainability at the neighborhood scale
So confident were the developers of obtaining LEED Platinum certification for Dockside Green, a mixed-use development in Victoria, British Columbia, that the company agreed to pay the city a $1 million penalty if they didn’t achieve it. So far, so good. Last July, the initial phase, called “Synergy,” consisting of four detached residential buildings totaling 93 condominiums, received LEED Platinum certification for new construction through the Canada Green Building Council with a record-setting 63 points.
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Dockside Green rests on 15 acres of former industrial land on Victoria’s inner harbor. The development includes residential, live/work, retail, office, light-industrial, public amenities, and cultural venues. Once completed, it will comprise 26 buildings, totaling 1.3 million square feet, and serve as home to 2,500 people in three neighborhoods.
A project of such ambitious scope requires a concerted effort and collaboration among various public and private entities. As owner of the land, the City of Victoria outlined a development concept articulating a dozen guiding principles for what was to be its largest redevelopment of public land to date. These then became the basis for a 2004 Request for Proposals (RFP), calling for a balanced “triple-bottom line” of social, economic, and environmental performance, and the inclusion of New Urbanist principles. In 2004 the city awarded the project to VanCity Credit Union and Windmill West, developer of green urban environments, who in turn partnered with Three Point Properties, a leading real estate developer in the region, and Vancouver-based Busby Perkins+Will Architects.
Dockside Green is developer Joseph Van Belleghem’s signature accomplishment to date, and possibly the benchmark against which all green building in Canada will be judged from now on. Belleghem, a founding member of the Canada Green Building Council, is co-chair of Windmill West and a partner in Three Point Properties. He was confident from the onset that Dockside could achieve the highest LEED rating. “There were skeptics, but I never doubted it,” says Belleghem. “Because the community was behind the project, we faced no opposition, making approvals faster and easier to obtain.” With one Platinum rating down and 22 residential and commercial structures to go, Belleghem is confident. “We used proven technologies, and we estimate that the cost is only about one percent higher [than traditional development].” He also suggests that they’ve cut costs by not having to market the project. Press coverage and regional and national support have given Dockside Green a high-profile image.
Conventional wisdom says that economics drives sustainability efforts, sometimes adversely. The triple-bottom-line theory is unconventional in that it considers economics, ecology, and social equality to have equal weight in an integrated system. After adopting this theory, the developers set out to create a holistic costing method, which would go beyond building design to include site and community infrastructure costs. For example, the strategy for stormwater management seeks to reduce infrastructure costs while simultaneously reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and heat-island effects. This, in turn, contributes to a healthier community.
The implementation of this so-called closed-loop strategy begins with the master plan. This early design phase sets the stage for total integration. For instance, Victoria, the capital of British Columbia with a population of 325,000, is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and benefits from natural beauty as well as one of the most temperate climates in Canada. Exploiting the climate and beauty of Dockside was an important consideration for the design team during the master-planning phase. The plan calls for shoreline enhancement and restoration, waterfront and pedestrian walkways, piers with small-boat launches, a large plaza with an amphitheater and stage, a playground, trails, and a greenway with water features running through the site. “We also incorporated light-industrial activities, including a boat yard, along with retail and office space, because the site has that history,” explains Jim Huffman, associate principal at Busby Perkins+Will, who was in charge of the master plan.
These public amenities support and are supported by an integrated infrastructure. The water features, for example, will include collecting rainwater, which will be treated and reused in an onsite water and sewage treatment plant, which, in turn, will be constructed under the greenway. One hundred percent of Dockside Green’s sewage will be treated onsite and reused, reducing the demand for potable water by 65 percent with dual-flush toilets, low-flow fixtures, and treated water for flushing toilets and irrigation. Developers claim this will save 70 million gallons a year.
Energy efficiency, of course, is the first goal of any project seeking LEED certification. Each of the 26 buildings that make up the Dockside Green community will be 48 to 52 percent more energy efficient than the Canadian Model National Energy Code. Energy-efficient light fixtures and occupancy sensors, and exhaust air energy (heat) recovery are some of the energy-saving measures being employed. Energy Star-rated appliances also reduce energy consumption, while carbon-footprint monitors, located in all residences, help occupants to make better informed decisions about energy use.
The mid-rise towers are constructed of concrete and steel, including 7-inch thick solid, reinforced-concrete floors. The concrete mix includes 40 percent fly ash, which replaces greenhouse-gas-intensive cement. Low-rise townhouses are made of engineered wood. Use of this material supports the economic component of the triple-bottom-line strategy, which strives to feed the local economy. Dockside Green partnered with Victoria-based Triton Logging, a manufacturer of environmentally certified wood products. Triton harvests standing forests flooded by hydro-reservoirs using its patented Sawfish technology, which combines tree-harvesting and submarine technology for its deep-water logging operations. According to the company, there are 45,000 major dam reservoirs around the world with an estimated 300 million trees, which promises a nearly unlimited resource for building products. Improved building insulation, high-performance glazing, and shading devices are typical approaches to energy efficiency and conservation, but Dockside Green plans to reach beyond mitigation to the actual production of energy.
While remaining tethered to the area’s electricity grid, Dockside Green will feature an “inside the fence” cogeneration plant, which will use biomass gasification to provide heat and hot water to all the buildings. Again, the developers tapped a local manufacturer, Vancouver-based Nexterra Energy. Gasification is an efficient method of extracting energy from almost any organic material. In the case of Dockside Green, the fuel will be locally sourced wood waste. A gasifier converts the wood residue to a clean syngas, which is burned in the oxidizer. The hot gas is then directed to a boiler, and the hot water produced in the boiler is distributed to all the buildings.
The success of a socially, economically, and environmentally holistic community is more than the sum of its LEED points. Dockside Green is a prototype of sorts. Its broad scope addresses bigger issues. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and other agencies acknowledge that while buildings are responsible for a third of the greenhouse gases, another third is generated by transporting people and goods to and from these buildings. In February 2007, the USGBC, in a joint venture with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, launched the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) pilot program. Its premise is identical to that which drives the efforts at Dockside Green and which is clearly addressed in Busby Perkins+Will’s comprehensive master plan: Environmental sustainability is best achieved by incorporating high-performance buildings into denser, mixed-use neighborhoods and by providing better transit alternatives. Dockside Green is one of the case studies in this pilot program and a role model for the future.
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