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Michigan Community Paves Way for 'Net-Zero' Living

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Friday, May 5, 2023   

By Genevieve Fox for Great Lakes Echo.
Broadcast version by Shanteya Hudson for Michigan News Connection with support from the Solutions Journalism Network

An Ann Arbor developer wants to build one of the first 100% solar-powered, carbon-neutral and fossil fuel-free communities.

The idea is to pioneer the creation of neighborhoods that limit their contribution to climate change.

This project, called Veridian at County Farm, is proposed by THRIVE Collaborative – a real estate development, design, building, and consulting firm and Avalon Housing, a developer. Both are based in Ann Arbor.

“This is the way that neighborhoods have to be built,” said Matthew Grocoff, the co-founder of THRIVE. His motivation is to build sustainability and fight climate change where he lives, hoping other communities will do the same.

Sustainable neighborhoods like Geos Neighborhood in Arvada, Colorado are growing in the U.S. But Veridian says it’s unusual because it’s creating one of the nation’s first mixed-income sustainable communities.

Construction began early this year. People can move in by late next year. The home prices are expected to be roughly $800,000 for a family home. That compares to a similar but more traditionally built home that’s $1 million in Ann Arbor.

“We’re building a better quality home and still able to sell them at attainable price points,” Grocoff said.

The more than 80 proposed homes include 50 affordable housing rental townhomes. These properties will cost roughly $650 to $950 a month to rent, said Marcia Luke-van Dijk, director of communications and fund development at Avalon Housing.

Each home will have all-electric appliances powered by solar panels. They will be built with sustainably harvested wood, Grocoff said. The appliances and building materials will be free of toxic chemicals.

“No one should live in a home where their appliances are killing them – where carbon monoxide or other poisons are being emitted,” said Missy Stults, the sustainability and innovations director for Ann Arbor.

The neighborhood will also have its own microgrid to supply it with solar energy, Grocoff said.

If the goal is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees in 2050, we have to start now to prevent temperature rise, Grocoff said

“If you believe that it’s too hard or it’s not possible, or that projects that have done this are outliers, then it’s easy to just go with what’s easy,” he said.

“We have very big plans to build more neighborhoods into the future and work with other builders and developers so that all homes in neighborhoods are built like Veridian,” Grocoff said.

THRIVE bought the site of a former youth prison for the project from Washtenaw County. The property is next to County Farm Park on Platt Road.

Grocoff said his team convinced Ann Arbor officials that to make big steps towards a sustainable future, they needed the space.

The project is exciting, Stults said.

“This just makes sense,” Stults said. “Why in the world are we locking in old fossil fuel-based infrastructure when we could be investing in a clean and sustainable future.”

Solar energy doesn’t always make sense for every neighborhood, Stults said. If you have a neighborhood filled with big trees, you don’t want to knock them down as they provide a service to that community.

And it can be expensive, Stults said. Typically it takes 10 years before residents start to save money, Stults said.

The average cost of installing solar in Michigan is $12,000 to $20,000, according to Energy Sage, a solar energy company based in Boston, Massachusetts serving over 30 states.

But homeowners could save over $100,000 in energy costs over the span of a mortgage, or 30 years, Grocoff said.

Veridian is one of 17 projects from 11 countries around the world meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“We are on the verge of being able to eliminate concrete for our roads, which would eliminate somewhere between 650,000 to 1 million pounds of CO2,” Grocoff said.

CO2, or carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Limiting sources of carbon can be used as a marketing tool to attract buyers interested in sustainability, Grocoff said.

The development is part of the Living Community Challenge with the International Living Institute, a non-profit organization focused on supporting green projects. Grocoff hopes by being a part of this program, his project will receive a Zero Energy Certification.

But before labeling a project as zero energy certified, developers have to verify they’re following the guidelines for certification. These guidelines include that all of the building’s energy must be supplied by on-site renewables and no combustion.Once they’re improved, they can display the certification on their website or paperwork. .

Some companies once they receive the certification, they’ll stop making continuous efforts towards sustainability, Grocoff said. He adds THRIVE will always strive towards a green and healthy future.

“We will not add gas appliances now, and not ever”

The development will have a grocery store called Honey Locust Farm Stop and community gardens, Grocoff said.

He hopes Veridian will have restaurants and schools with similar commitments to sustainability.

“Sustainability is being able to provide all of the services that you need within a local area,” Grocoff said.

A sustainable future means local communities that provide their own food, water and energy.

“It’s a neighborhood that should be attainable.”

Genevieve Fox wrote this article for Great Lakes Echo.

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