The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

The Lopez Community Land Trust: Sustainable Infrastructure at the Neighborhood Level

March 23rd, 2016 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Energy, Water

Special thanks to Executive Director Sandy Bishop and Common Ground residents Chris and Chom Graecen

Copyright Mithun-JuanHernandezThe Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT) is a non-profit organization on Lopez Island, Washington whose goal is to serve residents by building a diverse, ecologically sound, and affordable community through the development of low-income housing and sustainable agriculture. Their first successful sustainable housing development, Morgantown, was approved for occupancy in 1992. Since then they have developed five additional neighborhoods– Coho, Innisfree, Common Ground, Tierra Verde, and Salish Way— the three latest of which incorporate net zero energy techniques, meaning residents can potentially produce as much renewable electricity as they consume.  During the past 26 years LCLT has also been expanding their impact and building community by providing educational opportunities for first-time homebuyers and those interested in sustainable agriculture and green architecture.

LCLT-energy-manual-cover-309x400The net-zero energy capable Common Ground housing development is one of their most ambitious undertaking yet. This neighborhood houses 11 mixed-income families and includes 2 additional studio rental units. It has received several green awards including a national award for best green housing, in part due to LCLT’s published manual Land, Water, Energy, Resource Use: A System’s Approach. The homes features straw bale construction with earthen plaster, a rainwater catchment system, solar hot water, and a grid-tied solar electric system. Most recently, the net-zero capable Tierra Verde and Salish Way developments have provided homes to 7 additional families.

Resident Chris Graecen was kind enough to share with me some of his experiences living at Common Ground. He describes how the community comes together to tackle projects as a group–

I like the vision of the … project and the work parties that we occasionally have to fix fences, spread woodchips and do coats of lime plaster on the exterior of our straw bale walls. These don’t happen that often – the place doesn’t need that much maintenance – but just enough to pull the community together.”

CIMG0421-400x300In relating his story to me, Chris described the community as a great setting to raise kids. Due to the density of the housing, children live close to their friends. Community events such as potlucks provide additional opportunities for neighbors to come together and get to know one another. Working with and making use of the sustainable technologies that the community employs is one of its many perks. And living in a community of people with diverse backgrounds and different income levels is another great benefit.

“It’s been fun to live with cutting edge home energy technologies that help make this possible: LED lights, solar water heating, heat recovery ventilator (HRV), heat pump. I like the feeling that we’re ‘in this together’. And because Common Ground was built as an affordable housing project, there is a diversity that is reflective of … the USA as a whole. As such, it’s a wonderful experiment for Americans living a “net zero capable” lifestyle. Building the project together was a wonderful bonding exercise, and built our individual and collective self-confidence.”

Many of the other LCLT communities also make use of passive solar heating, rain gardens, and rain catchment tanks. Future and ongoing projects for the Land Trust include an internship program to help educate students about sustainable practices and development of a community farm. Through community engagement, volunteer work, and ongoing participation of residents, LCLT is expanding their vision while striving toward attaining the goal of having a positive net impact on the environment.

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