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Forget the Country Club. Give us an organic farm instead.

The Canyons

Organic farm central to new residential community

By Molly Miller


Forget the Country Club. Give us an organic farm instead.

Hoping to reach out to home buyers seeking a green lifestyle, Denver developer Lee Alpert & Co' s new 3,500-acre development near Castle Pines, CO, will come complete with an organic farm and focus on community based principles including "integrated sustainability, rural character and the preservation of open spaces," the developer says.


With up to 2,500 residences, each oriented to take best advantage of passive solar, the development has a number of sustainability goals, but the organic farm is the biggest draw and most unique feature. "The idea is to create an agricultural development that has enough area to grow enough food for all the residents," says RMI's Cara Carmichael, who, along with RMI's Elaine Adams and other members of RMI's Built Environment Team, is providing sustainability guidance to the developer.


RMI is looking at the farm buildings' net energy use, first exploring passive design measures to significantly reduce energy use and then looking at onsite renewables. RMI is also making recommendations on the Master Plan for the development and helping to create design guidelines for the builders, weighing in on water, energy and transportation issues too. "RMI is also asking, 'Can we design these houses to be passive enough not to require natural gas?' This would save significant infrastructure costs,", Carmichael says.


The houses will all be oriented to take advantage of passive solar. The design is based on a Japanese model that can be flipped according to the solar orientation you want.  "Jeff Berkus [the project architect] is so creative. He is really encouraging a contemporary, contextual, regional design, rather than the cookie cutter design," says Adams. (RMI also worked with Jeff Berkus Architect on the Aspen Institute. .)


The development will have nodes of commercial spaces sprinkled throughout. Like the farm, the village marketplace will be a community gathering spot.  The marketplace will be a commercial center, with a mix of shops, restaurants, cafés, services, galleries, studios and urban-style loft and condominium residences — and possibly a boutique hotel and offices, all oriented around a main public square.


The nodes of density serve to protect open space and wildlife corridors.   "The development is equally energy efficient and ecologically sensitive," explains Adams.

The idea is to make each of these nodes walkable…the developer plans about 37 miles of walkable and bikeable trails throughout The Canyons. Current plans include an alternative transportation hub on site and the development is exploring a shuttle system to connect to nearby light rail.  


In addition to significantly reducing the water use per house, the development also wants to be a pilot for a rainwater catchment project and is working on plans to use non-potable water for irrigation.   On average homes in the Douglas County area use approximately 245 gallons per day per home, but RMI estimates residents may be able to reduce their water usage enough to result in downsizing of sewage piping and water supply piping. "If we are able to prove in pilot that the development will use less water we may be able to restructure how water taps are calculated by as much as a third. Multiply that by 2500 units and that really adds up," says Adams.


The residential portion of The Canyons should be complete over the next 10-15 years. The Farm, including farm restaurant and farm stand, should be up and running in a couple of years. A professional farmer will tend the farm, but residents can be involved through volunteer opportunities and formal internships for people who want to learn organic farming. Residents will be able take classes to learn canning, and other farm and food related skills. The Home Owners Association (HOA) will be a conduit for education on sustainability, provide bulk pricing on energy efficient products for members, and possibly even offer group health insurance.  


"They're looking at redefining the models in every way…the HOA model, the development model, the community model," Adams says of Lee Alpert's approach.


"The developer is super enthusiastic and set such aggressive goals from the onset that it makes this project pretty stellar. It rises above most other 'green' residential development efforts. And the reason is, leadership on their team has been really strong," says Carmichael.


For more information about the Canyons, see The Canyons website

Tagged in: Organic Farming



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