William McDonough Partners with Greenbridge Developments

By Kelly Sheehan, Online News Editor

MAY 01, 2007 -- Chapel Hill, N.C.--Greenbridge Developments LLC, a new company formed in January 2006 by six families from Chapel Hill with strong connections to the area and green practices, is building Greenbridge, an environmentally friendly mixed-use development in Chapel Hill, N.C. The 104,000-sq.-ft. project will include 99 condominiums, 15 of which are being designated as affordable housing; 45,000 square feet of retail space; 15,000 square feet of offices, and a 216-space underground parking facility. The community's development and design team hopes that Greenbridge will be the state's first mixed-use complex to achieve a gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

The multi-million-dollar project is being designed by Charlottesville, Va.-based William McDonough + Partners, design architect of the project, and Chapel Hill-based GGA Architects Associates, architect of record. Located downtown on West Rosemary Street, it is scheduled to break ground in late summer, and should be completed by July 2009, according to Mark Vevle of Greenbridge Developments. The project's financing provider has not yet been announced.

Upon completion, the complex will feature the town's tallest structure, a 10-story building, connected to an additional seven-story building at the base by an entry plaza and elevated courtyard garden. The town has changed its building codes in order to make way for the 135-ft.-tall building. But what sets Greenbridge apart from other residential communities in the area is not its height, but rather its "balance between ecological, economical and social needs," says Jose Atienza, senior designer with William McDonough + Partners.

"The developers had a very strong vision and aspirations for the project," Atienza adds. "They were also inspired by our book, ‘Cradle to Cradle.' " According to Atienza, the book, written by William McDonough and his colleague, German chemist Michael Braungart, outlines the mantra, "Waste Equals Food." This concept ensures that new products aredesigned from the outset to provide nourishment for something new, after their useful lives are over. They can be thought of as "biological nutrients" that will easily reenter the earth's water or soil without depositing synthetic materials and toxins, or they can be "technical nutrients" that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials within closed-loop cycles, rather than recycled into materials and uses that are low-grade.

Greenbridge will include a host of green features, including solar paneling; green roofs with rainwater basin and cooling systems; and indoor/outdoor air exchange systems to bring fresh air into the building. Safe and environmentally friendly building materials--biological nutrients--will be used during construction, such as reclaimed and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood, low-VOC paints, and natural metals and masonry. The development and design team hopes that the site's downtown location will increase the likelihood that residents will spend less time in the car and more time on foot. In addition, the community--situated on less than two acres to conserve land use--will be positioned in a way that maximizes natural light usage, saving energy and money. To further this initiative, units will feature high windows and ceilings. Condos, designed by Sitzer Spuria, a Chapel Hill-based interior designer, will also include low-E windows, low-flow toilets, energy-efficient lighting, HVAC systems and Energy Star appliances. Some residences will be equipped with green terraces.

Studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units will range from 700 to 1,000 square feet and from $350,000 to $1 million. The project's affordable housing units, priced from $100,000, will be reserved for residents making between $30,000 and $50,000 per year. This is representative of the development and design team's desire to embrace diversity--in this case, social and economic.

Residents will have access to a fitness center; events center, media center, entertainment lounge with bar and service kitchen, and a fleet of Zipcars, environmentally friendly vehicles shared among the homebuyers that will hopefully reduce how often people choose to drive by up to 50 percent. The complex will also feature a sustainability center that highlights the community's green features, records its energy performance, monitors air quality, and features historical artifacts and a documentary of the site's history. "The site was once a vibrant community for African Americans," Atienza says. "The center is open to all residents and the Chapel Hill community."

The complex's retail space will feature a spa, restaurant, market, women's clothing store, art gallery and green home design center. Community services include 24-hour security, concierge and dry cleaning drop off.

William McDonough + Partners has tackled several other green mixed-use projects of this magnitude in the U.S. "The firm has been active in Charlottesville for the past 12 years, but various incarnations of it have been operating around the country for about 30 years," Atienza says. "Sustainable design is a focal point in everything we do. But it's not just about being sustainable and maintaining the status quo. It's about the act of sustaining, and maintaining thought and improvements--finding better means for products, buildings and other spaces."