Getting the green light in Allston
Developer turning 2-block area into $125m eco-friendly housing district
Brainerd Road in Allston is little distinguished from the surrounding neighborhood of mid-size apartment blocks filled with students and young professionals.
But a prominent landlord in the area is looking to turn a two-block section of Brainerd Road and nearby Commonwealth Avenue, into Boston’s first so-called Green District, a massive $125 million project where all 500 units of housing will be stacked with environmental features, from recycled materials to energy efficient appliances, to conservation measures such as water meters for individual apartments.
Goodbye free, long, hot showers.
“We were in the unusual situation where we controlled a neighborhood,” said Bruce A. Percelay, founder of The Mount Vernon Co., which is building three new environmentally certified apartment buildings and renovating three others. “We wanted to do something different, set a new standard. The green movement is here to stay.”
Some buildings will have solar panels on their roofs, another will have synthetic grass to minimize the so-called heat island effect that can make urban neighborhoods uncomfortably hot during summer months. Already located along the MBTA Green Line, the properties will also have a Hubway bicycle rental stand, electric-car charging station, and onsite Zipcars.
Tenants will be required to sign a “green declaration,” in which they promise to minimize energy consumption, recycle, and compost as often as possible and take other steps to reduce their carbon footprints — including paying for their own long, hot showers. In many of the student apartments in the area, the water bill is typically borne by the landlords, so there is no incentive for tenants to conserve water.
“The most environmentally sensitive building in the country won’t work if the tenants won’t work with it,” Percelay said. “You want tenants who understand the philosophy. Our belief is that by creating the awareness, you attract tenants who care.”
Similar green residential areas and eco-friendly mixed-use developments are popping up across the United States, including in San Diego, Dallas, and Long Island, N.Y.
The so-called Allston Green District opens its first new building, the Element, on July 1, and already 70 percent of the 100 units have been rented. A second building, called the Edge, will have 79 units and is scheduled to open in June 2013. Mostly one- and two-bedroom units, the apartments will rent for $1,700 to $2,850 monthly.
The buildings will also feature community spaces such as a roof deck or gym intended to encourage socializing among the tenants. The yoga classes that will be scheduled on the roof deck of the Element caught Kristin Corona’s attention as she decided to rent a unit there.
“I’m looking to socialize and meet new people,” said Corona, 21. “I’m really excited about what it’s going to be.”
Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association, expects the Mount Vernon apartments will be a step above surrounding buildings and hopes they will attract tenants who become more invested in the neighborhood.
“It kind of breaks the paradigm — so many developers look at Allston and build as many units as they can,” he said. “If you have apartments that are one to two bedrooms and you have to pay $2,000 a month, that doesn’t appeal to students looking to pay $400 for a bedroom. This is a whole different type of arrangement.”
The new buildings are LEED certified gold and silver, a system created by the US Green Building Council to identify and measure green building design, construction, and operations. Meanwhile, Boston recently adopted energy codes that require new residential and commercial buildings to be 20 percent more energy efficient than before.
James Hunt, Boston’s director of environment and energy, said the Allston Green District is the first of its kind in the city.
“It’s really an interesting model,” he said. “It’s looking at how you can go beyond an individual building to a neighborhood scale, a sustainable district that engages the residents who live there.”
For green building fans, it also makes good business sense to have properties as environmentally attractive as possible. Doug Firstenberg is a principal at StonebridgeCarras, one of the companies behind the mixed-use One Constitution Square project in Washington, D.C., which includes a number of LEED-certified residential buildings.
Firstenberg said as prices for materials and supplies have come down in recent years, building green residences is not much more expensive than building conventional properties, if at all. Moreover, he said new renters have come to expect such features.
“Being green is an important criteria for renters, the majority of whom are 25 to 35,” he said. “They’re much more attuned to these kind of issues.”
Gail Waterhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.