The Cannery series
Part 1: The history and final design
Part 2: Impact on surrounding neighborhoods
Part 3: Senior housing
Part 4: Sustainability
Part 5: Cannery Farm
Part 6: Business park vs. residential
This is Part 4 of an ongoing series discussing the various aspects of The Cannery project.
The City Council will consider the final design of the residential development over several meetings in October and November, after the city’s Planning Commission reviews it over two meetings on Sept. 11 and Sept. 25. The project is not subject to Measure J/R, which requires voter approval of any proposal to convert county farmland into residential use in the city.
Davis has earned itself quite the reputation as a sustainable place to live.
The state’s Air Resources Board named Davis the “Coolest California City” during the CoolCalifornia Challenge earlier this year for “its longtime commitment to environmental sustainability.”
David Gershon, former White House and United Nations adviser, recently picked Davis to participate in the Cool City Challenge, an international competition focused on bolstering home energy-saving practices through community engagement. Gershon says the program could serve as a model to demonstrate how the rest of the world could become carbon neutral.
Meanwhile, Davis is one of only three cities across the country recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a platinum-level, bicycle-friendly community, boasting the highest mode-share in the United States at around 22 percent, or 40 times the national average.
Perhaps most notably, city leaders have set a goal for Davis to become carbon neutral itself by 2050.
The list goes on.
Naturally, any new development built in Davis will have lofty expectations attached to it in carrying forth the values the community has forged in terms of low-impact, low-carbon living.
In an attempt to match those goals, the ConAgra Foods, Inc. team aiming to build The Cannery, the 547-unit residential development planned for 100 acres of undeveloped land in North Davis — on the northeast corner of F Street and East Covell Boulevard — has developed a sustainability plan they believe not only meets the standards the city holds, but surpasses them.
Efficient building design
Where project leaders say The Cannery most stands out in terms of sustainability, is in the energy-efficient building design of the homes.
If the final design is approved by the City Council later this year, each home would feature high-performance windows, walls and roofs to reduce the transfer of hot and cold temperatures and better regulate temperature inside to save on heating and cooling energy use and costs.
Ducts would be installed in conditioned spaces, rather than in attics where systems often are sapped of energy because of extreme hot or cold temperatures. Additionally, the heating and cooling equipment also would be energy-efficient and all appliances would be energy-efficient or low-flow, among other features.
Cumulatively, with the solar panels the project team recently added to all single-family attached and detached housing, the energy efficiency of the homes, built LEED Silver certified, would exceed California’s 2008 Title 24 Energy Building code standards by 40 percent and the city’s own standards by 25 percent, according the project team and city staff.
The building performance also would sit 24 percent higher than new standards that are expected to be approved by the state on Jan. 1, 2014.
As far as greenhouse gas emissions, in 2008, the city finalized its climate action plan, setting a requirement that all new residential development projects larger than 26 units must produce less greenhouse gas emissions than averages from 1990.
According to city community development staff, The Cannery sits 48 percent lower than that level.
“Compliance with the city’s requirements would result in a slight, 6-percent reduction in annual electricity use, whereas The Cannery’s proposed energy efficiency package would result in a nearly 51-percent reduction in annual electricity use,” the project applicants wrote in their sustainability plan.
Standard net zero homes?
But even for all of the energy efficiency of the building design, some members of the community believe that ConAgra and The New Home Company, the homebuilder ConAgra has hired to design the residential component of the project, is missing a golden opportunity to push Davis towards its carbon neutrality goals.
Members of the Valley Climate Action Center, an organization in Davis that advocates for measures to reduce carbon emissions generally, have sat down with the project team on several occasions to urge them to build all the houses in the development with net zero design as a standard package.
The group says that if the homes were built with net zero as the standard, the economies of scale during production would result in more manageable costs for the developer.
“We’re at a time where any new development in Davis should set a new standard that is consistent with our climate action plan, which basically calls for net zero carbon by 2050,” said Mark Braly, a board member of the VCAC and also a member of the city’s Planning Commission, which will make a recommendation to the City Council on the project later this month.
“This is the last time, probably in a very long time, that a sizable subdivision will come in to Davis.”
George Phillips, spokesperson for ConAgra, said this week, however, that the project wouldn’t pencil if all of the homes were built net zero energy.
Instead, after sitting down with the VCAC and other members of the community, New Home has proposed adding 1.5 kW of solar power to each of the single-family detached homes to begin offsetting energy costs.
The homebuilder also recently added 1.5 kW of solar to the majority of the attached single-family homes, save the four-story stacked flats which only would have common area spaces powered by solar panels.
In all, 367 single-family detached and attached homes would feature about 575.5 kW of solar power, including 25 extra kW that would be split between the first 100 homes bought in the development.
New Home representatives could not produce how much the 1.5 kW per household would offset compared to the total energy production of a home by press time.
But by comparison, housing units in West Village, the large residential community built by UC Davis in 2011 that was designed to meet its own building energy demands with energy efficiency measures and renewable energy production, produces about 7 kW per unit, according to Gerald Braun, a former associate director of the university’s Energy Institute.
The cost of net zero
In The Cannery, for a home buyer who wants to step up the renewable energy features in a home in order to fully offset energy consumption, New Home says it’s offering extra “sustainability options” for purchase.
One package would offset a home’s entire energy use and would increase the cost of the house by about $30,000, according to numbers VCAC received from New Home.
The second option would only offset the electricity consumption, rather than the home’s entire energy use, including gas appliances, and would carry an incremental cost of the home of about $16,200.
“People, then, have the ability to say: ’You know, I’m very energy conscious and I have a small household, so I’m good with 1.5 kW,’” Phillips said. “Then another buyer may say: ‘No, we’re a busy family of four, energy and conservation is important to us, so we’re going to have 3 (kW).’ It allows the homeowner themselves to make the choice on the energy efficiency beyond the 1.5 that they might want.”
But members of the VCAC say if the packages are offered only as add-ons, home buyers likely only would pick the base design. Members also believe that if all the houses were produced together as standard net zero homes, the costs wouldn’t be as high as ConAgra and New Home say they are.
“Our position is that A, (the costs are) way too high, and B, it should be standard because people who buy homes aren’t experts on what these things will do for them, or what they’ll return in terms of savings or utility comfort,” Braly said.
Phillips and the ConAgra team say that the packages they’d offer wouldn’t force those people who don’t have the economic ability or interest in the net zero lifestyle to pay for the amenities they don’t necessarily want.
Bonnie Chiu, project manager for New Home, adds that the company will offer extensive educational materials to potential home buyers in order to ensure that they’re fully aware of all the capabilities of the homes.
“It’s a very different approach to the issue, making the decisions for people so they don’t have a choice,” Phillips said, adding, “(Our approach is) really giving the homeowner the ability to say I want a system like this to meet my lifestyle.”
More than just housing
In addition to ConAgra representatives, the city’s community development staff also wanted to stress the importance of the sustainable components of the neighborhood not related to the housing.
Mike Webb, the city’s community development and sustainability director, says that the rest of the project should be looked at as well.
“Sustainability reaches much farther than the building envelopes,” Webb said in an email to The Enterprise. “Reviewing the sustainability of the proposed neighborhood from a holistic standpoint is crucial.”
Aside from the housing, the neighborhood’s common lighting spaces along streets and bike paths would be offset by solar panels built on a community structure in the center of the development.
The neighborhood clubhouse also would be net zero electric.
Further, houses would be situated to maximize passive solar design, with homes oriented on an east-west axis “to the extent feasible.” Each home also would be wired to incorporate electric vehicle charging stations, and communal charging stations would be featured in the commercial, mixed-use space at the front of the property.
In partnership with Davis Waste Removal, the development also would be the first full neighborhood in Davis to run a green containerization program.
The applicants also say that water conservation measures will be taken including turf reduction in residential areas and parks.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash