Friday, August 27, 2010

‘Green Village' Project Begins at Former Public Housing Complex

Duplex homes planned for downtown Frederick are part of federal HOPE VI program

by Katherine Heerbrandt Staff Writer

Touting itself as the first "net zero energy infill community in the nation," Frederick city's North Pointe development has already attracted four potential buyers, even though the homes won't be built until later next year.

The 55 duplex homes are part of the federally funded HOPE VI redevelopment of a former public housing complex on Frederick's North Bentz Street that was razed in 2006. Net zero refers to the home's ability to produce as much energy as it uses, resulting in significant energy savings over time.

"They are so excited about it," said Mike Murphy of Nexus Energy Homes. "They have been waiting in the wings for this to come to fruition. We had people jumping at it the first week we said we were going to take reservation deposits."

Reservation deposits are $1,000, and buyers can choose carpeting and other features. Selling a home site unseen is not easy, said Mike Muren of Mackintosh Realtors. He and a team of three are working to market the green village. While people are fascinated by the concept of a net zero home, he said, "it's difficult to sell a home you can't walk through." A model home will be available for viewing in spring 2011.

The market rate home prices range from $299,000 to $343,000. Twelve of them are earmarked for qualified public housing residents, with mortgage assistance from the Frederick Housing Authority to lower the monthly payments. Mike Muren of Mackintosh Realtors is selling the homes. Buyers can qualify for more than $16,000 in green tax credits. The homes feature geothermal heating and cooling systems and solar panels and are designed to produce as much energy as they use, thus the "net zero" moniker. But the amount of savings depends on the homeowner, Murphy said.

"We would love to say you will save $400 a month, but we can't guarantee it because we can't control people's usage. We give homeowners the tools to go to net zero," he said. Maryland is one of the biggest importers of energy in the country, Murphy said, and there are no solid plans to increase energy production in state. Investing in a net zero home has the potential for exponential savings in the coming years as energy costs increase, he said.

The colonial style homes are three stories high, and range from three to four bedrooms. They feature Energy Star appliances, insulated doors and double pane windows, and will be rated LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council. The green village is the first to be built by Nexus Energy Homes, who have partnered with The Frederick Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Urban Development developer TGC/V.

Nexus is also partnering with Frederick Community College's construction management program. Murphy, a builder by trade, said the North Pointe construction will serve as a learning center for FCC students. "We're going to have a lot of fun with the students, bringing them in and teaching them methods that are so much better for the environment."

The project also has a few local investors and is working with Sandy Spring Bank to do construction financing. "We want to keep it as local as possible," Murphy said.

The City of Frederick obtained a HOPE VI grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2002 under then-mayor Jennifer Dougherty. The city had tried twice previously but was unsuccessful in securing the grant. Dougherty credits Sen. Barbara Milkuski (D) with providing the necessary assistance to secure the grant, which was designed to rid the country of the worst of its aging public housing developments.

Residents of the former Hanson-Taney complex were relocated through Section 8 vouchers; others went to other city public housing developments. Only one family of the 146 displaced has returned to the rental housing that's been built so far on the site.

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