Forward-Thinking Senior Living Community Blazes Net-Zero Neighborhood Trail

Real Estate and Land Use, Environmental, Energy

5/19/2017 by Jeanette Schuster

Forward-Thinking Senior Living Community Blazes Net-Zero Neighborhood Trail
By their nature, senior living communities are forward-thinking, always keeping an eye on 10, 20, 30 years down the road. Rose Villa, a Portland, Oregon nonprofit continuing care retirement community (CCRC), exemplifies this forward-thinking strategy on an environmental and land use planning basis with its recent, large-scale redevelopment project that has created pocket neighborhoods, including a soon-to-be-forthcoming "net-zero" neighborhood.
Rose Villa was first built in 1960 on a 22-acre parcel along the Willamette River. The original concept, which still guides the organization's current vision, was to create a senior living community of affordable, single-story, garden-level homes with an emphasis on green space and engagement with the outdoors. Over the next 40 years, while there were some modest residence expansions and improved amenities and services within the general concept of the original plan, the community suffered from general "benign neglect." But then, in 2006, along came my friend Vassar Byrd, a trained gerontologist and former economist, with grand visions that included innovative technology, sustainable practices and massive infrastructure improvements, all coupled with a creative re-visioning of Rose Villa's outdoor, garden-oriented community. The work on Phase 1, a $60-million-dollar (tax-exempt. bond-financed) campus redevelopment began in 2014 and finished in 2016. Phase 1 created 75 new homes and a "Main Street"—a village center with restaurants, stores, a rooftop deck, a modern fitness facility, and an aquatic center, among other features. The result is a campus of intimate and walkable "pocket neighborhoods" – the first of its kind in a senior living community.
But Rose Villa's vision is bigger than that, and now Phase 2 is under way. 

This phase of the redevelopment will focus on the long-term-care portion of the community (aka the nursing home), and will also create four new distinct neighborhoods, one of which is The Oaks, a net-zero neighborhood of nine cottage homes. The term "net-zero" in the architecture space means that buildings are designed and constructed to generate as much energy as they use. In Rose Villa's case, the energy will be provided by solar panels. Rose Villa has partnered with Green Hammer, a Portland-based, certified B Corp design firm, to build this neighborhood, which will consist of nine cottage triplexes clustered around a central courtyard planted with native landscaping and two heritage oak trees. This concept is the first of its kind in the Portland senior living marketplace (which is a surprise considering Portland's emphasis on sustainability, biking, and all things organic, gluten-free and locally-grown). In fact, based on an internet search, it appears that net-zero neighborhoods are not commonplace anywhere in the United States, making this development all the more innovative.
When asked what made Rose Villa decide to include a net-zero neighborhood as part of its redevelopment plan, Vassar simply states that "Well, sure it's the right thing to do, but it is way more interesting than that. It showcases the strength of our elders taking the long view and protecting our planet and our community. In my experience, the people at Rose Villa walk the talk." 
Now, don't tell me that elders are stuck in the past!