EcoVillage begins final approval process
As early as this fall, preliminary construction could begin on the newest housing development in River Falls, Habitat for Humanity's EcoVillage.
Area residents aren't the only ones watching EcoVillage's progress. Larry Gluth, senior vice president for US & Canada's Habitat of Habitat for Humanity International, has also been following the project's progress closely.
Jim Farr, executive director of the local St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity, met Gluth at a national conference and talked with him about the EcoVillage project.
Farr said certain sustainable practices from the project could become a standard within Habitat for Humanity, because Habitat, newly named the nation's sixth largest builder of homes, feels a responsibility to set an example for sustainability to the broader community.
"We've all got to be more responsible in everything we do in terms of sustainability," said Farr, "because there are limited resources available on the planet. If we just consume them at an accelerating rate, and they're not renewable; eventually, they'll run out."
The Habitat for Humanity EcoVillage project began in 2009 and is now in the final stages of planning. SCVHFH has been working with Frisbie Architects, which designed City Hall, as well as city government officials to plan the development.
Now, the project has begun the approval process, a series of meetings going up before various city government groups and the City Council approving the project one piece at a time.
One of those meetings was Tuesday, Aug. 9, to approve rezoning of the land on which the EcoVillage will be built, changing it to residential zoning so the development can be built there.
As the approval process goes along, the plans for EcoVillage have changed, said Kelly Cain, SCVHFH Board Member and director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development at UW-River Falls.
The amount of houses in the community has gone down from 32 at the project's inception to 18, giving potential residents more space for lawns, and gardens.
The community center in the EcoVillage was moved in the design from the center of the EcoVillage to the edge of it, in order to make it more a part of River Falls.
"It's truly a community center that provides programs and needs for the entire community," said Cain.
And, the newest addition to the EcoVillage plans is a "tot lot" playground for children in the EcoVillage, and the rest of the community.
Farr said the idea for the tot lot came from SCVHFH's work with the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
The houses in the EcoVillage will use solar energy, geothermal energy, and are being designed to be energy-efficient.
Farr said building energy-efficient homes is something SCVHFH has been trying to do for a while, but the EcoVillage is taking that to a new level, with the potential for homeowners in the EcoVillage to pay little to no electricity bill, or even, possibly make money on electricity each month.
That, said Cain, will be especially helpful to the low-income families buying the EcoVillage houses, as utilities can take a large chunk out of monthly expenses otherwise.
"We simply think that it is the right thing to do for all the right reasons," said Cain, "It's a win-win-win situation."
Farr said that while SCVHFH is a large player in building the EcoVillage, it is not a solely Habitat project.
"This is a community project," said Farr. "We want this to be viewed in the community as a resource and an asset as something people are proud to have in River Falls."
The EcoVillage houses are low-income housing as all habitat houses are, but Farr said, "It's a hand up, not a hand-out."
Would-be EcoVillage residents will have to go through the standard Habitat for Humanity application process, and put in the required 500 hours of labor or "sweat equity" on their own homes or others'. Farr said that once the project has finished the approval process, SCVHFH will begin taking applications.
Once the approval is finished SCVHFH will begin putting in the infrastructure for the EcoVillage, fixing the road, and setting up utilities.
This could begin as early as October, or early next spring at the latest. The first six houses should start going up next spring as well.