Saturday, June 04, 2011

Standing Tall in Arlington

By Beth Herman

Loosely translated from the Greek, Macedonian means "tall one." Though the eponymous 36-unit apartment building in Arlington, Va., 2229 Shirlington Road, may be only four stories high, it clearly stands tall among its residential peers as the first new construction multifamily affordable housing development in the city to achieve EarthCraft certification. EarthCraft is the standard by which the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) evaluates energy efficiency.

With a confluence of ideals reflecting community enhancement and sustainability, nonprofit affordable housing developer AHC Inc. and property owner Macedonia Baptist Church partnered in 2008 to conceive the Macedonian. Opening this month in a historically African-American neighborhood comprised largely of single family detached bungalows and newer town homes, by design the building trumpets the church’s mission, as stated on its website, to help transform people’s lives.

“The county had undertaken a big redevelopment process for this community, developing a new planning tool called the Nauck Village Center Action Plan (in 2004),” said John Welsh, AHC director of its multifamily division. Constructing the nearby 94-unit Shelton in 2007, winner of two AIA/DC awards and one Arlington County Design Award, Welsh and colleagues soon entered into a dialogue with the church about the church-owned parcel that would eventually become the Macedonian.

Offering development expertise and acquiring funding in the form of $3.9 million in VHDA tax-exempt bonds, $2.7 million in tax credit equity, $550,000 in deferred development fees, a county cash flow note of nearly $3.5 million, and TCAP funding of about $2.4 million, AHC teamed with Bonstra Haresign Architects and Bozzuto Construction to create a multi-use structure that also designates 2,000 s.f. of commercial space for shops and the church-affiliated CDC, and acts as an incubator for several area start-up businesses.

Air Share

According to Thomas Wallinga, AHC construction manager and former architect with Bonstra Haresign, while energy efficient lighting and appliances were standard on the path to EarthCraft certification, additional unit sealing to prevent energy leakage was high on the construction agenda, as were low-emissivity double-pane windows and low-flow fixtures.

"But the most unusual thing we did was actually the mechanical system,” Wallinga said, identifying a Mitsubishi variable fluid flow (as opposed to air flow) system: the CITY MULTI R2-series. Used largely in Europe and Asia, up to nine units operate off of one condenser in a two-pipe system, according to Wallinga. In this respect, energy is shared between individually-metered units so that one tenant can use heat and another air conditioning, simultaneously, a common practice in transitional seasons like spring and fall. “It balances things out at a much higher efficiency level than typical heat pumps,” he explained.Per Welsh’s description of the process, the Mitsubishi product works like an old hydronic system but utilizes Puron, an environmentally safe refrigerant. He explained that the system is relatively new in the U.S., has not been used residentially, and there is no existing method to determine a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) rating.

Virginia Tech is said to be studying the product for testing and rating purposes. In order to meet aesthetic standards as well as sustainable design goals, the team located nine Mitsubishi condensers in the ventilated parking garage, instead of as eyesores on the lawn or the roof, in part to showcase a modular “live roof” system that includes concrete paver patio space for residents. Featuring sedum, large individual trays of plantings sit atop a secured, reflective, watertight roof membrane to reduce storm water runoff. Green carpeting suffuses the patio area to the parapets, with stone edging, so the roof membrane is not visible.

Framing was done in 2x6 construction, with Lycene—a closed-cell spray insulation system—used for optimal energy efficiency. Low-VOC paints and sealants were used, and recycled content is evident in materials that include carpeting, though carpeting was kept to a minimum.

A floor for more

“We wanted something that looks better and is more durable in terms of tenant changeovers,” Wallinga said, citing the use of Amtico flooring. A vinyl product that is “heavy duty” but aesthetically imitates fine wood, the 4x36-ft. strips resemble a warm cherry floor, the results achieved by photographing wood and transferring to the vinyl printing process for a plank look. While bedrooms are carpeted, kitchens, living rooms and hallways utilize Amtico, with any damage easily rectified and expense mitigated by replacing just a single strip, when necessary.

“The building is also smoke-free—you can’t even smoke on the balconies” which is what the church wanted in its pursuit of a healthier environment, Welsh explained. “And by cutting the use of carpeting by 50 or 70 percent, we’re cutting down on allergens for a better breathing environment, not to mention decreasing maintenance costs and landfill impact by having to rip it out when someone moves out.

Five designated ADA units have requisite roll-under kitchen and bathroom cabinets and roll-in showers, with audio-visual adaptation if a tenant is hearing or visually-impaired, but all other units are partially adaptable if necessary. Noting 529 people had made inquiry about the building, Welsh said 64 applications had been received to date and about a dozen residents have moved in.

"The Macedonian looks like market-rate apartments,” Wallinga said. “There’s nothing to distinguish this type of affordable housing from anything you’d see in a condo or market-rate building.”

photographs courtesy of Anice Hoachlander and Thomas Wallinga


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