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S is for Suburban, Sol Austin, and Sustainable

by Katie Wisniewski on August 19, 2010 · 3 comments

in Projects

Suburbia. Lets be honest, it’s kind of a dirty word. We use the word ‘development’ because we live in fear of the word ‘suburbia’.But, Im going to say what everyone is thinking: most developments are suburban. And that’s okay. So, come out of the closet, be proud of the suburban dweller you are. You no longer have to hide because this isn’t your moms suburbia. Remember getting lost in suburban developments because every single house was the same and every single street was named after a different kind of apple? Well, no more.

The development I’m featuring today is called Sol Austin, and although they’ll do anything to avoid the S word, they are a suburban community. They boast that they are ‘apart from the usual cookie cutter suburb look’ and that ‘Sol doesn’t consider itself a suburb at all’. Hmmm, but do they protest too much? Consider this a bit of a suburbia manifesto. Places like Sol Austin are redefining what it means to live in a suburban development, willingly or not.

The Development:
SOL Austin, designed by KRDB

How it measures up:
38 lots on 5.5 acres, house sizes range from 1,200 to 1,800 square feet, prices fall between $217K-$345K, located 3 miles from of Downtown Austin, 1 block from the nearest bus stop, and monthly savings of around $160 due to sustainable technologies.

Who lives there:
People who like graphic design and own abstract coffee table books.

Don’t live here if:
You beat up people who like graphic design and own abstract coffee-table books. (wimps)

“The Deal”:
Sol Austin has everything we like, literally everything. Open floor plans, high ceilings, natural lighting, oh my! SIP panels, solar panels, CES panels, awesome panels, oh my! Not only that but they have concrete and bamboo floors, metal roofs, a geothermal HVAC, energy star appliances, FSC certified wood, and low VOC paints, adhesives, and caulks. Homes are 100% electric and can achieve Net Zero Energy. And I’m just getting started on how great this place is.

They are also one of the first developments to have have a sub-grade bio-filtration system. Basically, run-off flows through a sedimentation pond and into various chambers located under the community park, eventually percolating through sand and gravel until finally entering an aquifer. Sol Austin does a great job of reducing impervious surfaces with joint access drives and limiting water usage with drought tolerant plants. Also, all the homes are equipped with rainwater collection systems.

Sol Austin also has a unique balance between public and private spaces. Houses come equipped with small private outdoor spaces, but the community also places an emphasis on large public outdoor spaces. The homes are all located uncomfortably close together, but the windows are spread apart to discourage peeping toms. Homeowners not only share a close proximity, but also in most cases share driveways. When construction is complete the developers also plan to build large community gardens that will work on the honor system.

And the list of good stuff goes on and on. Not only are the homes surprisingly affordable for the average homebuyer, but are also affordable for the not so average homebuyer. 16 homes are reserved for low income families earning 40 to 60% below the cities median income. Sol Austin holds themselves to three standards — fairness, sustainability, and affordability. cough, cough. sounds familiar.

Additional bragging rights:
Possibly owning your own courtyard

The last word:
Dear Sol Austin, You know longer have to be scared of the ire and prejudice associated with being suburban. We at Postgreen accept you just as you are. You are beautiful, no matter what they say. Love, Postgreen

Bonus Footage:
We are fortunate enough to have footage of this project from Mark’s travels. This was taken during construction, so forgive the slightly unfinished look (and Mark’s unsteady hand).

also if any of you have suggestions for a development i cover next week, I would love to hear them!

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nadia August 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm

What was the site before the development? Is this a greenfield project or something else? How do they deal with stormwater? How much impervious surface coverage is there compared to pre-development? Is it off the grid or were municipal utilities required? How far are the nearest services (groceries, schools, etc.)? Is the development only residential or is it possible to run a business, open a store, etc.?
The project sounds/looks great at the individual building scale but a multi-unit suburban development opens up many more questions with respect to sustainability – would like to hear more about these issues!

2 Katie Wisniewski August 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Yes, great questions! Before development the site was a tree nursery, and actually in recognition of that they’ve planted 150 oak tree saplings and protected many of the original mature trees. However, obviously there is still more impervious surface coverage since development, but they do a great job of minimizing it as much as possible. They have shared driveways and reduced sidewalks. They are just a few miles from a middle school, high school, and grade school. Also, according to google maps two grocery stores are under a mile away. Unfortunately, I think SOL is purely residential, one of its few downfalls. However, its proximity to Austin makes up for it. Also subgrade biofiltration collects and takes care of stormwater. Hope this helps.

3 Noel August 21, 2010 at 7:21 pm

This is a great case study. Thanks for sharing! I believe this type of development will be the norm rather than the exception (sorry for the cliche) in the near future, and it will probably be a market-driven craze as developers accept that the best priced homes will be the greenest homes (isn’t this already happening?). Also, consumers (us) will be more and more knowledgeable and will demand green,healthy, ecologically-sensitive homes as the best option. And..as the appraisers begin to quantify the increased value of green buildings/homes it will all add up to a convergence of factors that will inevitably make developments like these what we will see more and more and in more and more affordable communities.

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