A year-and-a-half after the first residents moved in, the wind turbine is finally up and spinning at Sandywoods Farm in Tiverton.
A rural arts colony built around community agriculture and affordable housing, Sandywoods Farm was also marketed on its sustainability, and the 165-foot-windmill is the most visible symbol of the project’s green bona fides.
“The plan was for the turbine to be up and running at the same time families moved in, but it took a while,” said Sandywoods resident and program coordinator Russ Smith. “They used energy-efficient everything in the houses, but this will cut the power usage by more than 50 percent.”
Built in the middle of the real estate collapse, Sandywoods is eagerly awaiting its second summer growing season with the addition of music and theater at the new community-performance space. Chickens have arrived and Smith said a farmstand could be open this summer to sell the colony’s produce.
Like much of the housing market, the rental segment of Sandywoods Farm is, by design, leading the ownership segment.
The community buildings and cottages containing 50 rental units, now 100 percent occupied with approximately 140 people, were built first with the idea that 22 single-family, owner-occupied houses would be built later. (Two below-market, single-family houses are being built on land owned by the community)
Efforts to market the unsold 22 lots are just now starting in earnest with the hope that all of the parcels will be accounted for in two years.
“There hasn’t been that much movement on lots, I think it’s just a reflection of the economy,” Smith said. “They are just starting to market the lots, so the hope is that there will be more activity.”
Sandywoods Farm was built by the Church Community Housing Corp. in Newport, with a $15 million financing package from Rhode Island Housing that included an $11.2 million construction loan, $2.6 million mortgage and more than $1 million in federal low-income-housing tax credits.
Church Community Housing Corp. Executive Director Steve Ostiguy said building the rental part of the project first had always been the plan and the utilities for the ownership lots were just completed last fall.
Like all of the homes in Sandywoods, the community is looking for active artists to build the single-family houses, so finding buyers for the lots is more complicated than just generating demand.
Each prospective buyer must complete an application that describes their artistic ambitions, as well as why they want to live at Sandywoods.
Since the project’s inception, 80 families have expressed some form of interest in a property, Ostiguy said.
“We have a preference to sell to as many artists as possible,” Ostiguy said. “We just started going through applications and are going to contact the applicants and start work on house designs.”
The lots, which range from 16,000 square feet to 32,000 square feet, are being listed for between $100,000 and $130,000, down a little bit from the initial price point when Sandywoods opened.
Since the first buildings started going up at Sandywoods in the summer of 2009, the buildings have received a lot of attention for their simple, clean-lined New England farmhouse aesthetic, which was conceived by Union Studio architects of Providence.
From an environmental perspective, the wind turbine is just one of the green considerations in Sandywoods.
Building roofs were aligned with southern exposures to allow for solar panel retrofits and covered porches were put on the southern and western sides of buildings to provide cooling shade.
The cottages and community buildings in the village were placed close together with streets and sidewalks narrower than in conventional subdivisions.
The compact design reduces the amount of paved surface area and in turn cuts the volume of potentially polluting rain runoff flowing into local waterways. Runoff was further reduced in Sandywoods by covering driveways in gravel instead of pavement.
The development was also sited on the 172 acres purchased for the project in a way that would maximize the amount of land that could be used as farmland or left as woods.
Sandywoods builders also prioritized recycled materials for the project.
Although the cottages have the clapboard look of 19th-century farmhouses, their siding isn’t made from wood, but extruded fiberglass made from recycled glass.
The insulation in the cottages is wet-blown cellulose from recycled materials and the street beds were made partially by rock excavated and crushed during construction.
To avoid using fossil fuels and account for the fact that there are no gas mains in the area around Sandywoods, the buildings are warmed using high-efficiency electric heat pumps whose demands for power will be partially offset by the energy from the wind turbine.
“Sustainability was a fairly significant consideration from day one – Church said they wanted it to be a big part of the design,” said Douglas Kallfellz, principal of Union Studio.
The single-family houses built on the lots now for sale will each require their own septic systems, so they will not be as tightly clustered as the rental cottages.
But Kallfellz said Union Studio is working on a design for at least one of the single-family properties that could be a “net-zero” energy-consumption building if operated correctly.
And Sandywoods is serving as a model for other cottage-community developments that Union Studio and other architects are working on.
Union designed a recently completed net-zero cottage development in Concord, Mass., that had many similarities to Sandywoods without the affordable housing and arts component that guided the Tiverton project.
And the concept is not confined to New England, as Union is also in talks about cottage developments in South Carolina and the Bahamas.
“It’s been remarkable how quickly the rentals filled up and to see how the community has come together with the gardens and community-building activities,” Kallfellz said. •