Developers see green with state’s first ecodistrict
The rooftop of a former office building might not appear to be the ideal location to harvest tomatoes, corn and squash, but that may be the fate of Best Products’ former headquarters.
From the ashes of the failed $1.5 billion Navy Hill project that sought to redevelop Richmond’s downtown, a similar arena-anchored project called GreenCity has been proposed for the 204-acre former Best Products suburban campus and the adjacent area in neighboring Henrico County. In a first for Virginia, the $2.3 billion project would be an ecodistrict, an urban planning term for a development that includes sustainability, social equity and a reduced ecological footprint as part of its stated goals.
In addition to creating a 17,000-seat arena that Capital City Partners LLC’s Michael Hallmark says will be the greenest in America, the former Best Products building will be renovated into Virginia’s second “living building,” which Hallmark calls “the holy grail of sustainable living.” For an existing structure to be certified as a living building by the nonprofit International Living Future Institute, it must generate more net positive energy and net positive water than it uses, have an urban agricultural component and satisfy other criteria.
While living buildings have set standards to meet, ecodistricts are more conceptual. The concept has been around for about 20 years, with Atlanta’s Midtown Ecodistrict as one example.
Hallmark says that GreenCity will adopt measurable goals to gauge its sustainability, including how it treats and maintains stormwater and waste. Just as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc. have worked with utility companies to support their facilities with renewable energy, Hallmark plans to pursue similar agreements.
A criticism of the project is the negative environmental impact of destroying 114 acres of greenfield, a term for undeveloped land that is seldom returned to its former state after it is built upon. But Hallmark says the project will offset that impact through reforestation elsewhere.
“This is the best we can do, but it’s definitely a fair criticism, and I would say it’s this project’s Achilles’ heel,” he says.
Bentley Chan, director of Henrico Public Utilities, says that GreenCity is “a pilot project in developing and deploying technology throughout the county that looks at conservation [and] sustainability.”
Hallmark doesn’t anticipate GreenCity will run into public opposition like Navy Hill faced in Richmond, noting that all five Henrico supervisors endorsed the project when it was announced.
“Projects get done there,” he says of Henrico.