Yesterday, construction commenced at the Eco Village at Dunedin, a residential building project in Pinellas County, Fla. that’s being touted as the first affordable net-zero energy townhome community in the nation. I had figured that this honorable distinction belonged to Zhome in Issaquah, Wash. yet that project, completed last September after breaking ground over three years prior, is the country's first market-rate net-zero multi-family project.

The brainchild of Tampa Bay area-based net-zero developer Planet Green Group, the Eco Village at Dunedin will be comprised of 25 LEED-certified residences ranging from 1,000 to 1,500-square-feet with anticipated price tags in the $135,000 to $175,000 range. Once they officially hit the market, it’s expected that interested parties will be able to snag the ultra-efficient two- and three-bedroom townhomes for as little as $5,000 down and $600 per month with preference given to “hometown heroes” including firefighters, nurses, teachers, police officers, veterans, and the like. According to the Tampa Bay Times, 600 eager area residents responded to an initial marketing pitch; thus far, 59 of them have been placed on a priority list to purchase one of the new homes.

For the project, Planet Green Group is working closely with an array of strategic partners including Eco Construction, Mesh Architecture, Germany-based Algatic Solar, the City of Dunedin, the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, and, last but certainly not least, GE. The townhomes are being built as part of the GE’s Homes Inspired by Ecoimagination program, meaning that each bi-level unit will include a host of innovative products and services from GE geared to "lower overall household energy use, CO​2 emissions on the power grid, indoor water consumption and reduce associated energy costs."

In addition to the energy-saving bells and whistles from GE — LED lighting, EnergyStar appliances, and home energy management systems among them  — the laundry list of features that will help the residents of each storm-resistant townhome bring their monthly electric bills down to a big fat $0 includes rooftop photovoltaic systems from Algatic, super-insulated walls, reflective roofing, triple-pane windows, high-performance HVAC systems, and more. Other green features include EV charging stations, dual-flush toilets, low-flow fixtures, solar hot water heating, EnergyStar-rated ceiling fans, drip irrigation systems/native landscaping, zero-VOC paints and finishes, whole house water filtration systems, and the list goes on and on. Obviously, an impressive amount of green packed into residences with such agreeable price tags. The only drawback I see is the Eco Village at Dunedin’s Walkscore of 57 out of 100 points. Could be worse, but also could certainly be a lot better.

Despite the not-so-great walkability of the community, everyone involved with the project is obviously super jazzed with the prospect of bringing affordable, low-impact housing to the area. “Energy efficient living is a necessity, not a luxury. These homes give people affordability and energy savings with a lot of sizzle. Imagine what this will mean for our families and communities,” said Planet Green Group chairman Vladimir Tchentsov in a press release issued by GE. Adds Frank Bowman, Housing Development Manager for Pinellas County Community Development: “This project will serve as a model for future affordable housing developments in Tampa Bay and throughout the country, and we are excited to play a role in making it a reality."

Dunedin mayor Dave Eggers (no, not that Dave Eggers) chimes in to the Tampa Bay Times: “Dunedin really prides itself on being a kind of environmental leader. This fits right into the kind of landscape here." On the topic of land, the buildin site itself, once the site of another affordable housing community that was razed in 2004, was donated to Planet Green Group by the city of Dunedin. And despite the affordable nature of the project, Planet Green Group CEO Paavo Salmi claims that the Eco Village at Dunedin is not a heavily government subsidy-dependent venture. "When we got on this journey, we wanted to define and build a business model that is not dependent upon subsidies. There's going to be a lot of folks who are going to have some skepticism. But we have a business model. We are expecting to make a profit."

Salmi is so confident about the profitability of the development that for each unit sold, he plans to pledge $1,000 in scholarship money earmarked for at-risk-children in Pinellas County. The project’s sponsors will be matching the contributions. Overall, Salmi hopes to raise over $400,000 for the cause.

Lots more on the particulars of the project over at the Green Planet Group website. Any Dunedin-ites or Tampa Bay area residents out there that have been following the development of the Eco Village? I'd love to hear what you think.

Via [Ecoimagination], [Tampa Bay Times]

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