If you’ve ever visited Washington State’s San Juan Islands, you know it’s a special place. Lopez Island, the third largest of the six ferry-accessible islands, is primarily a tourist town and rightfully so ... Mother Nature did a bang-up job in creating it.
Although there’s no shortage of cutsey B&Bs for visitors and retreats for the mega-rich (Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen owns a huge swath of land on the island), affordable housing on Lopez is scarce. In fact, San Juan County has the lowest income and highest real estate value of all counties in Washington, according to a recent real estate value.

In response to this, the nonprofit Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT) partnered with Mithun, a Seattle-based sustainable architecture firm to create Lopez Common Ground, a small, permaculture-based neighborhood consisting of 11 homes, two apartment rental units, and a community office. The project was completed this past July. 

The price points at Common Ground cater to those on the 2,200-plus person island — specifically middle-income folks like teachers, working artists, and health care professionals — who have been feeling the crunch of rising housing costs. Under the Community Land Trust model, LCLT retains ownership of the land where the homes were built meaning that the “land” aspect is taken out of the home-cost equation. Additionally, the homes are subject to a limited equity resale formula that makes them affordable to future residents as well. This is LCLT’s fourth affordable development.
Although affordability is a huge draw at Lopez Common Ground, the neighborhood was designed with sustainability in mind, debunking the myth that innovative green building always comes equipped with a steep price point. The net-zero energy homes were built using straw bale and earthen plaster construction; recycled rainwater is used to flush toilets and irrigate the landscape; a photovoltaic system heats the water and provides power; appliances and fixtures are energy and water efficient; and a shared garden promotes on-site food cultivation.
Says Common Ground resident Chris Greacen:
Common Ground is about reinventing the American Dream. In the years ahead, Americans will be compelled to shed some deeply ingrained habits of material consumption. These adjustments can be endured, nay, embraced, if people are confident that the country is headed to a more fulfilling transformation. I believe this transformation is fundamentally about discovering what it means to be truly human, not as “consumers” but as citizens, neighbors, friends, co-creators of a compelling story that embraces social justice and a healthy planet. It’s about smaller footprints and larger lives.
Well said. Kudos to the LCLT for providing innovative, affordable housing options that keep the community spirit alive and well on Lopez Island and to Mithun for smart design to ensure that the community footprint is minimal.  

Via [Mithun] via [Jetson Green]
Renderings/Photos: Mithun, Lopez Community Land Trust

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Finding Common Ground
A community of 11 net-zero energy homes provides affordable shelter in one of Mother Nature's masterpieces: The San Juan Islands, Wash.