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Low-impact housing takes shape


There are no curbs on the downhill side of roads in the Portrait Homes subdivision in Silver Valley.

By Phil Melnychuk
Staff Reporter

Motorists won't have to worry about scuffing their tires on a curb on the downhill side of many roads in the Silver Valley subdivision.
That's because there isn't any curb.
The edge of the road is even with the ground, to allow rainwater to run off the road so it can percolate into the soil - instead of rushing into a storm sewer and eventually a creek, where it could hurt fish habitat.
Curbless roads are just one of the features in Silver Valley, Maple Ridge's emerging showcase of low-impact environmentally friendly housing that's now in the building phase.
Five homes have been built and the first phase of 51 new homes should be completed by mid 2005.
"Everyone has worked really hard in putting this all together," said Rob Grimm, co-owner of Portrait Homes.
Originally, the property was to contain up to 500 homes built the conventional way - fitting the landscape to the project.
But then council hired Civitas Urban Design and Planning to create an eco-friendly approach to subdivisions, more green areas, narrower roads, and applied those principles to the Silver Valley area plan.
Portrait came on board when it bought its 43-hectare property in June 2002. After initially using Civitas, the developer parted ways with that consultant, hired several others and with Maple Ridge's persuasion, pieced together a low-impact project.
The number of housing units was cut to 393, both single family and multi-family units. Roads would be narrower and 10% of the area has been dedicated to natural areas around Anderson Creek.
Maple Ridge Coun. Craig Speirs is generally pleased with the outcome.
"I'm quite happy with it as far as it goes," he said. "They've [Portrait Homes] gone not the extra mile but the extra half mile."
But he'd rather have seen more infiltration measures to retain more rainwater on site. That probably would have been achieved through lower density, he said. Nevertheless, other developers are watching what Portrait is doing, Speirs said.
"Kudos to them. It's really good stuff," he said.
House hunters will notice the difference.
The shallow roadside ditches will have native plants, which also retain the water while giving a barrier between the road and sidewalk.
There's more natural vegetation around as well, providing a resort-type atmosphere. But the main emphasis has been on minimizing any change to natural drainage.
Rock pits underground provide further water-holding capacity as do water retention ponds and underground storage tanks. Some lots feature rain gardens, areas with extra thick topsoil and water retaining plants. And a conventional storm sewer backup has also been built, just in case.
"When the rain comes and you have an impervious area, it's instant to the creek if you don't have something to slow it down," said project manager Jeff Verhiel.
The goal is to achieve only a 15 to 20% increase flow to local creeks, whereas a conventional subdivision creates a 40 to 45% increase in water flow, Verhiel said. The long-term goal is to have zero impact on stream flows.
Such measures come at a cost, however. Verhiel estimates each lot costs another $10,000, because of such features.
It remains to be seen how profitable the subdivision will be, Grimm said. While there are fewer homes than in a conventional subdivision, which would decrease margins, a smaller-scale development in Seattle showed a higher resale value for such homes.
Low-impact construction can even result in lower upfront costs. Instead of trucking fill off the mountain, Portrait bought a soil processor for $160,000. That allowed it to separate the fill it excavated into top soil and gravel. That resulted in 5,280 fewer dump trucks hauling off the mountain and a contractor excavator's bill that was lower by $225,000.
Alouette River Management Society spokesman Geoff Clayton is also on board, with a few reservations. "Certainly, an effort has been made there," he said.
But he notes the stream setbacks don't follow the new streamside protection regulations now in place throughout Maple Ridge.
"So we have to watch that carefully," Clayton said.
And he remains concerned about the quality and quantity of water coming out of the subdivision and into the Blaney Bog on the west side.
"If you start running water off driveways and roofs and concrete youĂ re going to change the pH," he said, adding there are supposed to be water monitors at the edge of the bog to detect any changes in flow or quality.
Grimm said it's his understanding that one of the company's consultants will be monitoring water flow into the bog both before and after the project.
Meanwhile, developer Gary Lycan is about to start construction on 175 homes in the 240th Street-132nd Avenue area, which also must follow the Silver Valley area plan. He has his doubts about the new techniques.
"My personal feeling is that it's totally unproven and I don't think it will work in our climate," Lycan said. "I'm just skeptical, that's all."
Maple Ridge Mayor Kathy Morse said Silver Valley is just the first in the district to follow a low-impact approach. The current review of the official community plan will see similar strategies throughout the district.
"Changes need to be made and they have been for some time," she said.

© Copyright 2004 Maple Ridge News