N. Phila. project wins the Oscar of green housing

A view of Paseo Verde along North Ninth Street, 120 units near the Temple University campus and next to the Regional Rail station.
A view of Paseo Verde along North Ninth Street, 120 units near the Temple University campus and next to the Regional Rail station. (ALAN J. HEAVENS / Staff)
Posted: February 23, 2016

Mark MaGrann considers the U.S. Green Building Council's Project of the Year award "equivalent to receiving the Academy Award for the best picture."

When Paseo Verde, a 120-unit mixed-use rental-housing project on North Ninth Street near the Temple University campus was so honored, MaGrann got his Oscar. His Mount Laurel energy-consulting and engineering firm provided Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Paseo Verde, codeveloped by Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha and Jonathan Rose Cos. with Wallace Roberts & Todd architects, includes one- to three-bedroom units - 50 of which rent for market rate while the 70 others are pegged to income levels - and a ground-floor medical center and pharmacy, as well as housing several community organizations.

Completed in 2013 at a cost of $48 million, Paseo Verde is not the first Project of the Year with which MaGrann has been associated. In 2010, his firm handled the LEED certification for Postgreen Homes' East Kensington "$100,000 Home," which won the award.

The LEED certification process encourages project teams to seek innovative solutions that are better for the environment and for communities.

Necessity "is really critical to the green conversation," MaGrann said. "With limited lumber and water supplies and myriad global issues, the future of both market-rate and affordable housing will need to have some level of green."

He said he hoped Paseo Verde's Project of the Year award would "inspire others in the city to take the lead."

"Philadelphia will never be a first-class city if we ignore infrastructure," he said.

Built on what had been a Philadelphia Gas Works surface parking lot in the 1900 block of North Ninth Street, Paseo Verde was designed to the highest level of LEED certification - platinum.

The four levels of certification, carried out by third-party firms such as MaGrann, correspond to the number of credits accrued in five green-design categories: sustainable sites; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality, according to the Green Building Council.

"You can say you are green until you are blue in the face, but without independent, third-party documentation to a recognized standard, you aren't," MaGrann said.

Getting Paseo Verde from conception to completion involved the close collaboration of everyone involved, he said.

"That's the soft answer," he noted, recalling his first visit to the site in 2009-10, with 24 different financing agencies involved.

"It was a jigsaw puzzle, just in terms of bringing all of the parties together," MaGrann said.

Jonathan E. Jensen, MaGrann's sustainability director, noted, "Paseo Verde was not a fast mover until it got moving, and then it moved at lightning speed."

The details, Jensen said, made the project stand out, with the "design and construction team focusing on the envelope, including an alternative insulation package" that increases comfort and reduces noise.

Paseo Verde, an example of transit-oriented development, backs up to SEPTA's Regional Rail - one of the system's busier stretches - yet "when you are standing in the hallway and the train goes by, you never know it," Jensen said.

The building's ventilation system delivers "the right amount of outside air," and the lighting is both efficient and modern "in technology and design," he said.

Two parallel systems handle storm water.

The upper blue roofs detain water there and slowly release it to an underground infiltration feature, allowing the water to percolate back into the earth, since it is supplied at a slower rate.

The green roofs "are a combination of extensive [thin] and intensive [deep and heavier] areas that together capture some rainwater and slow the progress of all of it on its way to the storm sewer system," he said.

Both market-rate and affordable units were built to the same standards, MaGrann said, and, while not in the same building, they share common areas.

MaGrann believes "consumers do ascribe value to a certified green home."

Many of the region's real estate agents say their clients don't typically appreciate features that might lower energy bills until after they've made a decision to move in. Still, he said, "a statistically rigorous" study in California showed a trend toward 7 percent to 9 percent value added to green buildings.

"The promise of green homes is that they are healthier, durable, and more efficient," he said, "but building them is also the right thing to do."

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens

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