Developers strive for walkable, environmentally friendly communities

Debbie Coleman-Topi

Builders and developers are joining the green movement in force, and the Kansas City area is no exception. Build Green Kansas City, a local chapter of the National Association of Home Builders, is the group determined to drive the point to the desks of those responsible for the types of homes, offices and communities being built here.

The local group recently hosted a kickoff event and press conference highlighting one of the area’s top environmentally conscious, totally sustainable new communities – New Longview in Lee’s Summit.

“Mainstream builders wanted to go green, but didn’t know how,” said Tim Underwood during the July 10 event. Underwood is executive vice president/CEO of the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City. Build Green is an initiative of the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City, where the more than 1,000 members are making it a focus to transform the way the area thinks about home building by providing new and sustainable homes and products designed to protect the environment.

Matt Belcher, a St. Louis area builder and member of the green building committee of the National Association of Home Builders, spoke at the event.

“Homes today are 100 percent more energy efficient than homes built 15 years ago,” he said.

An area builder that organizers of the event pointed to as providing a leading regional model of such communities is Gale Homes, builder of the New Longview community. The area, located near Longview farms, is ripe with wide, open spaces, native plants and grasses and wildlife. The community, being constructed on 260 acres, already contains 14 historic buildings from the former Longview Farms, constructed there, as a country estate, during the early 1900s.

“The number one goal of this project was to save as many of these old buildings as possible,” said G. David Gale, president of Gale Communities, which is creating the community. The only buildings not preserved in the project are a manure shed and hospital barn, which were dismantled because of their dilapidated condition. The community is being constructed within walking distance of Longview Farm Elementary School, in the Lee’s Summit School District. That building is housed in the former show barn, which the district renovated and expanded to house the school.

The walkable community contains office buildings and services, such as a dry cleaners and a pharmacy and grocery. The entire community is designed to be walked. Residents can meet all their needs without ever using an automobile. In fact, Gale said, some residents have secured employment in the community and even walk to work. Those include teachers and other employees of the Longview Farms Elementary and those employed at the offices and services built near the community’s retail center.

Another hallmark of these type communities is a higher density with more homes being built in a smaller space. In fact, some houses are constructed as close as 30 feet. The area also has many other walk-to amenities, some original to the property. The area boasts the 5,000-acre Longview Lake, managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Gale said homeowners trade smaller-than-usual yards for more open green space.

“You don’t need a yard,” Gale said, disputing the suburban mindset that houses must come with ample yards for kids to play in.

Gale said homes sitting on large lots mean more work for the homeowner, saying the back yard is where homeowners end up spending their weekend mowing and weeding.

The community offers other advantages, including that residents walk their kids to a nearby park and swimming pool.

“They walk them to school rather than putting them on the bus,”  he said.

Several people already call New Longview “home” and Gale said he’s noticed one of the community’s effects is that it creates a more sociable environment.

Community members are voluntarily organizing chances to bond with each other in a community garden, poker and bunk-o group games, he said.

However, Gale was quick to point out that a totally sustainable, walkable community such as New Longview is not for everyone. Statistically, only one in three people say such a community is their chosen lifestyle. He said some choose loft living in the city, still others want the traditional suburban setting.

“This is just another choice,” he said.

The Examiner