Andrew Michler

Oberlin's LEED Downtown Development Revitalizes a Community

by , 04/13/10

Ten years ago three college students had a vision to reclaim a stagnant downtown area in Oberlin, Ohio — in a couple of months that vision will become reality. Sustainable Community Associates has developed a $15 million LEED Neighborhood Development Gold (pending) project with perseverance and good will for their alma mater’s hometown. Now the downtown is getting hooked on green building as the community discovers the positive impact that sustainable development can have.

The reclaimed brownfield development consists of three mixed-use buildings that form a courtyard and commercial block. The project is people-friendly with retail spaces that connect the street to the commons, and underground parking that creates density and open space. Low-income housing, light-filled lofts, live/work spaces, condos and retail are a part of the mix, but where this project stands out is in its straight-forward intention of making a stronger community. As Naomi Sabel, one of the three developers, states “I hope this project becomes the proverbial rock that is dropped in the water and creates a ripple effect… a Green Arts District is one example of the concentric circles moving outward.

What is so refreshing about this development is its sensitivity. The entire range of building a community was considered — high density yet uncluttered design, open public spaces, good retail, and real public involvement. There are a lot of little things that add up, like preserving a mature maple tree in the square, holding a college green design competition for the bus stop, and catching and reusing rainwater for the green spaces. A mature tree that had to be removed was milled into counters for an incoming coffee shop. Additionally, each space features a built-in energy and water monitoring system.

The pilot LEED ND project helped hone in the concept of green development for other cities and developers to draw from. Josh Rosen and Ben Ezinga are the two other partners. Expressing that he “likes the unexpected connections that develop as the spaces are starting to fill out”, Ben divulges how creating spaces that let a community thrive should be the real goal of sustainable development.

+ Sustainable Community Associates

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