The Real Deal New York

Townhouses go green

By Lauren Elkies | October 24, 2007 02:31PM

New York City’s single-family townhouses are getting a green makeover.

Developers and architects are using ecologically friendly materials and methods to build and renovate houses on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Harlem and Brooklyn.

Developer Janna Bullock, CEO of RIGroup, is building a green townhouse at 34 East 62nd Street between Madison and Park avenues, on the site of a townhouse that exploded and collapsed last summer, and one at 12 East 82nd Street between Fifth and Madison avenues.

“Everyone’s trying to save nature,” Bullock said. “I think it’s a very important feature.” Also, she said, the green aspects “add a lot of value to property,” and in the long run are cost-effective for the owner.

Going green is a loose term, and it can mean a host of things. That includes installing water conservation and energy efficient features and finishes, or using formaldehyde-free products and recycled materials.

Bullock bought the East 62nd Street site as a vacant lot. Doctor Nicholas Bartha blew up his $6 million townhouse there last year in a suicide attempt and act of retribution against his former wife, who had won a divorce judgment requiring him to sell the home. While Dr. Bartha was rescued from the rubble, he later died from his injuries.

Bullock is planning to build a six-story, 8,000-square-foot single-family home and sell it. She hopes to achieve a designation of LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a voluntary green rating and certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The house will use local materials in its construction, and will use solar energy and recycled water when it is built.

“I hope this example will set a trend in the townhouse market,” Bullock said.

At the 82nd Street house — a six-story, 10,000-square-foot building she bought about a year ago — Bullock is also planning to meet the requirements to receive a LEED certification.

The architects are going to install a geothermal heating and cooling system, which requires less energy than a conventional system.

Also, without the on-site roof compressors typically required for a conventional system, the house can have a green roof with vegetation. This reduces storm water run-off and heat, said John Kim, an architect and project manager at Resolution 4 Architecture, one of the two companies hired to work on the townhouse.

In Harlem, Gita Nandan, an architect with Thread Collective, is working on the design of an environmentally sound brownstone on West 144th Street.

Nandan is turning a five-story single-room-occupancy hotel into a single-family home for its owners.

As of March, plans called for a green roof and the use of nontoxic materials and recycled fixtures, said Nandan, who is also the board president of GreenHomeNYC, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally friendly building. Plans for solar panels are also under consideration.

A green project does not necessarily take longer to complete, but can cost 10 to 15 percent more than projects that use regular building methods. However, green advocates say that in the long run, owners will save money on energy bills, and that going green can add to the resale value.

Bouratoglou Architect is overseeing the green conversion of a 3,500-square-foot four-family brownstone, on West 71st Street between Broadway and West End Avenue, to a one-family home. The company is using non-formaldehyde insulation and recycled sheetrock. Also, the heating will be zoned by floor, said Jill Bouratoglou of the husband-and-wife architectural firm.

Applying green methods and fixtures can be more difficult in a single-family home than in an apartment building, Bouratoglou said.

“Some of the options for larger buildings don’t really work for smaller buildings,” she said. In the case of the West 71st Street house, the roof was too small to install a solar heating system.

On the other hand, Nandan of Thread Collective said transforming a row house or an entire building can be easier than designing a green unit in a non-green high-rise building, because there is greater exterior access. For geothermal heating of a home, for example, builders need a yard or sidewalk access to dig a well to install pipes.

At 234 Madison Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, architect Jorn Schroder converted his single-family brick brownstone into a green three-unit property, including basement, where the architect and his partner, Kat Robertson, live.

“He began it as a prototype of urban green living,” said Robertson, who is also vice president of marketing and development at the couple’s Bio-Solar LLC, an architectural consulting company that focuses on environmentally friendly approaches.

The first single-family green townhouses in New York City may have been a quintet of Tribeca properties, four on Reade Street and one on Greenwich Street, all owned by the late architect John Petrarca, according to Bruce Ehrmann, an executive vice president at Stribling & Associates who sold the properties for Petrarca. The architect and his family lived in the 6,000-square-foot residential townhouse at 156 Reade Street.

“The houses were state-of-the art green in 2000,” said Ehrmann. He sold 156 Reade Street in the fall of 2006 for the architect’s widow. All of the units have geothermal heating and cooling systems, purified air and water, and nontoxic natural surfaces, Ehrmann said.

Green was not always trendy.

When the four townhouses sold about six years ago, Ehrmann didn’t advertise that they were green buildings.

Now “the first things we would be featuring are the radical green construction and the radical green features,” Ehrmann said.

Some developers and architects have steered clear of green building because of a limited selection of green products.

But, Robertson said, “You’ve got so many aesthetic options today that are green and beautiful.”

While many components of green development are appealing aesthetically, there are still areas that need help.

Bouratoglou, the architect, can not find what she considers an attractive countertop made of recycled materials for the West 71st Street brownstone.

“We ordered one,” she said. “It was the best out of the choices we found.”

More significant, Bouratoglou said, was that in the greening process you cannot replicate prewar fine points.

“I don’t see all the details of the old world,” Bouratoglou said.

Green and eco-friendly all over

For New Yorkers, green is the new black. Environmentally friendly developments are popping up in every corner of the real estate market, from new condo projects to hotel-condos, affordable housing, office spaces and even green brokerages.

New green projects completed or in the works include what developers claim are the first green condos on the Upper East and West sides; a high-rise luxury rental project at 510 West 52nd Street called Archstone Clinton; affordable housing units in two seven-story Lower East Side buildings; single-family townhouses (see main story); the city’s first green hotel at 250 Bowery; the high-rise office tower at One Bryant Park; and the city’s Office of Emergency Management headquarters.

“It’s an underlying fundamentally different approach to building,” said Corey Hoelker, a junior architect at Flank Architecture who is working on the as yet unnamed hotel project at 250 Bowery with Flank principal Jon Kully.

“It’s not just a bunch of tree-huggers running around saying ‘I want to save the planet.’ It’s becoming mainstream,” said Kully.

In addition to state tax incentives and the benefits of the voluntary Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification spurring green building, the city requires that many new municipal buildings, additions and renovations become sustainable. It also gives preference to developers employing environmentally friendly design for new homes on vacant lots.

On the Upper East Side, Extell Development has begun sales at what it claims is the neighborhood’s first LEED-certified residential building. The Lucida, at 151 East 85th Street, is an 18-story, 110-unit green condominium with prices starting at $1.95 million.

The Harsen House, at 120 West 72nd Street, is Upper West Side’s first LEED-certified residential development, according to sales agent Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group. Apartments in the 16-story, 22-unit condominium will run from $1.85 to $5.75 million.

Green methods are now a fixture in new high-end Harlem condos. Sales have started at the Kalahari, a two-building, 12-story, 129-unit green condominium at 40 West 116th Street. Prices range from the $500,000s to more than $1 million.

“Right now everyone that is coming to us wants to look at how their building can be green,” said Gita Nandan, an architect with Thread Collective and board president of GreenHomeNYC, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally friendly building. Whether the goal is fully realized, Nandan said, “is another thing.”

Over in Brooklyn, the first Energy Star homes are being built, including Cobble Hill Lofts at 262 Bond Street and South Slope Condominiums at 270 21st Street. Another project is planned for 272 21st Street, and all are being done by the same builder, Giancola Contracting.

Energy Star is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program created to help homeowners save money and minimize air pollution. The program can save consumers about a third on their energy bills.

Asking prices are ranging from $849,000 for a two-bedroom apartment at South Slope Condominiums to $1.4 million for a duplex at Cobble Hill Lofts.

The conversions use green materials, such as Bamtex bamboo and recycled-tire roof decking, as well as green construction techniques. At 272 21st Street, solar panels will power mechanical equipment; wood flooring has been reclaimed and exposed; and burnished cinder block will serve as both structural and finish material. The development should be completed in about a year.

To find green homes, one can even look to a green brokerage. Moss Real Estate Group works with clients interested in environmentally and socially responsible practices. The brokerage also donates 1 percent of its gross revenue to environmental charities and offsets clients’ carbon emissions for a year. And founder Chris Moss takes his environmental practices home. His wood floors have an eco-friendly stain made out of black tea.

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