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Riverbluff-A Conservation Community-Part 2

Click on the link below to see Part 2 video interview with Laura Winn Smith and Jim Duxsbury

Riverbluff Part 2

The new neighborhood of RiverBluff overlooks the Rivanna River just upstream from the Woolen Mills within the city limits of Charlottesville. As a conservation community, the 22-home development respects and responds to its dramatic natural setting. The neighborhood and its homes use a variety of design strategies to encourage residents’ connections to their natural surroundings and to preserve and restore the site’s native riparian ecosystem.

These design strategies range from large scale to small – that is, from the overall planning and arrangement of the community to the design of individual homes -and address several aspects of green design. These approaches mutually reinforce one another and contribute to our primary goal of creating a community that embraces environmental conservation and healthy lives.

The homes at RiverBluff are clustered along the brow of the hill that commands the site. Not only does this create a compact, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood that encourages social interaction, it also leaves the majority of the site’s 19 acres as common land for the enjoyment of all residents. Trails lead down the hillside to this shared natural area – which includes several distinct ecosystems: woodlands, wetlands and meadows – and connect to the nearby Rivanna Greenbelt trail.

In addition to using this land for recreation, homeowners can choose to participate in the ongoing management and restoration of the commons, much of which sits in a sensitive natural buffer zone that borders the river. The final design and use of this area will evolve out of the residents’ interests and desires, but work with local environmental groups like the Virginia Native Plant Society may include removal of invasive species, selective clearing, and inter-planting of new native species. Over time, these efforts will restore healthy, diverse and self-sustaining ecosystems to the commons.

All of these efforts at the bottom of the hill make what happens at the top of the hill all the more important, so the design of RiverBluff incorporates an innovative integrated stormwater management system that cleanses and filters stormwater like a natural ecosystem. In principle, this means actively and effectively controlling the hilltop’s stormwater on-site and minimizing the runoff into the wetlands below.

The rain garden that rings the neighborhood’s central loop road is central to this strategy. Rather than using the pipes, culverts, and inlets typically geared toward moving water offsite as quickly as possible, the loop road’s curb channels the site’s stormwater into the rain gardens, where a series of stone weirs slow, aerate, and retain it to nourish an assortment of grasses, shrubs, and other plantings. A special base of soil mix containing no clay lets rainfall from most storms percolate into the water table; excess overflow from the heaviest storms is slowed before release into the common area.

This approach treats stormwater, which conventional practice could easily turn into a liability, into a visible and enjoyable community asset. In most cases, water directed into the rain garden will travel no more than 20 feet at a time. Native landscaping maximizes the use of this captive resource (and minimizing required maintenance), and less-traveled areas like parking courts will employ porous paving to reinforce the neighborhood’s intentional approach toward stormwater. The constituent components of RiverBluff’s integrated stormwater system serve to enhance water quality both on- and off-site by capturing solids and contaminants, absorbing and cleansing runoff, and slowing its return to the adjacent watershed.

These intentions carry over directly into the design of two of the neighborhood’s first three houses, which sport vegetated or “green” roofs. Like the Albemarle County Office Building’s 9,000-sf demonstration project that was designed by our firm and installed last summer, these roofs are planted with several varieties of sedum, a water-loving succulent. To help ensure that these specific cultivars could thrive at RiverBluff, the plantings were grown in Scottsville. Over time, it is likely that one or two varietals will come to dominate the niche, spreading and self-seeding while enhancing the sense that the roof is truly alive.

These green roofs, which are manufactured by EnviroTech and incorporate a root barrier, a water retention system and waterproofing all in a single membrane, offer benefits in addition to the stormwater management so important at RiverBluff. The location of the first two along the neighborhood’s downslope side will provide homeowners above with a view of elevated green space rather than, say, shingles, an aesthetic very much in keeping with the community’s goals.

The roofs also provide effective shading for the roof, a quality crucial to the energy efficiency of RiverBluff’s homes. The architectural and mechanical-system design of the first two model homes emphasizes features that improve environmental performance and provide a healthy indoor environment. BioBased soy-based insulation contributes to a high-performance building shell – the houses exceed EPA Energy Star requirements and are awaiting final certification. The use of steam as a blowing agent in applying this spray-in-place foam also serves to eliminate off-gassing of potentially harmful chemicals.

The use of natural daylighting and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems do much to contribute to the completed homes’ energy efficiency, but performance is further enhanced with energy-recovery ventilators. These systems provides 100% fresh-air delivery – an important concern in buildings with such tightly sealed envelopes – and also preconditions incoming air by exchanging “waste” heat or cooling from the exhaust air.

For all the technical similarities between the first two homes, which face each other across the entrance to the neighborhood, they embody distinctly different styles – one following more modern lines, the other more traditional ones. We hope that this is just one reflection of how RiverBluff exhibits the vitality and diversity of the natural communities that inspired it.

 Riverbluff Native Plants

River Bluff landscaping has been created jointly by Landscape Architect Kennon Williams and his wife Jennifer Davis.  A palette of native plants was selected for the developer to utilize in the common areas and several of the initially landscaped lots.  Along the road edge are low beds containing masses of prairie dropseed, blue-eyed grass, Stokes aster, St. Johnswort, and Virginia sweetspire.  Dry hillsides are blanketed in switch grass, fragrant sumac, and wax myrtle.  In damp spots some of which used for water retention are appropriately planted with inkberry, oakleaf  hydrangea, leucothoe, rhodendron, sweetbay magnolia, river birch., and again Virginia sweetspire.  All plant beds are heavily mulched and in many places have drip irrigation lines.  Planted to eventually form a canopy over the road are numerous willow oaks and an occasional maple and ash.  Property owners have been provided design guidelines which specify native plantings.  Although not completely faithful to this stipulation, it’s evident that most owners have complied.

Riverbluff Design and Construction Team

RiverBluff was designed and developed by Frank Folsom Smith, Richard Price and Jeff Smith. Frank Smith and Richard Price are principals of The Folsom Group, a firm that focuses on sustainable design and development. The partners have extensive experience in environmentally sensitive real estate development, including sustainable site design, energy efficiency, and healthy interiors. Jeff Smith is the Principal of Alterrra Construction Management, a firm specializing in quality residential construction, including numerous eco-friendly houses. Laura Winn Smith, Associate Broker at Pace Real Estate Associates, has marketed and sold real estate since 1983 and is currently emphasizing environmentally sensitive properties.



One Response to “Riverbluff-A Conservation Community-Part 2”

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