Sustainability Comes To The Suburbs in Dos Lagos, Part of New USGBC LEED-ND Pilot Program

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One of the most significant green trends makes for lighter
impact on the planet while giving people what they find most valuable: more
time to spend with their families and in their communities. New “mixed-use”
communities such as the award-winning Dos Lagos development in Corona,
California, 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, locate homes close to amenities
including shopping, entertainment, recreation and work, reducing travel time
and fuel use. Through its preservation of open space and careful restoration of
natural resources, Dos Lagos goes one step further, giving residents and
visitors access to nature they can easily get out and enjoy.

To date, most mixed-use neighborhoods have been located in
dense urban areas with easy access to transportation: think Manhattan, Chicago
and San Francisco. But now, thanks to many forces including global warming and
booming demand for urban-style living, more sustainable planning is beginning
to come to suburban Sun Belt communities.

Dos Lagos, based in the Inland Empire of Southern California
east of Los Angeles, the fastest-growing region in California, presents a vital
example of a “live, work, play” approach for real estate developers, businesses
and residents. State officials charged with reducing greenhouse gas emissions
through more sustainable land use and planning by California’s 2006 Global
Warming Solutions Act, known as AB 32, are carefully following the progress of
Dos Lagos.

There is an emerging need to have not only buildings be
greener, but for entire developments or neighborhoods planned so that they
reduce energy and resource use. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the
entity behind the incredibly popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design (LEED) green building certification program, is now working with Dos
Lagos and 237 other pilot projects in 39 states and six countries as part of
the highly anticipated LEED Neighborhood Development program, or LEED-ND. Other
LEED-ND managing organizations include the Congress for New Urbanism and the
Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Dos Lagos and its combined residential, retail and
commercial development is a prime example of cutting energy and resource
consumption through smart planning and land use,” said Rick Fedrizzi, Chairman
of the U.S. Green Building Council. “We’re proud to have Dos Lagos as a pilot
participant in the LEED Neighborhood Development program.” 

Rapid growth in affordable real estate markets near urban
employment centers has been typically defined by completely separate strip malls,
sprawling single-family housing subdivisions and office campuses. These
car-centered configurations put a strain on local traffic, nerves and the
environment. Corona, a city of 153,000 in 2006 has grown over 70 percent since
1990. Located in a rapidly developing corridor along US Interstate 15, it is
approximately 11 miles from the city of Riverside. The Riverside-San Bernardino
metro was ranked in 2002 by the non-profit organization Smart Growth America as
the most sprawled region out of the 100 largest metro areas in the United
States, in its peer-reviewed study “Measuring Sprawl and its Impact.”

The Smart Growth America study compared and ranked overall
metro area sprawl levels by measuring four criteria within each metro: street
connectedness, the presence of an urban center, amount of mixed-use development
and density. Dos Lagos and a handful of other suburban developments nationally
including Prairie Crossing in the Chicago suburb of Grayslake and Aventiene in
the Washington, D.C. suburb of Gaithersburg, Maryland, are attempting to
counter unchecked sprawl. These master-planned developments reduce at least two
of the four sprawl factors measured in the study by creating mixed land
uses–including residential, retail, office and entertainment–with more
density than is typically found in suburbia.

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Dos Lagos’ mixed-use redevelopment strategy appears has been
very successful. In late 2007 the master developer of Dos Lagos, Ali Sahabi,
President of SE Corporation (a Common Current client), was awarded California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s only Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in the
Sustainable Communities category.
 
Dos Lagos also is the only real estate development endorsed
by the Riverside Land Conservancy, a non-profit organization whose mission is
to protect nature and natural resources.  

In terms of economic and market measures, Dos Lagos, has
also been a sensation. Located on 543 acres of what was abandoned industrial
land purchased by SE Corporation for $5 million in 1996, the combined valuation
of Dos Lagos including its retail and office center is today approaching $1
billion. Retail occupancy for Phase I of Dos Lagos’ Promenade Shops is 96
percent and increasing. Out of  485
available units  76 percent sold. An additional  565
apartment and condominium units are in development or in the planning stages
for a total of 1050 living units in the
community.

Higher-density suburban communities such as Dos Lagos are
designed to get people to run into their neighbors. Whether it’s through
shopping, jogging or biking along paths and sidewalks for recreation, walking
to nearby offices, or through community events and celebrations, mixed-use
living reduces the need to drive while replicating the spontaneous pedestrian
interactions taken for granted as part of city living. Access to outdoor
recreational opportunities at Dos Lagos includes a walkable 18-hole public
championship golf course, mile-long trails along the
restored Temescal Creek, generous open space access and wildlife viewing. 

“We think of the community as the focus of all we do,” said
Sahabi. “Our community allows people to spend more time with friends and
families, have a rewarding career, stay fit and healthy, while being able to
conveniently buy groceries, shop, go to restaurants or entertainment, and enjoy
nature. Dos Lagos provides a balanced lifestyle that is harmonious with the
community, and that includes the natural environment.”.

The Promenade Shops include 60+ high-end retailers, everything
from a Trader Joe’s supermarket to Coach and Anthropologie stores, along with a
15-screen multiplex and several upscale restaurants. A LEED-registered
six-story green office complex of 160,000 square feet is nearing completion.

Dos Lagos’ redevelopment approach is more common to core
urban areas. Rather than developing on so-called “greenfield” land that could
be used for open space or agriculture–grapefruit and lemons are still
commercially grown in this semi-desert environment–the community is located on
the restored grounds of an abandoned silica mining operation. 

SE Corporation has been working closely during the past
decade with habitat, wildlife and open space conservation agencies and groups,
including the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services, the California
Department of Fish and Game and the Riverside Land Conservancy. After clearing
derelict buildings as well as heavy machinery and autos dumped on the site, the
first challenge was restoring a natural aquifer that recharges the namesake
“two lakes.” and reengineering approximately 10 million cubic yards of on-site
soils primarily remnant mining tailing, bringing the site nearer to its
pre-mined elevations.

Today the two four-acre lakes, joined by a 120-foot bamboo pedestrian bridge located within the 8.5 acre garden-lake
district, serve as the heart of Dos Lagos, offering a spectacular backdrop for
performances with a 400-seat outdoor
amphitheater, as well as offering naturally cool refuge for waterfowl and
visitors alike during hot weather. The golf course and lakes use non-potable water
primarily from the restored aquifer, instead of being dependent upon imported
water from faraway sources.

Native and drought-tolerant plants and wildflowers, as well
as shade trees are found throughout Dos Lagos. Lushly planted “bioswales”
capture and naturally filter stormwater run-off from nearby paved surfaces,
reducing water pollution and irrigation needs. During the land’s redevelopment
a dozen young and six massive 170-year old coastal live oak trees were
meticulously preserved and strategically replanted along major boulevards.  

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency,
California hosts the most threatened species of any state in the nation; Dos
Lagos contributes a key corridor connecting the coastal sage scrub, upland and
coastal habitat zones for diverse wildlife. Despite heavy development in areas,
Southern California still offers habitat is for 146 rare animal and plant
species found nowhere else. Dos Lagos preserved and restored 165 acres of
protected open space adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest, including
Temescal Creek’s rich riparian habitat.

Economically, Sahabi’s one overriding goal for the
commercial and retail elements of the mixed-use development was to address the
historic deficit of jobs available in the region. Demographics for Riverside
and San Bernardino counties from 2006 show that there was just over one job in
the region for every four inhabitants. In the same year, nearby Los Angeles and
Orange counties, by contrast, had about one job for every two
inhabitants–indicating many Inland Empire residents have been commuting long
hours by car for work in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

But that portrait is changing quickly. Because of this
job-residential imbalance, Riverside and San Bernardino county job growth from
2000 to 2005 outpaced the rest of the state by a rate of more than seven times
as much, according to the US Census Bureau (California’s job growth rate was
3.9 percent and Riverside County’s rate was 28.7 percent during the same period).
Dos Lagos projects it will create 4,500 retail and corporate office jobs, which
will contribute to improving the job-housing ratio while offering an
alternative to the teeth-gnashing commutes between the Inland Empire and
coastal counties.  

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