Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Parkade could be a model for ‘green’ development: design expert

By Ed Jacovino
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 12:08 PM EST

MANCHESTER — The vacant side of the Parkade strip mall is perfect for the type of “green infrastructure” designer Nando Micale specializes in.

“It’s a good case study to look at ‘grayfield’ redevelopment,” Micale, a leader at the Philadelphia-based planning and design firm Wallace Roberts & Todd, told a group of politicians, business owners, and local residents at a meeting Tuesday. “This is the quintessential design problem of the century.”

Micale pitched his plan for making the Parkade redevelopment project environmentally friendly. He’d use shrubs, trees, and special pavement to absorb water and protect the nearby Bigelow Brook. The plan represents a change in culture that embraces the environment and uses a different model to pay for construction, maintenance, and repairs of buildings and streets, Micale said.

His study lays the groundwork for the town and its Redevelopment Agency to have developers incorporate green infrastructure in their plans to redevelop the area at the corner of Broad Street and West Middle Turnpike.

Right now, the RDA is seeking developers who want to fulfill its plan for a mixed-use development with storefront shops and restaurants, with high-rise condos and apartments, with civic uses and a park and walkways along the brook.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency paid for the study. It’s taken an interest in using the Parkade redevelopment as an example that can be replicated across the country, officials say. The EPA pumped as much as $90,000 in the last two years into studies on the Parkade and development sites in other nearby towns, including South Windsor and Tolland.

For Micale, making an environmentally friendly Parkade means managing how rainfall and other water is used and flows through the site. “Really, this document is about storm-water management,” he said, holding up a copy of the report, called “From Grey to Green: Sustainable practices for redeveloping a vacant shopping center.”

Roofs would have a combination of plants, solar panels, and walkways to capture water, harness the sun’s power, and let visitors enjoy the view, Micale said. Buildings could be aligned on an east-west axis to take full advantage of sunlight for heating in winter. And streets would be lined by trees and planters, fed by water running off buildings and seeping through pervious sidewalks and roads that let water into the ground, rather than running in sheets and puddling in low points.

Builders could design wetland areas around the park and walkways proposed along Bigelow Brook. They’d protect the brook from taking on too much water, and provide for birds and other wildlife, Micale said.

“It’s about water treatment that also adds aesthetic and social value to the property,” he said.

Micale made his point with statistics:

• Green buildings cost up to 9 percent less to operate.

• Green roofs at the Parkade would capture more than 3 million gallons of rain each year if 75 percent of each roof were vegetated.

• Green streets would capture more than 90 percent of current water runoff at the site, feeding the water back into nearby plants and trees.

But building green is more expensive and requires more maintenance, Micale said.

It also means embracing the environment as a part of the development site, he said. “It’s this whole system that protects — and tries to replicate — the natural system,” Micale said.

Roofs with plants and solar panels are expected to last longer before they need replacement, but plants need care, Micale said. Pavement that lets water through is less likely to crack from freezing and thawing, but it needs to be swept or vacuumed. And tree-shaded roads and sidewalks have a longer life, but trees and bushes need trimming.

In most projects, the streets are paved and then left alone until they crack or break, Micale said. Then they’re fixed. “You’re just shifting out the maintenance costs and the life cycle,” he said.

Having the study means the town and its Redevelopment Agency can ask potential developers to include environmentally friendly systems in their designs, said Mark Pellegrini, director of planning and economic development. Developers may ask for financial help in implementing the designs — that’s where tax credits or grants from the agency’s new purse could come in, he said.

Voters approved $8 million in bonds for the agency in a referendum vote in November.

Mayor Louis A. Spadaccini was on hand for the presentation Tuesday. Manchester was fortunate to be the focus of a federal-funded study, he said.

Spadaccini was particularly interested in the use of street-side trees and green-planted roofs.

“That just adds a whole new dynamic that we haven’t seen in Manchester,” he said. “That would be unique.”

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