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Also: Windsor project sees vegetable gardens, olive trees, electric cars

Local construction, environment and business groups have launched a public-awareness campaign to urge Congress to enact legislation that protects the pipeline of energy-efficiency projects funded with loans through Property Assessed Clean Energy programs such as the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program.

A model letter, circulated by the North Bay chapter of Efficiency First, Solar Sonoma County and the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign, ask members of Congress to deal with recent statements of concern by the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency about the financing of such projects.

“What we’re doing now is lobbying D.C. heavily not to put the kibosh on PACE programs like SCEIP,” said homebuilder and energy-performance contractor Craig Lawson, president of Santa Rosa-based Pinnacle Homes. He’s also on the boards of the local chapter of Efficiency First and Solar Sonoma County. “We’ve solicited letters of support from every major business organization.”

Those organizations include Sonoma County Alliance, North Bay Leadership Council, North Coast Builders Exchange, local chapters of the American Institute of Architects, American Council of Engineering Companies and Engineering Contractors Association, and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.

Thousands of support letters have been submitted nationwide, according to Jeff Tannenbaum, founder of advocacy group PACEnow.org.

SCEIP launched in March 2009 and has funded more than 1,000 solar energy and efficiency projects.

By the end of July, Sonoma County had disbursed $32 million through SCEIP and had no delinquency in property-tax payments on properties with program-funded projects, according to Rod Dole, Sonoma County auditor, controller, treasurer and tax collector. He and county Supervisor Shirlee Zane both have made efforts to explain SCEIP to U.S. Senate Banking Committee members.

Some contractors supplemented the huge hit to their revenues since the housing crash of 2006 and the financial markets crash of 2008 with energy-retrofit projects. Plumbing contractor LeDuc & Dexter of Santa Rosa has completed 10 retrofits, including a number with Pinnacle Homes.

“It’s not a huge part of our business, but it can be a big part,” said President Tom LeDuc. “However, I sense that people right now are afraid to spend money, even if it is financed.”

PACE programs, approved in 22 states, were set to start this summer, backed by $150 million in federal energy grants.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on July 13 voted to restart SCEIP after the banking agencies’ statements prompted suspension of funding.

In July the state and county sued in federal court over the effect the banking agencies’ warnings about debt risk have on SCEIP and PACE energy-retrofit lending, which are secured via senior liens on the properties. The programs were designed that way to allow the debt to follow the property and not the current owner. But the banking regulators warned federal loan backers and institutional lenders about financing properties that had debt that had to be paid before the lender in the case of default.

On a national level, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, introduced H.R. 5766, called the PACE Protection Act of 2010, which would adapt Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s underwriting standard to allow for PACE loans. As of July 29, it had 42 co-sponsors, including Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, and three others introduced a companion bill in the Senate on July 22.

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[caption id="attachment_23502" align="alignright" width="324" caption="An architectural rendering of two commercial buildings in the proposed Windsor Creekside Village project."][/caption]

Garden greens could replace much of the common-area lawns in the most recent environmentally sensitive features for the proposed Windsor Creekside Village mixed-use redevelopment of the 18-acre former Windsor Waterworks water slide park.

The proposal now includes revenue-generating community gardens on four acres of the 6.5 acres of common areas in the current site design. In addition, mature, bearing olive trees would be distributed among the homes and commercial buildings. The project would have 179 clustered attached homes, apartments and small-lot detached homes and 65,000 square feet of commercial space in two structures.

The project is set to return to the Windsor Planning Commission in late August along with the proposed Windsor Mill housing project. Both projects were presented to the commission in May as part of the town’s growth-control process for determining how many housing units are allowed to be built each year, excluding waivers for certain affordable and downtown dwellings.

The Town Council is scheduled to take up the panel’s recommendations in November, during its annual “beauty contest” of projects compelling enough to warrant allocations to build.

The “agricultural urbanism” feature draws on an emerging trend in new urbanism land-use planning philosophy. Growing from seeds planted in the past few years by SmartCode co-developer Andres Duany of urban planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, agricultural urbanism calls for open spaces, common areas and even window boxes to be put to use for local food production.

Colorado-based The TSR Group has been promoting an “Agriburbia” concept for planned and existing developments in which residents eat from the community gardens.

However, Rick Deringer, a development consultant for the Emery family that owns Windsor Creekside Village, envisions vegetables grown in the community’s gardens, oil pressed on site from the site’s olive trees and wine made from the vines would be sold primarily to the two 5,000- to 8,000-square-foot restaurants planned for the commercial buildings. He pointed to herb and vegetable gardens top-class North Coast restaurants maintain to supply their own needs.

Mr. Deringer insists that the larger sizes of the commercial spaces in the proposed project would not compete with retail and office space in the nearby Town Green Village developments.

As part of their May disclosure of benefits, proponents of Windsor Creekside Village offered to give 200 electric cars to buyers of homes to be built on the former site of the shuttered Windsor Waterworks water slide park.

Part of the electric-power plan would put photovoltaic panels on each home to fill large batteries to supply the homes and cars, according to Mr. Deringer. Battery technology has advanced to allow power produced by solar panels and windmills to be stored during peak production and used when those sources aren’t productive.

He’s working with Santa Rosa-based electric vehicle maker Zap on a sales office in the project and a home-car solar battery package other developers could use.

With low debt on the property, the Emery family is ready to start building the project soon after allocations are granted, with completion planned by the 2014 envisioned start of passenger rail service in the county, according to Mr. Deringer. The hope is that some units per year allocated to the Windsor Mill project may become available with a reconfiguration of the project.

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San Rafael-based design software giant Autodesk is expanding its headquarters campus slightly in a “blend-and-extend” lease deal at 1 McInnis Parkway.

The company renewed the lease with property owner Marin County Employees Retirement Association, adding 6,400 square feet to the 20,000 already occupied in the building. Whitney Strotz and Brian Foster of Cassidy Turley BT Commercial represented the property owner during negotiations, and Phil Arnautou of Colliers International represented Autodesk.

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Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256 or fax 707-521-5292.