New Hampshire Town Considers Zero Net Energy Community

The proposed project would build five homes ranging from 2,000 to 2,500 square feet that would produce enough energy to heat and cool their homes, and provide electricity without needing utilities.

by Jeff McMenemy, Portsmouth Herald, N.H. / July 19, 2016

(TNS) -- A city developer wants to build what he calls “Portsmouth’s first net zero community,” on Maplewood Avenue.

Michael James Brigham, the owner of Lorax Sustainable Development LLC, is scheduled to appear before the Board of Adjustment to ask for a variance to build five single-family homes where only one is allowed under the city’s zoning ordinance.

“They’re ultra high performance, heavily insulated, with triple pane windows,” Brigham said about the five homes planned for a roughly 2.6-acre lot at 996 Maplewood Ave. “All are going to face south, all are going to have solar panels.”

He predicted that the solar panels will produce enough energy so the average homeowner can heat and cool their homes, and provide electricity without needing utilities.

“The construction costs a little more because of the solar panels, but then the panels will provide the energy you need,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The houses will range in size from 2,000 to 2,500 square feet, Brigham said, and will likely be sold somewhere in the low $500,000 range.

He acknowledged the homes are called condominiums in the application for a variance his attorneys filed with the city, but stressed that they are “full-blown houses.”

“The only reason we’re calling them condos is because we’re going to share the lot,” which features a pond on the property, he said.

Brigham, who has built many conventional housing developments, said “from here forward I’m not going to use fossil fuels ever again.”

He wants to build these homes with solar panels because as the technology has improved “we finally got to the breaking point where it’s actually financially beneficial to go green.”

“You’re basically making your own power,” Brigham said.

His attorney, R. Timothy Phoenix, contends in city documents that the planned net zero development will “meet the goals of Portsmouth’s 2025 draft master plan.”

It meets those goals, Phoenix says, because it encourages “sustainable low impact building,” it is designed to maximize open space and uses green technologies.

He also argues that the development, if granted a variance, would not diminish surrounding property values, and noted it is located adjacent to a church property which “is or will be up for sale.”

“There is little if any doubt this lot and the church lot will be developed for residential purposes,” Phoenix said. “Since the homes are grouped to respect the wetland buffer and provide beautiful open space, meet all dimensional requirements of the ordinance; the overall value of this lot will be enhanced. Clearly five homes on an average of over 22,000 square feet of lot area where 15,000 square feet is required will not diminish surrounding property values.”

Brigham acknowledged the classic Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax” inspired him when he created his company’s name.

In the book, the Lorax “speaks for the trees” and against corporate greed.

“I think it infers sustainable development, even though it’s certainly meant to bring in memories of Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax,’” he said.

Tuesday’s Board of Adjustment meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. in council chambers in City Hall.

©2016 Portsmouth Herald, N.H. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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