In a San Diego, California, neighborhood where some buildings were little more than piles of rusted-out steel, a group of community investors kicking in anywhere from $50 to $10,000 helped fund a new shopping center anchored by a Food For Less supermarket and a creek restoration project.

Mixing environmental and economic sustainability is one of the main drivers behind Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND), the U.S. Green Building Council’s community-level LEED rating system. It is also providing developers with a robust tool for designing affordable, mixed-use communities—such as the Village at Market Creek in San Diego, one of three projects profiled during the “Neighborhood Design: Green + Affordable = Sustainable” panel held at the ULI 2011 Fall Meeting in Los Angeles.

“LEED ND is very useful in certain projects for figuring out where the holes are and where the missing components are that might make it a complete neighborhood,” said workshop moderator Ted Bardacke, senior program associate of Global Green USA, an Irvine, California–based nonprofit organization working to promote sustainable development. “It’s been really interesting to see some of the discussions that are coming out in the design teams between civil engineers and landscape architects, between mechanical engineers and architects about how to implement this on a broad scale.”

After positive feedback on the rating system from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Bank of America stepped in with $25,000 grants to help ten infill projects get the LEED ND certification. The workshop included presentations on the three grantees in California—the Village at Market Creek, Sunnydale in South San Francisco, and Jordan Downs in Los Angeles.

All three projects are aimed at comprehensive rehabs of low-income neighborhoods originally built during World War II, and all are working with Global Green.

Bardacke, who served on one of the advisory committees for LEED ND, ran down the certification’s point system, which has only three categories instead of the typical five in LEED for buildings and includes 13 points linked to affordability. A project can earn up to seven points for design that provides a mix of rental and for-sale housing at affordable rates that range from 60 to 120 percent of an area’s median income. Building in hard-to-develop areas—a category that includes all of Los Angeles County, Bardacke noted—plus striking a good housing/jobs balance can add another six points to the total.Presentations on the individual projects also highlighted how other aspects of LEED ND can contribute to better neighborhood design.

Community involvement: LEED ND awards two points for community outreach and involvement, which for all three projects translated into ongoing community contact and input in the planning process. For the Village at Market Creek, community input meetings helped establish project priorities, such as the need for a grocery store in the neighborhood, said Anastacio Castillo, construction manager for the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, a community development nonprofit group working on the project.

Those meetings, in turn, led to the community initial public offering (IPO) of 450 small investors for the shopping center.
Ongoing community input also means that resident displacement will be held to a minimum. At Sunnydale, Barnacke said, the project’s high density will allow affordable housing to be built first—to accommodate the relocation of public housing residents—followed by market-rate housing.

Connectivity: Having an open and connected community is a requirement for LEED ND, and a challenge in all three projects, where street systems dating back to the 1940s and 1950s had left the communities inward looking and cut off from their surrounding neighborhoods. At Jordan Downs in Los Angeles, the plan includes bike paths, walkable streets, and the extension of a central street, Century Boulevard, all intended to open up the community, said Ramin Kianfar, senior project manager with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.

Renewable energy: As in all LEED buildings, renewable energy and energy efficiency are major parts of building design in LEED ND. While all three projects face challenges for funding residential development, Barnacke said that he is hoping to develop a model for community-level, renewable energy “micro utilities” or master-planned power purchase agreements.
“We see the need to create that business,” he said. “I see this as an opportunity for 20 to 30 large projects with broad sustainability goals, for someone to step in.”