Kaid Benfield Archive


Student project becomes model sustainable community development in Oberlin

Kaid Benfield

Posted May 26, 2010 at 1:34PM

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  Oberlin's East College St project (by: Sustainable Community Associates)

  sustainable living banner (by: Sustainable Community Associates)  some of the project's condos (by: Sustainable Community Associates)

Ten years ago, writes Andrew Michler in Inhabitat, three college students – Naomi Sabel, Josh Rosen and Ben Ezinga – devised a plan to reclaim a stagnant brownfield in Oberlin, Ohio for mixed-use revitalization.  Today the project, which is participating in the LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot program, is nearing readiness for occupancy. 

The three partners formed Sustainable Community Associates and raised some $15 million for their East College Street project, which comprises three buildings, 33 condos, 20,000 feet of commercial space, a green courtyard, and a bunch of advanced resource-conserving features on a walkable, transit-accessible site in a part of downtown Oberlin that is becoming a budding arts district.  Michler describes the vision:

“The entire range of building a community was considered — high density yet uncluttered design, open public spaces, good retail, and real public involvement. There are a lot of little things that add up, like preserving a mature maple tree in the square, holding a college green design competition for the bus stop, and catching and reusing rainwater for the green spaces. A mature tree that had to be removed was milled into counters for an incoming coffee shop. Additionally, each space features a built-in energy and water monitoring system.”

    rendering of the project when complete (by: Sustainable Community Associates)  East College St project (by: Sustainable Community Associates)

Additional features include, among others, the following:

  • Excellent walkability (The partnership’s website: “The first and biggest decision in green building is a location that promotes pedestrian friendly, densely inhabited, mixed-use development that is close to the goods and services we need every day”)
  • Workforce housing (Ten of the 33 condos are being held “as rentals affordable for moderate-income residents. Rent and utilities will be no more than approximately 30% of the applicants’ income”)
  • Ground-floor retail and office space (tenants include the Slow Train Café, GreenStar Home Center, and Credo Chamber Music)
  • Car-sharing
  • An on-site garden
  • Preservation of a mature silver maple tree

  Slow Train Cafe (by: Sustainable Community Associates)  the silver maple (by: Sustainable Community Associates)

Idealistic?  Absolutely, and good for the three partners.  The project site’s Walk Score is 86, a number that will only get better when its commercial tenants are fully operating.  I haven’t visited the project but, honestly, from reading about it I don’t know that there is anything I would change.  Go here for more about its green features. 

Here are two videos (approximately 5 minutes and two minutes, respectively).  The first explains the concept while touring the site pre-construction, and the second surveys the considerable progress as of earlier this month. 



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