“Sustainability” can be a slippery term in the best of circumstances. Add “eco-resort” to that and you have a recipe for greenwash. Organic soap, low-flow shower heads, and encouraging guests to hang up their towels for one more use before washing is all well and good, but does not a truly sustainable eco-resort make. There are exceptions, of course, and one of the best examples I’ve seen is Monterey Bay Shores, a planned eco-resort located in Sand City, along the scenic Monterey Peninsula on California’s north-central coast. The seafaring, agricultural region made famous by John Steinbeck.
The project is the brainchild of developer Ed Ghandour and has been for him a sixteen-year journey. As with most journeys spanning such lengths of time, it has has presented significant challenges and setbacks, all of which, in the end, have helped bring to fruition what Ed hopes will be a new way of thinking about sustainable development for everyone involved, from government and business to environmentalists, local communities, and, indeed, the world.
Today marks the formal announcement of the project, currently set to break ground in March. If all goes according to plan, Monterey Bay Shores will be completed in late 2010 or early 2011 and consist of 105 hotel rooms, 63 hotel/condo units, and 85 residential units. But there’s a lot more to this story than the prospect of more hotel space on the Monterey peninsula. I recently met with Ed to discuss his journey, what he’s learned in the process, and how those lessons learned have shaped Ed’s vision, not only for Monterey Bay Shores, but for defining the very concept of sustainability.
“We are driving forward the nascent green development trade with a team of hand-picked sustainability experts that are pooling their knowledge to ensure every aspect of this project is environmentally profitable”, says Ghandour.
“The process worked”
The current plan for Monterey Bay Shores is in full compliance with the California Coastal Act, exceeding the requirements of the Local Coastal Plan standards certified by the California Coastal Commission.
When Ed founded Security National Guaranty and launched plans to develop Monterey Bay Shores on a degraded site of what had until 1986 been a former sand mine, the concepts incorporated in the current iteration of the project (the last of six) had yet to be forged by the regulatory and assessment process. Indeed, much of the current plan for Monterey Bay Shores back in 1992 wasn’t even technically feasible.
“The process worked”, Ed told me. By working through the regulatory hurdles, hearings, environmental impact reports, and initial resistance from local communities and environmentalists – and by responding to changing standards of sustainability and advancing technology – Monterey Bay Shores as now envisioned is set to become a cutting-edge facility. One that embodies a holistic approach to sustainability and user experience, melding the elements of earth, water, light, air, and energy with community involvement, access, restoration, and education in a truly unique facility (just look at the picture) geared to provide visitors and residents with a restorative encounter with the land and sea, while providing opportunities to learn about how the resort works in harmony with its local environment.
For nearly sixty years, the site for Monterey Bay Shores operated as a sand mine, leaving a degraded ecosystem of remnant dunes and vanished topsoil allowing significant intrusion from invasive plant species, further degrading the vital link between marine and terrestrial habitats. In the 20+ years since mining operations have ceased, restoration of the dune habitat has been held in abeyance pending various development proposals.
The Monterey Bay Shores development plan starts with it relationship to the Earth and is committed to restoring and rebuilding the natural habitat. The resort incorporates the idea of biomimicry in the architectural scheme that evokes the natural dune formations. Respecting the land and understanding its topography is the first element of the project’s design:
- 29 acres of dune habitat will be restored or created, 90% of which will remain above high tide.
- The property is set further back from the shoreline than is required by local zoning regulations, providing increased buffer for habitat and natural coastal processes.
- More than 6.5 acres are established for preservation of sensitive species, including 3.3 acres for the Monterey Spineflower, 1.4 acres for the Smith Blue Butterfly, and 2 acres of Snowy Plover habitat.
- Less than 1.5 acres of non-native plant cover throughout the entire facility.
- Five acres of living roofs support native species. Impervious surface cover is reduced to 4%.
- The resort will restore 90% of the dune plant community
- Bioswales: Nutrient and waste stream systems are placed where they would otherwise naturally occur.
- Cut and fill is carefully balanced so that no sand is removed from the site. The resorts layout works with the natural topography to minimize grading an excavation.
- Zoned for 650 units, Monterey Bay Shores will consist of only 341 units, helping to lessen the project’s footprint and maximize integration into its natural setting.
- 11 LEED points: Sustainable site
Water has always been something of a contentious issue in California. Even more so now with looming and continued drought and water shortages all but inevitable for the future of the state. Monterey Bay Shores takes an aggressive approach to water conservation and recycling. Graywater recycling was one area where Ed found overcoming regulatory code a particular challenge. One aspect of the project, therefore, has been educating regulators and pushing the limits of outmoded code that failed to adequately consider graywater recycling at the project level (specifically the 2007 California plumbing code) to accommodate the project’s water conservation goals. Perseverance and vision paid off:
- Graywater recycling saves 24% in potable water consumption, including complete stormwater management and rainwater capture for non-potable uses such as laundry and irrigation. More than 50% of the rainwater will be used by the resort.
- Swales collect, absorb, and filter 100% of excess stormwater runoff from buildings and street surfaces into the ground before going into the city storm drain.
- Pourous sidewalks allows water to filter through to the ground.
- 50% reduction in potable water consumption over similarly-sized facilities through efficiency measures and recycling.
- 5 LEED points: Water efficiency
Read a Steinbeck novel and you can almost feel the angled light of the California sun warming your skin. Monterey Bay Shores takes full advantage of the average 320 days of direct sunshine the region enjoys.
- Extensive use of daylighting saves 20% in interior energy consumption.
- Building orientation takes advantage of sunlight as it changes through the day and seasons.
- Extensive use of atria, skylights, open air entries, and vestibules focuses sunlight.
- Light shelfs provide shade and reflect light into interior spaces, decreasing excessive solar load while increasing available light.
- Building facades are designed as an “active skin”, responding to the exposure of the sun on the building throughout the changing seasons.
- Daylighting strategies utilize the full benefits of sunlight, fostering positive moods and the well-being of occupants.
The sea brings with it the tang of salt air in a ceaseless movement of ocean and atmosphere. Coastal winds are abundant and fully utilized throughout the facility for fresh air ventilation. Using natural instead of mechanical “forced air” ventilation whenever possible saves energy and promotes a healthier environment.
- Natural ventilation and evaporative cooling significantly reduces energy demand.
- Ocean and off-shore breezes channeled through controlled apertures and vegetated “living walls” filter and purify the air before entering rooms.
- Pollutants and indoor VOC are reduced by 50% through the use of green, living wall filtration.
- A variety of exterior and interior environments, some exposed to the natural elements, others cloistered, quiet, and serene, provide opportunities for guests and residents to enjoy the benefits of various “microclimates” throughout the facility.
- 14 LEED points: Indoor environmental quality.
The the Monterey coast is awash with abundant wind, solar, and geothermal energy. All these sources of renewable power are harnessed to provide Monterey Bay Shores with a ready and varied supply of clean energy, reducing reliance on fossil energy by as much as 53%. Through “smart” building technologies, energy efficiency, and extensive use of on-site renewables, Monterey Bay Shores aims to meet the goals set forth in the Architecture 2030 Challenge. Energy systems and efficiency measures for the facility include:
- Photovoltaics – Latest generation PV panels mounted on south-facing roofs.
- Solar-heated water
- Wind turbines – ground-mounted, horizontal turbines offer quiet wind-powered energy generation without endangering birds as in traditional mast-mounted turbines.
- Geothermal heat pumps provide both heating and cooling energy for the resort. The system uses the ground alternately as a heat source and heat sink.
- Extensive use of passive systems reduces reliance on mechanical systems. The mechanical systems used are highly efficient, responding to changing weather, occupant movement, and personal preference.
- “Total envelope” insulation minimizes the demand for heating and cooling
- Computer-controlled building management system provides real-time response to changing conditions and occupant load. Adaptive control reduces energy consumption for heating and lighting by 65%.
- 10 LEED points: Energy and atmosphere.
Monterey Bay Shores will be built using local and regionally-sourced building materials, using low-to-no VOC materials to help maintain the quality of the interior environment. Construction methods will employ a hybrid system of on-site and modular construction, reducing both construction time and on-site impact. Once completed, the goal of Monterey Bay Shores is to obtain Platinum LEED status.
- 5 LEED points: Materials and resources
Building life-cycle: “Rethinking the financials”
And what does building in all this sustainability cost? Is it practical for a business to pay a premium for green building materials and methods when every day more bad economic news hits the wires? Does sustainability make any business sense in these troubled times?
Ed’s answer to those questions is to encourage business people, developers, and entrepreneurs to “rethink the financials”. One need only look at the current business climate to see the consequences of taking a short-term, business-as-usual approach. Sustainability needs to be built into the business model as well as the building.
Ed cites a 15% up-front premium to ensure sustainable materials and building practices are employed for the project. But by utilizing hybrid construction methods, smart building technology, and renewable energy, the long-term cost of the project saves money over traditional resort operations. Breakeven for Monterey Bay Shores is projected at seven years.
Community and education
The holistic approach to sustainability at Monterey Bay Shores extends community to encompass both the natural environment and human community. 500 permanent and construction jobs will be created. Once operational, Monterey Bay Shores will provide. through its “Transit Demand Project” alternative-fuel shuttles, bicycles for guests and employees. Van-pooling options will also be available for employees. Public parking and access to trails, beach, and bay is incorporated into the plan. The Monterey Peninsula is part of one of the richest agricultural regions on earth; the restaurant at Monterey Bay Shores will serve a menu based on locally produced food.
The facility will provide an education and interpretive learning center, providing programs and resources to inform guests, residents, and the community at large about the local environment and concepts of sustainable development. To further support the Monterey Peninsula and coastline, the Monterey Bay Shores Environmental Trust is dedicated to funding local environmental needs.
The journey informs the destination
What Ed was able share with me in an hour could obviously only touch the surface of his 16-year journey, six iterations, countless epiphanies, and numerous challenges that began with his initial idea of building an eco-resort on an abandoned and degraded remnant dune on the shores of Monterey Bay. I, in turn, only scratch the surface of the enthusiasm and devotion that Ed demonstrated to me during our chat. Not only for his brainchild, but for what he’s learned along the way in making it all a reality.
By adapting a holistic approach to evolving concepts of sustainability, responding to advancing technology, and helping to modernize the regulatory process that facilitates the emerging potential of sustainable development, Ed and his team are blazing a trail he invites and encourages others to follow.
“Respect, renew, and restore”
“For sixteen years we have been committed to making the Monterey Bay Shores Ecoresort a reality; our ultimate vision is to create a model that inspires others to develop sustainable structures that protect and restore local ecosystems.”
Ed Ghandour is clearly on a mission. Ed’s vision to create “the Greenest ecoresort in the world” will soon be a model of triple-bottom-line sustainable development tucked into a restored dune along the picturesque and fabled California coast. The same coast that inspired Steinbeck inspires Ed’s dream to build a place that holds true to its motto:
respect, renew, and restore.