A Tale of Two Projects…

Terry Mock, SLDI Co-founder

By Terry Mock
Follow Terry on Twitter: @SustainLandDev

August 2009

The planners of a destination resort in the pristine Metolius River Basin of Oregon envisioned it as a sustainable community that would improve the health of the forest around it. The Metolian resort would have had energy-efficient homes built with nontoxic materials, equipped with solar hot-water heaters and landscaped with native plants, according to its plans. It would use water collected from rainfall and waterways flush with seasonal snowmelt, and be designed to encourage people to get out and enjoy the surrounding forest. A stewardship fund set up by the resort would fund numerous conservation projects in the basin — all part of the plan for the proposed eco-resort.

But it would be its 180-unit lodge and 450 single-family homes that would make the $215 million resort pencil out. The bottom line for environmentalists was that for all the talk of green, eco-friendly designs, the Metolian still represented a new subdivision that could double the population of the Metolius basin and have an undeniable negative impact. So on July 15th, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed House Bill 3298, designating the Metolius River area as an Area of Critical State Concern (ACSC) – shutting the door on destination resorts in the area. “This designation and the corresponding management plan protect the basin from large-scale development that is inconsistent with the unique environmental, cultural and scenic values and resources of the basin,” the governor’s news release stated.

What if Sustainable Land Developers Were Seen As Hope For The Future?

Thirty years ago, long before any official green-building guidelines existed, developer Stanley Selengut leased 14 acres of land along the two, smile-shaped coves of Maho Bay on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John. Over the next few years, he built 114 one-room, wood-and-vinyl tents behind the turpentine and kapok trees. The canopy they created loomed above wooden walkways that hovered over the soil so visitors wouldn’t damage the ground cover as they walked down to the beach or up to the restaurant pavilion, which was tucked back on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Water and electricity lines were laid beneath the walkways, precluding the need for trenches.

“When I finished building the place, it looked like it had grown there,” Selengut says.

Maho Bay Camps is a model for private developers and the National Park Service alike, according to Robert Stanton, who served four years as superintendent of Virgin Islands National Park before becoming director of the Park Service from 1997 to 2001.

“This is a textbook example of how development can be sustainable as well as compatible with the environment,” he said.

The concept Selengut pioneered 30 years ago has been validated by the million-plus visitors who have stayed in his Maho Bay resort without affecting the clarity of the waters.

“I didn’t see why human comfort and environmental sensitivity couldn’t be compatible,” he says. “I still don’t.” Now, the original long-term lease on the property is about to expire and a frantic effort has begun to save Maho Bay Camps – spearheaded by local residents, former resort guests, and a non-profit, the Trust for Public Lands, in order preserve this iconic example of sustainable land development and to prevent more intense commercial and residential use of the now world-famous location.

The irony of the above tale is that one project storyline portrays land development as a curse, while the other sees it as a blessing. SLDI is committed to a mission that will assure a future where the latter is the rule, rather than the exception.

Your participation and comments are welcome.

THE MAN – Turning Vision into Mission
Paradise Lost? The world’s 1st eco-resort
Interview with Stanley Selengut, the “Grandfather of Sustainable Resort Development”
A True Eco-Resort in St. John – USVI
Trust for Public Lands – Saving Maho Bay Camps

Sustainable Land Development Initiative

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SLDI Co-founders:
Terry Mock
Tony Wernke

Read The Fractal Frontier - Sustainable Development Trilogy.
Read Developing a Sustainable Endgame for the Global Economy
See history and evolution of SLDI @ SLDI Foundational Articles