“Hugo’s got his own tools and loves to push dirt around, and he knows about watering,” says Wansbrough as the little one pads barefoot across bamboo floors, clutching a handful of sticks he’s collected from nearby parks in the artistic enclave known as Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Welcome to the new green residential complex Greenbelt, a joint venture by developer Derek Denckla of Propeller Group and architect Gregory Merryweather. The five-story, mixed-use building boasts so many sustainable features that it’s vying for LEED-New Construction (NC) Gold Certification, possibly by late autumn. If that’s granted, it will be the first LEED-NC Gold building in Brooklyn. It’s also home to the non-profit Center for Performance Research (CPR), a 4,000-square-foot arts space that includes two studios (one doubles as a performance area), restrooms, a kitchen, and storage space. The eight units upstairs, all one- or two-bedroom condos, are occupied by eco-conscious creative types like Player and Wansbrough: he’s a production manager at the Music Hall of Williamsburg; she’s a partner in the fashion line Mirror/Dash which she launched with her friend, Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon. Wansbrough is also the sales director and merchandiser for fashion designer Jeffrey Monteiro. With artists and writers as neighbors, not to mention the cultural crowds that CPR events draw, they fit right in.
Conceived by Denckla and Merryweather to remedy the usual emigration of artists when property values rise, Greenbelt supports the existing cultural community while providing environmentally responsible housing way below luxury-condo rates. Denckla, a former attorney with a background in community organizing and events, has worked as a consultant for arts non-profits on making major real estate decisions. The last thing he wanted to see was Williamsburg go the way of Soho, where the mixed-use neighborhood once known for artist lofts has gentrified to become more of an outdoor shopping mall. “It’s not bad that people want to move to an artistic community,” he says. “The problem is that when everyone moves there, there are no artists left because they can no longer afford to be there.”
Taking care not to displace businesses or local residents in the Italian north side of Williamsburg, the developers purchased a one-story plumbing business near the sleepy corner of Manhattan Avenue and Jackson Street with the intention of building up from there. The project was then structured around community-facilities zoning, in which a doctor’s office or other public-sector service occupies the ground floor. “But we wanted to contribute to the dialogue of the city, to have a physical space that excited people and encouraged discourse. As a working artist and as a person interested in policy,” says Denckla, who also plays guitar in the Brooklyn band Building 6, “I thought Williamsburg was a perfect place to experiment with this idea of finding a nonprofit user for the ground floor. We could subsidize an arts space by selling condos. And we also decided that sustainability was part of our mission.”
Denckla tapped his resources in the arts and facilitated the formation of the CPR. A continued event series at the center focuses on themes of sustainability, both cultural and environmental—the very issues that motivated these developers to create this innovative project from the start.
Sustainability is on the minds of Greenbelt residents, too. How could it not be? Each of the eight condos, which range from 750-square-foot one-bedrooms to 1,100-square-foot two-bedrooms, and which were sold for between $555,000 and $795,000, includes energy-efficient technologies and green features: Energy Star appliances and lighting, Forbo Marmoleum floors in the kitchen, Benjamin Moore Eco-Spec low-volatile organic compound (VOC) interior paint, Richlite compressed paper-and-resin kitchen counters, and high-efficiency dual-flush Caroma toilets. Rooftop solar panels produce five kilowatts of power—the amount a typical household uses in a year—and that energy runs the elevator and lighting in the building’s common areas. According to Melinda, there’s buzz in the building about putting fruit trees and a communal clothesline on the rooftop. Why use energy when air-dried clothes smell fresher, anyway?
Player and Wansbrough, who moved to Greenbelt in January from the Brooklyn neighborhood Carroll Gardens, were sold the second they saw it. “We walked in and I said, ‘Evan, we have to make this happen,’” recalls Wansbrough, an Aussie who says the indoor-outdoor aspect reminded her of home. They had grown weary of difficult neighbors in rental buildings—not to mention the guilt associated with the inevitable waste of resources in old apartments. “In the middle of winter,” says Player, who’s also a musician, “it gets so hot you have to open the window. Landlords spend a fortune to heat those buildings.” Now, he says, they can keep the temperature at a comfortable and energy-efficient 66 degrees during cold months, and though their home is larger than their last one, the monthly electric bill is still $20 less.
In the couple’s second-floor, two-bedroom home, vintage furniture mixed with a few industrial elements complements the contemporary architecture. “Mid-century pieces soften it and make it feel lived in,” says Wansbrough. “You’ve got to make it warm and homey.” Danish case goods provide storage, and a 1960s bookcase is filled with colorful resin dishes. Artwork by well-known names like David Larwill and Stephen Ormandy, many of whom are friends of the couple, hangs on the walls. Pulled up to the bar in the kitchen is a row of industrial swivel stools.
Also, near the door, there’s a wire basket filled with some discarded paper and odd containers. “That’s Hugo’s recycling,” explains Wansbrough. “He loves to sort. He just taught my parents how to do it.” An added benefit of living in a green environment is the next generation learns young about sustainability. On a recent day, Hugo told Wansbrough they should take the stairs, not the elevator. “We have to save energy, Mom.”
Resource List Developer (A joint venture between Derek Denckla of Propeller Group and architect Gregory Merryweather)
Derek Denckla, Propeller Group Brooklyn; (718) 797-4233; propellergroup.net
Gregory Merryweather, Architect Merryweather Blough Office New York; (212) 366-9675; graftworks.net LEED Consultant Larsen Plano, senior project manager Community Environmental Center New York; (718) 784-1444; cecenter.org Energy Recovery Ventilation System RenewAire Ventilation Madison, WI; (800) 627-4499; renewaire.com Paint Benjamin Moore Montvale, NJ; (800) 672-4686; benjaminmoore.com Elevator Kone Lisle, IL; (800) 956-5663; kone.com Wall insulation Thermafiber Wabash, IN; (888) 834-2371; thermafiber.com Skylight Kalwall Manchester, NH; (800) 258-977; kalwall.com Heat pump Trane Piscataway, NJ; (732) 652-7000; trane.com Low-E coated windows Oldcastle Glass Santa Monica, CA; (866) 653-2278; oldcastleglass.com Kitchen cabinets purekitchen Brooklyn; (718) 715-0843; purekitchen.com Kitchen counters Richlite Tacoma, WA; (888) 383-5533; richlite.com Kitchen flooring Forbo Hazelton, PA; (866) MARMOLEUM; themarmoleumstore.com Garbage disposal InSinkErator Racine, WI; (800) 558-5700; insinkerator.com Washer-dryer and freezer LG Englewood Cliffs, NJ; (800) 243-0000; lge.com Dishwasher Bosch Huntington Beach, CA; (800) 944-2904; boschappliances.com Refrigerator Jenn-Air Benton Harbor, MI; (800) JENN-AIR; jennair.com Bathroom sinks and shower heads Kohler Kohler, WI; (800) 4-KOHLER; us.kohler.com Toilets Caroma Brisbane, Australia; (800) 604-4218; caromausa.com