Affordable Condo Development Planned for Old Colony Road

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

By Wiley Wood, Norfolk Now

State funds sought for 10 energy-efficient homes

In 2015, Norfolk architect Kate Johnson won a statewide award for having designed an energy-efficient home. So efficient was the house that it was given a Home Energy Rating System Index of -12, meaning that the building generates more energy from the photovoltaic cells on its roof than it consumes in the course of a year. Because it’s an all-electric house, the annual energy cost to the owners for heating, hot water, lights and appliances comes out to less than zero.

Johnson, who meets regularly with the Green Build Roundtable, a group of building trade professionals in Connecticut who gather to exchange information about energy-efficient building practices, describes the house as being “super durable, highly energy efficient, and really pretty inexpensive.” Built in Litchfield by builder David Jones of Revival Homes, LLC, the house tied for first place as the overall winner of the 2015 Connecticut Net Zero Energy Challenge. It also won in the category of “Lowest Projected Annual Operating Costs.”

“I left the project thinking I want to build more of these,” said Johnson. As a longtime board member of the Foundation for Norfolk Living, Johnson was closely involved in the creation of six apartments in the former Menard and Ursoni residences on Greenwoods Road West and the renovation of six more in the former Burr houses on Greenwoods Road East. Both projects were a mix of market-rate and affordable housing. With all of these apartments now completed and occupied, Johnson, who recently replaced Lou Barbagallo as foundation’s president, went back to a plan that had been considered 10 or 12 years ago to build an affordable single-family home on Old Colony Road.

This time, the project would be scaled up, using an available 38-acre parcel on the same road. Ten single-family houses are planned for the first phase and nine more for the second. “To apply for Department of Housing funding, the state requires at least six homes, but we think that 10 houses is the right number given our road-building costs,” said Johnson.

Crucial to the concept is that the houses be durably constructed, highly energy efficient, and moderately priced.

“We don’t think we’ll be duplicating existing housing stock,” says Johnson. “Most of the houses available in the lower price range are old, they have work that needs to be done, and they are very energy inefficient.”

A house of the kind built by Johnson and Jones in Litchfield has walls of a modular, custom-fabricated insulated concrete and a roof of structural insulated panels. There is no exterior wood or siding, making the building virtually maintenance-free. The all-electric Litchfield house has an extremely tight thermal envelope and is heated by a single, wall-hung heat pump. Hot water is provided by two toaster-sized on-demand water heaters. The mechanicals fit in a single closet.

“We are hoping that these houses will appeal on the one hand to young families and on the other to empty nesters looking to downsize,” says Johnson.

The houses will be owned individually as condominiums, while the land will belong to a homeowners association. At least 30 percent of the homes will fall under the state’s affordable housing guidelines.

The Foundation for Norfolk Living is preparing to apply to the state for funding in late March and is seeking clearances beforehand from the town’s Inland Wetlands Agency and the Planning and Zoning Commission. The site, once used as a gravel bank, is immediately west of the town garage on Old Colony Road and backs up against Haystack State Park. P & Z will hold a public hearing on Feb. 19. Copies of the application will be available in advance at the town clerk’s office.

“I think it’s a terrific addition to Norfolk,” says First Selectman Matt Riiska. He points out that the Haystack Woods development, as it is known, will increase the grand list and bring in more tax revenue, while potentially attracting families with school-age children. “It’s all up to the state whether the money is available,” says Riiska, “but we’ll get our application into the queue and keep our fingers crossed.”