Vail Daily News
Vail, CO

Vail Valley development going green

Sky legend in Gypsum to build LEED-certified homes

Scott N. Miller

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ross Graves
Developer Ross Graves at the Sky Legend project in Gypsum.
photo by Kristin Anderson

GYPSUM — Ross Graves thinks smaller is the next big thing in real estate. Graves, of ASW Realty Partners, is leading the development of Sky Legend, a 247-unit portion of the Cotton Ranch subdivision at Gypsum. Much of Cotton Ranch is a lot like Edwards’ Singletree area — good-sized houses near and around a golf course.

Sky Legend, on a mesa to the west of the original part of Cotton Ranch, took a different approach. The homes are smaller — most between 1,700 and 2,500 square feet — and on smaller lots than Cotton Ranch homes. The yards and common areas are mostly xeriscaped, and what grass is planted is a water-stingy fescue, not thirsty bluegrass.

Most of the completed homes have “five-star” energy ratings, meaning they’re well-insulate and have efficient appliances.

Now Graves is ready to take that smaller, more efficient idea to another level.

LEED-ing on the mesa

The next homes ASW builds at Sky Legend will be next to a small lake near part of the golf course. They’ll also be certified through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program. That means an independent agency will grade virtually every aspect of the homes’ environmental impact.

So far in the valley, some commercial buildings — most notably, Traer Creek Plaza and the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon — have sought LEED certification.

Some private homes have also been built to those standards. But, Graves said, this is the first time a developer has built several homes built to meet LEED’s specifications.

Beyond the buildings themselves, the new Sky Legend homes will be available with solar panels to generate electricity, cutting utility bills. The first of the LEED homes will also come with a hybrid car — either a Toyota Prius or a Ford Escape — in the garage, as well as wiring to re-charge a full-electric car.

The idea, Graves said, is to free up cash for buyers who are already making two car payments. Throwing in a hybrid will cut commuting costs and allow families to sell one of the cars they’re already paying for.

Being ready for hybrids and full-electric cars also help the sellers drive home the notion that this project is something special.

Graves, who’s also been involved in the development of the Chatfield Corners and Miller Ranch projects in Eagle County, caught the energy-efficiency bug while working on the Burlingame housing project near Aspen.

“Since then we’ve followed the movement toward smaller homes,” Graves said. “This trend’s been going on for the last three or four years.”

Living smaller

Jim Morgan’s family downsized by about 1,000 square feet of living space when they moved from their home near Evergreen to a house in Sky Legend. Some of the family’s stuff went into storage, but Morgan said the new home is working out just fine.

“It’s very efficient,” Morgan said of his new home. “We’ve got the space we need, and modern mountain architecture.”

Morgan is thrilled with his place in Gypsum, calling it “paradise,” especially since he bought a single-family home along a golf course for less than what his old condo in Avon sold for.

But Morgan, who’s also in the real estate business, said he thinks the homes and layout at Sky Legend will be copied elsewhere, and sooner than later.

“I think locally, people are already comfortable with smaller townhomes and condos,” Morgan said. That should make the more compact Sky Legend homes a little easier to sell.

Besides energy efficiency, Graves believes the Sky Legend model also appeals to more active families. A smaller home means less space to clean, he said, and a xeriscaped yard means there’s less work to do outside, freeing up time for biking, skiing, or other activities.

For real, this time

Graves is old enough to remember the first energy shocks of the 1970s and ‘80s. There was a rush to better fuel economy and lower heating bills then, too. Then the price of oil dropped and driving and bigger homes were easier to afford.

The current green wave is different, Graves said.

“We didn’t have the pressures of globalization then,” he said. “China and India weren’t growing, and you didn’t see the competition for oil. The credit crisis and the war are factors, too, and we have all three of them at the same time.”

Get Graves started, and it’s easy to see why Morgan calls him a “missionary” for this kind of home development.

“With all these issues, if you create a house with low energy use, good size, good location, it’s going to be attractive to people,” Graves said. “And it’s the right thing to do, too.”