Bridging Sustainable and Social Gaps: Earth Care, Fair Share and People Care at Echo Hills Cottages
Garret K. Woodward
When Ron Czecholinski and his wife moved to Asheville in 2010, he had one goal in mind: to create a sustainable development that truly focused on the meaning of the word “community.”
“Our intention has been to do this kind of development where we combine the pre-green building techniques and philosophies of the 1970s with a lot of work in community building,” said Czecholinski, owner of Ashevillebased Habitat Re-Imagined. “It’s a ‘co-housing light’ development as we say — smaller and less complicated than co-housing, but with similar goals of a strong sustainability focus in both environmental and social issues.”
There are 11 homes ultimately planned for the 3.25-acre West Asheville property known as Echo Hills Cottages. Czecholinski is already headlong into the project. The sixth house is currently under construction, while two more are in development.
“The standards and aesthetics are a similar look and feel, but every home is different and custom built,” Czecholinski said. “We’re designing each home to flow with the contours of the hills and keeping as much wooded area intact as possible.”
The ethos of Echo Hills Cottages encompasses three areas: earth care, fair share and people care. A core focus is to merge green initiatives with a keen sense of permaculture, and the landscape design includes water retention throughout the property; native, drought-resistant and edible plants; common park and garden areas; and organic and natural care, among other features.
Czecholinski designed one recent project, the home at 10 Wellspring Lane, to attain a gold certification through the Green Built Homes program, but with solar panels added, it pushed it to platinum certification. The home ultimately achieved Platinum Net Zero Energy level certification through Green Built Homes.
“We’re designing the houses to be net-zero energy ready. Once you put the solar on, you become net-zero energy. And for most months, you’re only paying the standard monthly solar hookup fee to Duke Energy, which is about $15,” Czecholinski said. “By establishing that pattern for a solar option early on in the building design and process, you’re creating a system integrated for the best results, rather than just trying to add more of this and more of that to reach platinum.”
Beyond all of his sustainable initiatives and intentions, Czecholinski wants to stand out from other green developers and projects by purposely aiming to create a true sense of community through an underlying form of sociocracy that lies at the foundation of Echo Hills Cottages.
“To me, sustainability really has to go beyond the environment. It’s the concept of permaculture, and the integration of environmental, social and economic issues in sustainability. And we’re trying to do all of that,” Czecholinski said. “We want to build relationships with the people before we actually build the homes. We’re not building and selling to whoever comes, where there’s no plan for community. We’re looking for alignment and vision.”
Czecholinski pointed to storied architect Ross Chapin’s idea of “pocket neighborhoods” as a main inspiration for the property.
“Chapin took the co-housing concept from the 1980s and in the mid-1990s and converted it into a developer-driven model,” Czecholinski said. “And what’s so vital and needed in this movement is structure for the social component.”
Underneath that need for the social component, Czecholinski also noted three areas that must come together for the green foundation of each structure: energy efficiency, air quality and conserving materials.
“How we’re using energy, how we’re creating environments that are healthy for humans and animals, and how we’re not wasting materials is vitally important in our society,” Czecholinski said. “It’s crucial and critical that we start to address these issues in radical ways. We’re currently disconnected, digitalized and polarized. We need environments and structures that help us nurture a cooperative culture.”
To learn more about Echo Hills, visit echohillscottages.com.
You can also view this article as it was originally published on pages 26-27 in the 2019-2020 edition of the directory.