George and Gloria Menedes are creating their new dream home in a little, old church on Nevada Street in Ashland — next to Helman Elementary School — and they are looking for company.
The zoning for the church property will allow them to create five lots on their adjacent acre, and they're willing to sell buildable lots, but there's a catch. All of the houses would have to be EcoNests, a green, sustainable type of house marketed by Ashland transplants Paula Baker-LaPorte and Robert LaPorte. (Correction: Robert LaPorte's name has been corrected in this story.)
The Menedes, owners of Blue: Greek on Granite, looked all over the Rogue Valley for the right site for their vision of a green-sustainable community and were shocked to find an affordable plot — thanks to the housing crash — in Ashland, says Gloria Menedes.
The boxy, old church, built in the 1960s, wasn't their dream structure, but the price, location and bare land made it close to ideal, as did the cooperation of city planners, who gave them a thumbs-up on such essentials as building accessory units behind houses — something Ashland likes because it increases density and heads off sprawl.
The couple's goal is to create a community of "healthy, breathable homes" that aren't off-gassing formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds or other substances that aren't good for you, says Gloria.
"Breathable means building materials are natural and allow passage of air in and out" without losing heat in winter or cool air in summer, says Gloria. The church-house, with 2-by-4 walls and concrete pad, won't be a poster child for this goal, the couple admit, but all the houses to be built on site will use plans from EcoNest, which "have timber framing and a beautiful, timeless skin of clay and straw, 12 inches thick and it literally breathes," she says.
In addition, walls in the remodeled church will be insulated with shredded denim from Phoenix Organics, she says.
If all goes as planned, the two- and three-bedroom EcoNest dwellings will form a ring around a common garden built on the permaculture model. It will contain a dome from Pacific Domes that will serve as a nouveau greenhouse, allowing growing in winter.
Inside the church, the floor plan is inspired by EcoNest, with a "slight Asian feel" and a main center or "navel" to the house, in this case a living room. A bedroom on three of the four corners and a kitchen on the southeast corner comes from the tradition of Vastu Shastra, an ancient Indian philosophy of architecture not unlike feng shui, Gloria says.
The house ridge runs north and south, making solar difficult, but the couple plan to build a shed roof off the south end to hold photovoltaic panels, says George. Owners of the five other houses can choose EcoNest plans with single or double floors, and all of the houses will be required to use solar energy.
"We choose to be shepherds of the environment here," Gloria says. "This church may be old-fashioned, but everything else about this place is great, and it's cost-effective. You can take pride, not in ownership, but in being a good steward of the Earth, pride in something you can leave to your children."
Paula Baker-LaPorte, co-author of "A Healthy House," moved recently to Ashland with her husband, Robert LaPorte. Baker-LaPorte will serve as architect, along with Joyce Ward of Ashland, on the new houses.
"The homes will have a very clean and open feeling," says Gloria.
"It's a feeling of symmetry all around you," says George. "It makes me feel very centered."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.