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Sustainable Building

by Julie Etra

montecito-12Montecito Beach Village is a 5- hectar residential development on the outskirts of La Bocana, the outlet of the Copalita River, just east of town. Our tour was lead by the affable and knowledgeable Stephan Seidel, Executive Sales Assistant, and included an overview of the site, as well as visit to one of the villas.

We began at the sales office with an overview of the phased project (Phases One and Two largely complete) and discussion of specific ‘green’ components. Sixty-three solar panels currently generate 67,000kw of energy which will increase to 120,000 when Montecito is built out. Currently 10 units have been sold to a mix of owners: two American (United States), three Canadian, two European, and three Mexican. Up to 100 workers are on site every day, with about 70 being local (mostly from Copalita), thus reducing the need for lengthy commutes and short-term housing. The project engineer is on site full time, but few adjustments have been made to actual site plans and layout.

Admittedly skeptical about the term ‘sustainable,’ I was thoroughly impressed by this project, the careful planning, and the attention to detail that has resulted in minimizing disturbance. In my professional world, this is called “reducing your footprint.” The engineers and architects on this project started with a very careful detailed vegetation survey and drainage plan, designing around existing trees and shrubs and leaving as much in place as possible. Plants that could not be avoided were salvaged and stored in the on-site nursery, and replanted with an approximately 80% survival rate. Runoff has been directed to existing drainages reinforced with permeable material such as mortar-less rock and gravel. Temporary roads, which will never see a car, are stabilized by a plastic grid system known also as turf block or geogrid, and back-filled with gravel. This eliminates soil erosion and the need to manage dust and muddy water. This temporary road system will be removed as the permanent access is installed, which consists of tiles, and bricks, and native rock (piedra laja used throughout the project) again mortar-less, which also is an engineering consideration in our seismically active area. Where needed, concrete lined drainage ditches outfall into energy dispersing systems and vegetation.

We then went up the top of the project, the as yet to be constructed Loma Lounge, which has been cleared but not graded. The view of the Pacific is unimpeded and breathtaking. There will be a pool and small restaurant, but instead of palapa shade structures that could block views and obscure the night ski, only shade umbrellas will be available. Stephen also indicated they were still considering installing a weather station, mostly to help them adjust engineering components of future phases, such as aspect and ventilation.

The villas were carefully designed to maximize ventilation, which is a great consideration in our hot coastal climate. All the wood and hand-crafted persianas (Venetian blinds), are highly adjustable. Retaining walls have been set back to allow for better air circulation.

In addition to local labor, the project owners have attempted to use local materials as much as possible, including the piedra laja from Barra de la Cruz; hardwoods such as guanacaste, a beautiful hardwood immune to termites (harvested with proper permits, of course) for the villas, and locally made furniture, also from Mexico City. Some of the furniture is built-in concrete, thereby reducing fumigations. All the pools will have salt water systems, very beneficial to our skin, and eliminating the need for toxic chlorine. Retaining walls have been crafted from local soils with 5%+/- concrete, creating an organic, harmonious and cost effective solution to erosion. Fixtures such as hinges and handles are top of line and rust proof, reducing maintenance and replacements. Grasses (although the species are introduced) have been planted in various places to screen and create more privacy.

Our last stop was breakfast at the restaurant, which was excellent. And Stephan also informed us that beach access would not be blocked to anyone, including local shore fishermen. Nice.

By Julie Etra – The Eye, Huatulco

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