March 29, 2007

Former Surfer Pours Heart into Bold New Project

By Julia Scott

PACIFICA -- Tait Cowan grew up in Linda Mar and spent every afternoon in high school surfing at Pacifica State Beach.

If his dream comes true, someday soon he'll move into a new home overlooking it all -- part of a subdivision he hopes to build on a grassy hillside on the northern flank of Linda Mar, where he still lives and owns a surfboard shop.

"Every part of my life I can see from this hill," Cowan said, gazing at the scene below: the houses, the beach, the valleys, and the ranches stretching toward Montara Mountain.

Cowan, a former pro surfer, has always wanted to wake up with a view of the ocean outside his bedroom window. And he always wanted his home to incorporate green energy-saving building technologies. When he saw a "For Sale" sign in 2003 on the hillside, which stretches from Crespi Drive to Fassler Avenue, he knew the time had come to act.

So was born the concept for "Harmony @ 1," a proposed

13-home development atop the

67-acre hillside overlooking the ocean. If approved, the homes willincorporate solar power, wind power and advanced water recycling technology in a manner unprecedented for any Bay Area development.

Cowan has since partnered with fellow Pacifican Stuart Newton, a venture capitalist, and two other locals to form a company that is in final negotiations to purchase the property. If all goes according to plan, the project will come before the Pacifica Planning Commission soon after.

Not surprisingly, all of the $1.2 million parcels are already spoken for --

although Cowan and Newton still give tours of the bluff top, because they can't yet make any guarantees. They don't yet own the property.

Home prices will vary according to size. Owners can design their houses any way they like, but they are required to incorporate several strict green building elements into the design.

The men acknowledge that the hill's uneven grading, with heights that stretch from 110 to 400 feet, make it an unlikely location for a series of 4,000-square-foot homes. The cost of attaching water and sewer lines accounts for much of the

$12 million to $14 million cost the developers will bear for the entire project. But Cowan and Newton say the demonstrated demand for housing has made the project practical for the first time since the property went on the market.

Pacifica Planning Director Michael Crabtree agrees.

"I think that part of it is probably the economic climate. Maybe it makes sense now to develop these properties," he said. "There's not a lot of flat, easily developable land -- most of our available vacant lands are on hillsides or other challenging locations."

Homes that incorporate green technologies in their core also will be expensive for homeowners, but Cowan and Newton say it will save everyone money in the long run. The concept homes, designed by Field Architecture of Palo Alto, incorporate solar panels to cover electricity and hot water needs; strategically placed windows that heat each room naturally; and rainwater and shower-water recycling to irrigate the hillside, which will be landscaped only with native flora.

The homes themselves will be along one side of the property and are designed to cut low into the hillside to avoid disturbing the views of residents below. Sixty of the 67 acres will have no development whatsoever, and 40 of those acres will be devoted specifically to planted habitat for local butterflies and birds.

Streetlights installed along a single paved road will be powered with wind turbines atop each light pole.

Jeremy Walker, the project's "green" technology guru, says the level of detail and cutting-edge technology the project employs has no local, or even national, precedent.

"It hasn't been done at this scale and in this type anywhere outside of Europe," said Walker. "There are lots of developers who say that they do, but there are none who are planning completely end- to-end green building strategies for an entire subdivision."

One problem the project may face is concern over traffic at already crowded Highway 1 and Fassler Avenue. Mindful of the recent controversy over a proposed housing development at a former Pacifica quarry site, the developers have met early and often with the public, conducting two environmental reviews and three public meetings in the space of a year.

"Pacifica's not been very friendly to development, and we wanted to find out what worked and what didn't work," Newton said, adding that many of the "green" elements for the project were tweaked at the suggestion of community members.

"A woman came up to me and said, 'Listen to the hill. It will tell you what to do.' I thought to myself, 'What a good idea,'" Newton said.

Both men have already picked out parcels for their families. Cowan's sits alone on a lower plateau so he can see the surf break, and Newton's crowns the hill with a panoramic view of Pacifica, San Francisco and the hillsides that surround his.

Cowan said, "My lifestyle is based on the purest thing there is: the ocean. To integrate that into your home is a great way to live."

Staff writer Julia Scott can be reached at (650) 3488-4340 or [email protected]

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