New directions

ACE expands to commercial ventures, looks for future private partners

Affordable Community Environments has big plans.

The nine-year-old not-for-profit community development corporation hopes to take affordable housing to the next level with a slew of new ventures, said its new executive director Pam Brokaw.

Brokaw is a former journalist who, prior to joining ACE on Jan. 1, worked locally for Congressman Brian Baird.

The group was created in 1989 to provide affordable and accessible housing in Clark County, and since its inception has done so in three housing developments of 115 total units and taken on a pledge of sustainability.

Since January, ACE has joined forces with the Clark County Department of Community Services to develop a green transitional housing project on the Veterans Affairs campus that, if all goes as planned, will use no more energy than it produces.

And now, situated in new housing of its own — an office downtown at 16th and Broadway streets – ACE is planning its first mixed-use development. While the location has yet to be pinned down, the favorite site is next to Fruit Valley Elementary School on Fruit Valley Road in West Vancouver.

The development will have commercial, office and affordable apartment components in separate buildings. It will likely have 80 units, depending on the final site, but keep a small footprint.

"Affordability is good stewardship of the land," Brokaw said. "It is crucial for economic and cultural vitality. Part of our role is to take a lead and show that it’s possible to do things in an affordable way."

Fruit Valley currently lacks much economic, social and cultural vitality, said Director of Housing Eryn Kelleher.

There aren’t many commercial opportunities. The neighborhood grocery store is a Chevron gas station. There are virtually no restaurants or coffee shops.

The rough concept for the development includes a two-story commercial and office building that could house on the ground floor a salon or a few food-oriented businesses, such as a deli, pizza parlor or bar that could spur nighttime activity.

The emphasis would be on local businesses so wealth stays within the community, Kelleher said.

"We’re trying to provide jobs for the residents to walk – or wheel – to," she said.

The second story would have ACE’s permanent administrative offices and perhaps those of the Home Ownership Center. The neighborhood has proposed locating a Boys and Girls Club there.

"We’re looking to develop in areas where we can be an asset," Brokaw said. "We believe we can lift the community with well-built, responsible construction."

The separate residential building will likely be geared toward single residences for the elderly or young, single graduates. The design will incorporate a wind power component.

The group has been working closely with the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Assoc., which has expressed concerns about overloading the school and increased traffic in the area.

"We want to ensure that anything we do doesn’t have a negative impact," Brokaw said.

While ACE doesn’t need the consent of the neighborhood association, she said the group wouldn’t develop without its blessing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development owns the land, and ACE has an option to buy. The group could break ground by next summer.

The 30-unit transitional housing development on the Veterans Affairs campus will likely house returning veterans and people with mental illness who may have substance abuse issues.

It is seen as a model project, incorporating features like solar power and edible landscaping that can be replicated across the country. It will likely be a live-work space, incorporating a deli or food service center into the design, where residents can gain job-training skills.

A steering committee made up of representatives from Clark County, the city of Vancouver, Clark Public Utilities, mental health care representatives and residents from other ACE communities.

Portland-based Carleton Hart Architecture is working on the project, which could break ground in the fall.

The projects are in line with ACE’s mission, Brokaw said.

"A community is more than bricks and mortar," she said.

New ideas

ACE is looking to the private building community for partnership in future development.

As a not-for-profit, it has the ability to join with local jurisdictions to draw public dollars, whereas private developers may come with land, Brokaw said.

"I’ve always wondered why the affordability and not-for-profit pieces have to be separate from the private side," she said. "There are ways to come together and build on each others’ strengths."

Vancouver-based TEAM Construction has built all three of ACE’s communities – Covington Commons, Cascadia Village Apartments and the Mews at Cascadia Village – and has discussed the prospect of working together to develop a project together in the future.

Owners Brian Wells and Paul Hodge said the partnership is not formal, but both sides are looking for the perfect opportunity to work together.

Wells and Hodge have a few sites in mind, but said all discussions are in the preliminary phases.

ACE has been interested in home ownership for some time, Brokaw said, and is in the first stages of discussing working with a private developer to build an affordable small-footprint cottage or bungalow model that could be used as infill for subdivisions with smaller lots.

"This is a very creative time for us," Kelleher said.

Brokaw said she sees ACE in an incubator role for smarter development, and would like to see ACE expand its projects to the rest of the county.

"As far as green building goes, we can’t afford not to do it," she said.

"In the building community, if we change how we do business, we can change the system."