Home & Garden Monthly
January 22, 2009
Creature comforts,
on the house
Developers of the
WaterShed building merge resource-conserving concepts into a virtually self-sustaining structure.
April 14, 2009
Living in the
Wanted: Apartment tenants
willing to live extra environmentally conscious, who can pay three to four times the typical rent and who don't mind defrosting a back-to-the-future refrigerator by hand.
October 23, 2008
Special Art Walk
to tour WaterShed
A special edition Art Walk
will feature a tour and reception at the new WaterShed building,
321 Mill St.
June 13, 2006
New standards
are in store for new
construction say
Eugene planning
The city of Eugene is poised
to adopt a green building standard for all city buildings larger than 10,000 sq. feet.
Real Estate Notebook
June 13, 2006
A new developer
envisions an
and rainwaiter
Jeff Wilson-Charles is
pioneering a green colony on the high-profile south bank of the Willamette River, next to the Ferry Street Bridge.

Register-Guard, Home & Garden MonthlyJanuary 22, 2009
Creature Comforts, On the House

Watershed: A critical point that marks a division or a change of course; a turning point. That is one definition of the word "watershed." Fittingly, Jeff and Victoria Wilson-Charles named their residential and commercial development in downtown Eugene the WaterShed building-and one turning point they hope the structure represents is toward greener, cleaner ways of designing, building and operating homes.

The recently completed building, at the corner of Third Avenue and Mill Street just south of Ferry Street Bridge, is perhaps the city's high-profile showcase of green materials and technologies melded together in a multi-family residential setting.

The development includes five residential units and two ground-level commercial spaces, arranged around a courtyard highlighted by custom metalwork, unique lighting and a central fountain. Inside and out, the owners opted for earth-friendly, efficient and long-lasting materials and designs.

"It's not 'Respect the environment unless it costs too much," Jeff Wilson-Charles told The Register-Guard when the project broke ground in the summer of 2006. "You have to run your business, your life and your development with the values you're trying to instill in your kids."

Now finished, the building has a very "now" appearance with its Northwest contemporary design marked by expanses of corrugated galvanized steel, large windows and bright, earth-colored stucco walls.

But it's inside those walls-and up on the stainless-steel roof, and in two silo-like canisters that hold rainwater run-off, and in 300 feet of underground pipes that capture warmth from the earth-where the building reflects the latest ways to conserve water and energy.

Sustained by rain and sun

One of the most visible green features of the WaterShed building-and the true inspiration for its name-is the rainwater catchment system that directs runoff from the 5,400 square feet of roofing into two lined cisterns with a combined 16,000 gallon capacity.

The stored water will be used to sustain the property's landscape through an automatic drip-irrigation system. Also, after traveling through a charcoal filter and UV filter, the rainwater will be used for toilet flushing and clothes washing throughout the building.

With an estimated 285,000 gallons that should come off the roof in a typical rain year, the owners hope that the system will provide enough water that it should rarely switch over to city water as the backup source, which it is plumbed to do automatically.

"From everything we've seen by using low-flow toilets and low-water-usage washing machines, we should be able to make it through the year without any other input," Jeff Wilson-Charles says.

Similarly, solar systems will provide a clean source of heat and electricity for many of the building's functions.

Coiled rooftop pipes comprise a thermal water-heating system that should meet typical hot-water demands of the residents. "The computations say that any time of the year, even if it's been cloudy for a week, you should be able to get all of your hot water out of this system," Wilson-Charles explains. "If the temperature that's being called for isn't enough, the instant (natural gas-powered) hot water heater will take whatever's coming out of the solar thermal and bump it up to the right temperature."

Meanwhile, a 4 1/2-kilowatt photovoltaic installation on one of the roof's other peaks generates enough electricity to power the building's exterior lighting and concealed mechanical systems.

These systems include ground-source heat pumps that circulate water through 300 feet of underground pipes to absorb the consistent warmth of the earth's crust, then through radiant floor-heating coils to warm the building.

Also, heat recover ventilators (HRVs) provide fresh air for each residential and commercial space without indoor heat loss. The HRVs extract warmth from indoor air before it is vented to the outdoors.

"If you move in and are an energy and water hog, we can't do anything about that," Wilson-Charles says. "But if the building just sits here empty, it can run on its own with as little extra input as possible."

A conservative approach

Wilson-Charles says the WaterShed building is green enough to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, but the certification would have added about $50,000 to the project costs. He opted instead to spend the money on further improvements such as ultra-efficient appliances.

There are low-flow and energy-efficient ASKO dishwashers, washing machines and driers from Sweden; Danish Vestfrost refrigerators, which are made entirely of recyclable components and lack the energy-consuming "frost-free" feature; Electrolux ovens and magnetic induction range tops; and dual-flush Caroma toilets from Australia.

Other energy- and resource-conserving features permeate the structure:

  • Autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blocks comprise the walls; the lightweight, foot-thick pieces form the structure and provide insulation that far surpasses traditional stick-built walls. Builders simply stuccoed the outside and plastered the inside, and left most of the plumbing exposed on the inside walls to preserve the blocks' insulative qualities.
  • Triple-paned windows proved another layer of insulation, reducing both heat loss and the amount of street noise that enters the building.
  • The developers used man y sustainable building materials, including salvaged hazard and windfall fir lumber from the McKenzie River area for windows, doors, balustrades and more. Also, they used wheatboard, a natural, formaldehyde-free plywood alternative, and surplus wood from other building projects.
  • Concrete counters and the 125-year guaranteed stainless-steel roof are enduring material choices that reflect the owners' desire to build "as bomb-proof as possible" for a long-lasting building.
  • Most light fixtures use electricity-saving compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Permeable pavers form the courtyard surface, allowing rainwater to reach the soil underneath. This reduces the runoff of pollutants into the city stormwater system, and therefore, local rivers.
  • Landscapers used drought-tolerant and native plant species throughout the courtyard and balcony planter boxes.
  • A separate, locking bike room for residents makes it easier for them to choose a cleaner mode of transportation.
  • The building makes efficient use of a small urban lot. An example of the type of "infill" development that city planners promote, the WaterShed's living spaces feature two- and three-level configurations that stretch the possibilities of the structure's 7,000-square-foot footprint. Each floor plan is unique; sizes range from 1,300 to 2,000 square feet.

In all, Jeff Wilson-Charles hopes his project is the start of a new era when resource conservation is less a challenge, and more a seamless part of living. " want to make it easy to make the right choices."

Register-GuardApril 14, 2009
Living in the WaterShed

Wanted: Apartment tenants willing to live extra environmentally conscious, who can pay three to four times the typical rent and who don't mind defrosting a back-to-the-future refrigerator by hand.

That's the score at Jeff and Victoria Wilson-Charles' new three-story stainless steel and stucco project now ready for rent - at upward of $2,000 per month - on the south bank of the Willamette River near the Ferry Street Bridge.

The "WaterShed" is a quirky project, developed by a philosophy major turned developer and built by an English major turned general contractor. It is avant-garde in its style of artistic living quarters, environmental systems and institution-free financing, and Eugene hasn't seen anything like it yet.

The building was forged in the creative tensions between art and environmental engineering.

Designer William Roach, for example, created a roof line with multidirectional peaks - it's a striking style but it left only enough south-facing roof for a 4.5 kilowatt solar array, which is only enough to light the building's exterior.

Engineering considerations, on the other hand, led to walls built of a pumice-textured material called autoclaved aerated concrete, which insulates best if left in block form. So interior designers had to work with the exposed plumbing and electrical conduit aesthetic.

The project - with five apartments and two ground floor commercial spaces - broke "green" barriers. Two three-story tanks hold 16,000 gallons of rain collected from the roofs as part of the first-ever commercial rainwater toilet-flushing system in Eugene. Heat comes from pipes drilled 300 feet into Earth's crust.

Eighty percent of the wood in the project came via a logger who does salvage work on U.S. Forest Service land. He removes trees deemed damaged or dangerous. The Douglas fir and incense cedar he cut form the ceiling beams, cabinetry, windows and doors in the project.

"That was pretty daring," said Jesse Elliott, the project general contractor. "(Wilson-Charles) had to take a pretty big leap of faith to have all the windows, doors and cabinets - all that stuff - made custom from wood milled by a one-man show up the McKenzie."

The project employed two dozen local artisans who rendered work in metal, glass and wood - including Elliott, who welded stair rails and light fixtures out of rebar left over from the poured concrete floors.

"Playing with patterns is definitely something we all had fun with on that project," Elliott said. "Jeff and Victoria are so open to ideas. We could show them something, and they'd say, 'all right.'?"

When it came to appliances, Wilson-Charles combed the globe for the nth degree of green technology, including dual flush toilets from Australia, energy-sparing washers from Sweden and the world's first wholly recyclable refrigerator from Denmark (without an energy-wasting, self-defrost feature).

Wilson-Charles and the companies building the WaterShed approached construction in the same way the slow food movement approaches dining - rejecting fast, mass, industrial processes. They spent five years on predevelopment work. Actual construction took 20 months - and although the project got "finaled," or the green light for occupancy was given in early December, the developer has yet to advertise.

Construction was an organic process, Elliott said, with the developer making decisions about design, materials and budget as the issues arose. "You have to guide the project as you go along rather than knowing what the final budget number is going to be at the end," Elliott said.

Sometimes construction paused while Wilson-Charles, the philosophy major, mulled over a decision.

"There was a little lull in summer 2007 when a lot of decisions could have been made, but Jeff was just holding on because he wasn't ready to make some of those decisions and he had a lot of family plans, and he really prioritizes family," Elliott said.

If a banker was financing the project, the pace of the work and the cost of the project might have given that banker an ulcer. Wilson-Charles plowed $4 million into the building, and the recent tax appraisal pegged its value at $567,000.

But Wilson-Charles financed the project himself, and he measures it against his own metric. For instance, he paid for a stainless steel roof that will last 150 years. "He's looking at the big picture, and this is his kids' inheritance," Elliott said. "There's a different business plan; there's no doubt about it."

In 2006, two years before the stock market lost half its value, Wilson-Charles said he had a distrust in stocks. He said he preferred putting his money into a building. "I have this stairwell piece of wood and not a theoretical piece of paper," he said, grasping the hand rail in the highest loft in the new building. "It's something I can hold that's real, and that's more comfortable. That's just the way I am."

Normally, developers face high carrying costs for every month a new project stands without tenants. Chief among those costs is the interest paid on construction loans from a bank - one reason developers are eager to move in renters the day the building is done.

Wilson-Charles loses money he might have gained from tenants, but he doesn't have to pay a bank.

So, though the building was "finaled" in December, by April he still hasn't begun renting out its units. He expects to mail a letter soon to about 75 people who've expressed an interest. "Maybe carrying costs would have been a good thing because I'd have more anxiety," Wilson-Charles said.

Part of the problem is the self-described agony he felt about setting the rents, which landed at $2,200 to $3,000, depending on the unit.

That's more than Eugene's swankiest rental digs, more than Crescent Village, Kentfield on Coburg Road, the penthouses at High Street Terrace or the top-of-the-line Broadway Place units. "Those are the highest rents in the city," Wilson-Charles said. "Coming from a regular background, that's sort of embarrassing."

Elliott said: "His goal wasn't to make it expensive. That wasn't the idea. That actually causes some angst for him."

The tenants who move into WaterShed will have views of the DeFazio foot bridge, the Willamette River, Skinner Butte and the motorcycle officer who persistently clocks drivers northbound on the Ferry Street Bridge.

They'll move through rooms with artwork and architectural angles to please the eye. They'll rest on terraces with rustling bamboo and dine in a courtyard. They'll breathe in incense cedar-scented rooms.

But they'll have to be people who are downscaling - or displaying - their possessions because, while the units have space and light, they have less in the way of enclosed closet space. They'll have to be those who don't mind energy miser lighting in the bathroom. "How much light do you really need to brush your teeth?" Wilson-Charles said, though he concedes that his mother needs stadium-style lighting to put on her make-up.

And the new tenants have got to like the exposed infrastructure.

"This is what my Mom hates," Wilson-Charles said, indicating a black pipe angling down one wall." That dirty shower water running right through your entry way."

"You have to have your head in a certain place to rent a place like this," he said.

The building will appeal to people from San Francisco, Seattle or New York, Elliott said, "people who are downsizing their city but not necessarily wanting to downsize their sense of style and lifestyle."

The project will attract people willing to walk their environmental talk - and also pay top dollar, said John Brown, a broker with Evans Elder and Brown. "There's still youngsters that will pay that. Trust me: thirtysomethings, the young engineer, the architect."

Register-GuardOctober 23, 2008
Special Art Walk to tour WaterShed building

A special edition Art Walk will feature a tour and reception at the new WaterShed building, 321 Mill St.

The WaterShed was built using "green" architectural principles and incorporates the work of dozens of local artisans. The building has five apartments and two commercial or office spaces.

The guided tour begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday. A reception follows from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. It is expected to be WaterShed's only public open house.

"Based on the number of inquiries we receive, our sense is that the interest in getting access and information about the building is really high," says Jeff Wilson-Charles, who owns the WaterShed with his wife, Victoria Wilson-Charles. "We're happy to welcome people in to share what local talent has been contributed."

The tour will be hosted by Lane Arts Council Executive Director Douglas Beauchamp and will feature interviews with many of the artisans who did custom metal, tile, glass and woodwork.

They include Jazz Khalsa of Metal Zen, who did hand-crafted gates; Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman of Mosaic Gardens, who designed the courtyard fountain; Jon Holland, who did tile and stone work; Megas McDonald of Southpaw Sandblasting, who did glass designs; and Dave Partlow and Jesse Elliott of 2G Construction, who did the "mixed media puzzle" ceiling.

Register-GuardJune 13, 2006
New standards are in store for new construction say Eugene planning staff

The city of Eugene is poised to adopt a green building standard for all city buildings larger than 10,000 square feet. The City Council will take up the issue on July 10 and, based on previous discussions, the standards are a shoo-in.

If anything, councilors will push for an even stricter set of requirements for energy efficiency, nontoxic building materials and waste-limiting processes, said Mike Penwell, Eugene design and construction manager.

The standards were established by the U.S. Green Building Council and they range from a flat certification, up to silver, then gold and platinum.

Depending on the level of standard, components can include such things as low-flow toilets, computer-controlled shutters, solar heating and recyclable building materials. The top, platinum standard requires a building to use no more energy than it generates itself.

Eugene is lagging behind on the green policy front. Seattle and Portland adopted silver standard requirements in the past six years, and they've since stepped up to gold.

Penwell recommends that Eugene start with silver.

That would increase the upfront costs of large buildings - for example, a new city hall - by $75,000 to $100,000, he said.

Over time, however, the energy savings would more than make up for the costs, he said.

The city planning staff is gung-ho on green building and it's using three private projects, including the one by Jeff Wilson- Charles near the Ferry Street Bridge, as a demonstration of how smoothly plan approval, permitting and inspections can go, even with new and unusual features.

"They want to use this to put to rest the idea that this can't be done," said Gene Johnson, engineer for the Eugene-based Solarc Architecture & Engineering.

In the meantime, green building expertise among Eugene's designers, engineers and contractors is snowballing.

Recent green projects:

The Fairmont Square Rowhouses, which went up this winter at 15th Avenue and Walnut Street will put in for residential certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Crescent Village in North Eugene, which is starting construction on 20 townhomes, is registering with Earth Advantage, an alternative energy, air quality and resource efficiency program.

Builders of the downtown federal courthouse, which is slated to open in September, are shooting to meet the building council's silver standard.

The Slocum building, a four-story medical office that will replace the Goodwill store on Coburg Road in 2007, will also strive for certification.

The Lillis Business Complex on the University or Oregon campus met the silver-level standards; the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines building in Springfield went a step above, to gold.

Register-Guard, Real Estate NotebookJune 13, 2006
A new developer envisions an enlightened community - and rainwater toilets

Jeff Wilson-Charles is pioneering a green colony on the high- profile south bank of the Willamette River, next to the Ferry Street Bridge.

He's breaking ground this week on a $2.6 million, five- apartment, two-shop complex on a tiny, 7,000-square-foot lot.

But this is only the start of a village of stores and residences he's got planned for this and surrounding blocks, including the ground where Peabody's Pub and the Eugene Moving and Storage building now stand.

He's driving a team of designers, architects and builders to be as green as possible in the design and materials they use. So the first complex of buildings will also be the first in Eugene to use rainwater to flush the toilets.

The floors on all three stories will be warmed with a circulating water system that draws its heat from 300 feet below ground.

And the 25,000 board feet of timber used in the project will come from hazard and windfall trees that will be photographed and named - "Char" for one struck by lightning and "Lefty" for one growing at a list - before they're cut.

Wilson-Charles' vision for the project extends to the kind of lifestyle he hopes the buildings will foster.

He has hired a landscape architect to create a Sunset magazine- type courtyard, where he envisions educated residents who are interested in one another supping together on wild salmon and organic broccoli and basking in the warmth of community.

"It's just going to feel very gardenesque and not particularly commercial," Wilson-Charles said. "It's not going to have flowering kale and rhododendrons and a bunch of bark-o-mulch. It's going to feel like you want your backyard to feel like."

These may not be the types of details in the forefront of most developers' minds, but Wilson-Charles, 49, is not your average developer.

He's a goat farmer turned organic restaurateur (the old Stella on Willamette Street) turned wine maker (Territorial) turned developer, and this is his first project.

Wilson-Charles became a developer when he decided he should diversify his family's wealth into something "less theoretical" than stocks.

"The Federal Reserve chairman has sushi for lunch, so that means we're going to devalue the dollar and everybody's stock falls?" he said.

Wilson-Charles and his wife, Victoria, live in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Crow that was featured in the November 2004 edition of Better Homes & Gardens.

His business' name is Three Muses Group -TMG - after his three daughters, Tenaya, Makai and Glyn.

The younger girls attend Oakhill School, he said, where the children are taught to respect themselves, respect others and respect the environment.

'It's not 'Respect the environment unless it costs too much,' ' Wilson-Charles said. "You have to run your business, your life and your development with the values you're trying to instill in your kids."

The first-time developer has a set of principles he wants to see writ into the plaster, timber and piping of his buildings. And he's willing to wait a little longer and spend a little more to see it done, say the architects, engineers and builders who work for him.

It's taken Wilson-Charles and his team five years to ready the first phase, and he doesn't seem to mind that.

He said it took him a while to build relationships and to figure out what configurations would be most likely to work for possible tenants. He hopes subsequent phases will go faster.

"We're going to be really old or we're going to have to speed it up," he joked Tuesday in conversation with general contractor Jesse Elliott with 2G Construction.

The exact size of the completed project hasn't been determined yet - Wilson-Charles is still acquiring some of the property.

Wilson-Charles said he is willing to wait 45 years to reach the payback on his investment, while typical investors expect payback at 20 to 30 years.

Also, Wilson-Charles said, the buildings have to stand a minimum of 100 years. "You see so many things slapped up these days that you know really aren't meant to last. I know I'm being sort of egotistical, but I want this to last forever," he said.

The professionals that Wilson-Charles hired said they're willing to take the time to keep the newbie developer happy because the relationships they build now will carry over to future projects - and they enjoy Wilson-Charles' willingness to try out new environmental ideas.

"You're pushing everybody's boundaries. This is far-reaching stuff," said Gene Johnson, engineer for Architecture & Engineering.

The first phase is "green" enough to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards, but Wilson-Charles said the certification would cost $30,000 and he'd rather spend the money on additional innovations.

It's the toilets that have the team most excited.

The design will direct 18,000 gallons of the 60,000 gallons of water expected to fall on the project roofs each year into a pair of cisterns.

The water will pass through three filters - including one that will zap it with ultraviolet light - and then be cued for when toilets flush in the apartments and commercial spaces.

That means a savings of pristine water in the McKenzie for drinking and for fish, Wilson-Charles said.

Tenants in the luxury apartments (estimated rent: $1,500 monthly) shouldn't see any difference in their toilet water.

The filters will take care of any foreign objects.

Still, the Department of Environmental Quality is requiring Wilson-Charles to post a sign on each of the toilets warning occupants not to drink the water.