With shredded underwear insulating the walls and bath water irrigating the landscaping, Sebastopol's Florence Lofts isn't your typical housing and office complex.

The buildings feature solar electric power cells on the roof and soy- and clay-based paints on the walls.

The parking lot has permeable concrete that allows winter rain to soak directly into the ground, while the roof has nozzles for spraying water on summer nights, cooling the liquid and capturing it again to be circulated beneath the office floor on warm days.

"This was designed from the very beginning to be as green and sustainable as possible," said Steve Sheldon, an architect and a partner in the development northwest of downtown.

The complex, which features 12 live/work town homes, a restaurant and office space, is drawing praise from Sebastopol officials.

"That's the vision of the future I hope for," Mayor Craig Litwin said. He credited the project for helping "guide us in the right direction" by modeling sustainability.

The complex is at Florence and Healdsburg avenues. A new organic restaurant, Peter Lowell's, has opened there, and the town homes are for sale.

Priced between $790,000 and $825,000, the 1,520-square-foot town homes are more expensive to build than conventional housing, Sheldon said. But he believes they will appeal to those looking for lasting savings through energy efficiency, as well as those who appreciate sustainable living.

Such customers, he said, will see the value "just like they would like to buy a Prius," the hybrid auto sold by Toyota.

The town homes are targeted at people who want to live upstairs from their businesses. Downstairs has space that could be used by artists, physical therapists, consultants and others.

The project features wood from sustainably managed forests, countertops of recycled paper and natural resins and a special "bio-remediation" system that will use plants that live in water to clean storm water before it enters an adjacent creek.

Sheldon said the single-most complicated piece was the "graywater" system. It re-uses water from the laundry and bathroom showers and sinks for plant irrigation. Sheldon estimates that each year the system could use up to 150,000 gallons of water that otherwise would go into the regional sewage treatment plant.

Sebastopol Planning Director Kenyon Webster said the city worked with Sonoma County's septic system officials to make sure the approach would be safe.

"As far as we know, the graywater system at that development is the first legal graywater system in the county," Webster said.

He noted that some other communities have allowed businesses or homes to irrigate with wastewater that has been partially cleansed at a treatment plant.

Webster called Florence Lofts "a commendable project in terms of energy and water conservation." Sheldon, he said, "went above and beyond what was required by the city."

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat

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