Building A Sustainable Lifestyle

April 28, 2008
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Where is there a development that offers sustainability, wellness, lifestyle learning, simplicity, creativity and spirituality and is a pure, ecological green?

Well, right now, it’s nowhere. At least not in the Midwest. At least not on a single site. But that situation is about to change in the very near future on 300 acres just north of Battle Creek.

“It’s not a pie-in-the-sky dream,” said Meg LaRou.

“We’ve done the homework for so long and the team is compiled. The business model is strong and the numbers work, and that is ultimately what you have to prove if you’re going to be a model. You can’t just be out there dreaming. This is a real business that will operate sustainably for hundreds of years, long after we’re dead and gone. That is our dream,” she added.

LaRou and Russ Valvo, her husband of 10 years, are principals in Deep Lake LLC, the firm that owns the property in Pennfield Township and the development they plan to build on it.

They call the dream they’ve worked on for the past seven years Deep Lake. When it’s completely built, which they hope to have done within a few more years, it will not only be the first sustainable wellness community in the state but also in the Midwest.

LaRou and Valvo told CQ that Deep Lake will foster a slower, simpler and saner pace of the natural world at a time when those traits have been pushed aside for values that don’t cultivate a healthy existence. Deep Lake is something they’ve wanted to do before they knew what to call it and ever since they’ve known each other.

“We found out that we not only had an interest in each other, but we also had a common concern for society and the environment that really was an underpinning in our connecting,” said Valvo.

“Both of us have grown in our understanding of a sustainable lifestyle in terms of alternative and integrated medicine and our concerns for socially responsible investing. We’ve learned more about those kinds of things at workshops and meetings (which) is actually where we found each other. So this was sort of rooted in our connection,” he added.

Their development connects a resort with a village. The Deep Lake Resort will have 122 guest rooms, a wellness center, a spa, multiple conference rooms and a main dining room. The Village at Deep Lake will have 138 homes and condominiums, shops and a restaurant or two that will be built around the resort. All the residences will meet the air, water and material standards set by the American Lung Association.

Home prices will start at $200,000 and go past $500,000.

The property, which they have owned for the past four years, has rolling hills, wooded acres and five lakes. All the buildings will be LEED-certified, energy efficient and eco-friendly and the site will offer resort guests and homeowners year-round recreational opportunities. LaRou and Valvo said Deep Lake will be a place where people can relax, play, rejuvenate, grow and expand their potential.

LaRou and Valvo are basing their business plan on a fairly recent and constantly evolving finding that shows at least 30 percent of the nation’s consumers hold the environment, social justice, personal development, health and sustainable living as key values. That is the group they are targeting, from a site that sits halfway between Detroit and Chicago and less than two hours from Grand Rapids.

“Fully 30 percent of the people are thinking the way we are thinking, but they don’t see themselves as a movement yet because they’re dispersed in an unorganized market. So we said, ‘Why don’t we provide a model so they can look into a mirror and see themselves as one large potential change agent.’ That idea is what kind of put wind under our wings a few years back,” said LaRou.

“So we knew we were not alone,” she said. “We will be able to find support for this so we can model socially responsible investing and a socially responsible real estate development, an environmentally sustainable real estate development that also helps people.”

At the time CQ spoke with the pair, they had given four-hour tours of the property to 250 people and had accumulated an electronic mailing list of more than 1,000 individuals. They have also put together a development team that covers every aspect of building a place for sustainable lifestyles.

Kalabat Companies is taking the project through construction, finance and investments. Hotel Investment Services is the hospitality partner. Amy McDonald & Associates is the spa consultant. The Inner Harmony Group is the wellness consultant. Integrated Architects is leading the architectural team. Serena Sturm Architects is the conservation consultant. The Summit Group is managing the construction. Troxel Realty Co. is the real-estate broker, and Williams & Works is the project’s civil engineer.

The roster for the team, though, isn’t completely filled. Builders that may be interested in partnering with LaRou and Valvo can join the project via their Green Partners Program, as can restaurant owners and retailers wanting space in The Village at Deep Lake. Information can be found at www.deeplake.info or by calling the Summit Group at (269) 441-2178.

“The single biggest contributor to carbon offset on sustainable living is the building industry and the leakage that we have in our homes of how they’re not energy efficient. So if we can make a change there, it would have a significant impact on our society,” said Valvo.

“But in addition to that, it’s a financially sustainable process. There is a great demand in the marketplace, even in a down market. There is a greater demand than available product. So these builders have a chance to reinvent themselves and move into a more economically sustainable business.”

LaRou said they plan to start construction on the resort this fall and have it finished next spring. She said the residences, which include 70 single-family homes, 48 multiple-family houses and 20 condos, should be completed in 2010.

“There is a hole in the market in what we’re developing in the Midwest,” said Valvo.

“Definitely in the Midwest. This is not green-washing, this is authentically green. We’re building this authentically green. Nobody has done a wellness resort, or any resort that I know of, in the Midwest,” said LaRou.

“The wellness resort by itself is innovative. But it’s really only a part of what we’re doing because we’re truly developing a model of sustainable living,” added Valvo.

LaRou is a native of Bloomfield Hills. She started the award-winning Revolution Gallery in Ferndale. Valvo was born in Ann Arbor. He founded RJ Valvo Associates Advertising in his hometown and also has a seat on the board of Xtrendwave, a high-tech firm. Both are venture capitalists with an ecological conscious and a strong connection to nature, and both firmly believe that Deep Lake will have something to offer to everyone.

“We will have ongoing conferences for green building and development for socially responsible investors to come and talk about ways to connect with projects, and more than what we’re doing here,” said Valvo of resort guests.

“Those who live in the village in Deep Lake will be able to have a daily connection, both with the other people living in the village as well as their connection to the resort.” CQX

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