With gas prices high and climate change much in the news, it’s not unusual these days for prospective car buyers to think green.
But when the new Stevenson Toyota dealership opens this spring on Highway 17 in Jacksonville, its customers will be able to rest assured they’re also buying from an all-around green business.
While many car lots can be environmental nightmares – acres of steaming asphalt that generate countless gallons of stormwater runoff, and extremely high water use for washing vehicles – Stevenson’s new store will incorporate cisterns, constructed wetlands, a detailing/washing facility that recycles its water and a building designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.
The facility, now under construction down the road from Stevenson’s current Toyota facility, is the result of a marriage between a giant international corporation that for decades has thought green, and a local executive whose educational background compels her to think that way.
Shelley Smith, Swansboro resident, daughter of company owner Johnny Stevenson and holder of a degree in environmental economics, is heading the effort through her position as real estate development consultant for Stevenson Automotive Group.
“Toyota for a long time has been one of the front-runners in terms of environmentally friendly, high-mileage cars, and has been pushing for green stores,” she said recently. “Mr. Stevenson was aware of how things are moving in the industry, and with my background, this was just a natural.”
Everyone involved looked closely at the economics, and decided green was the right path, not only for the environment, but also for image and, especially, for economics, Smith said. Environmentally friendly simply made good business sense.
The facility will use a huge, 10,000-gallon cistern to collect runoff from the building’s 7,290-square foot roof, and that water will be used to flush the toilets. There should be enough for 200 flushes per day, and the estimated savings on the water bill is $907 per month.
The key for the local environment, Smith said, is that the system will dramatically reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into two sets of constructed wetlands on the rear of the property. And there will be no “algae-filled retention” pond, like you see at many major developments.
The wetlands will total about 1.5 acres, and will include, at a minimum, sweet flag, lizard tail, duck potato, water willow, buttonbush, needle spikerush and dockweed plants.
“It’s more costly upfront,” Smith said of the overall project, “and it is more time-consuming” in terms of design and construction. “But the return on investment should be much faster than normal.” While it’s difficult to say exactly how much faster – that depends in part on how many vehicles are sold – Smith estimated the savings would cut 10 to 15 percent of the return time.
The company considered using solar components, she said, but decided the water reuse and stormwater runoff limitation was the most cost-effective route to meeting the tough LEED standards. “We wanted to use the technology that we knew would give us the most consistent benefit,” Smith said. She added that it won’t be known for sure if the building qualifies for LEED designation until it’s finished, but that’s the goal.
In keeping with the low-impact development standard, 34 percent of the total site will be pervious, allowing stormwater to filter into the soil. Most of the green space will be grass, but there will be many shrubs, too. Trees? Not so many; they’re a pain in the vicinity of cars, because someone has to deal with the leaves.
At any rate, Smith said the site will exceed the city of Jacksonville’s landscaping requirement by 20,000 square feet. So not only will the site be green functionally, it will be “prettier” than the average car dealership, always a plus in putting people in the mood to buy.
Instead of engaging its usual design, engineering and construction contractors, Stevenson found companies that are experienced in green design and building. The contractor is A.M. King of Charlotte, the design is by Kasper Architecture of Jacksonville, Fla., and the engineer is McKim and Creed of Wilmington, a firm that even advertises itself as “helping people build sustainable communities.”
Smith and Stevenson Automotive Group have worked closely on the project with the city of Jacksonville, mostly with stormwater manager Pat Donovan-Pots, who over the years has participated in workshops organized by the N.C. Coastal Federation.
“The city has been very helpful,” Smith said. “Some things needed to be revised as we went through the design process, because we weren’t dealing with just your everyday requirements, and they were very accommodating.”
Smith said the dealership will be by far the greenest in the area. Toyota already has similar dealerships in Texas and Utah, she said, and the corporation was very helpful throughout the effort.
“I don’t think most people are aware yet of what we are doing,” she said. “But we will market it as ‘green.’ We’ll have educational signs inside and outside for the created wetlands and the cistern, and we’ll let people know it can be used for educational purposes. I think what we’re doing makes everyone in the process feel good.”
Lauren Kolodij, deputy director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, said the environmental organization will promote the new dealership, too, as an example of how low-impact development is effective and efficient not just for residential development, but also for commercial projects.
“We certainly applaud them (Stevenson and Toyota) for doing this,” she said. “Low-impact development has been taking off all over the country, and we’ve had some (residential) projects along the North Carolina coast and elsewhere in the state, but we haven’t had many commercial examples. We’re very pleased that they are putting together a project that can be showcased in North Carolina and across the country.
The federation was not involved in the project, and learned of it from Donovan-Pots during the aforementioned workshop this past summer. Since then, Kolodij said, she has met with Smith and plans to stay in touch to monitor how the project goes.
“We want to promote this project,” she said, “as a way to show that low-impact development isn’t just good for the environment, but also for individual businesses and the economy in general.”