Sustainability in Vacation Villa Development
Author Latitude 22 co-founder Julian Biggs | Published April 2020
Recent market research indicates that vacation travelers now highly value ‘sustainability’ when choosing where & how to spend their travel dollars. This has caused many providers of vacation accommodation – resort hotels, for example – to announce initiatives which, they say, demonstrate their commitment to sustainable values. And while many of these initiatives may amount to little more than window dressing, we at Latitude 22 – having have long been concerned with how sustainability relates to the development and creation of vacation villas in the Turks & Caicos Islands – are very pleased to see the issue become more widely discussed.
Certainly, the concept of sustainability has had a major influence on our developments to date. For example, we recently decided to equip all of our new villas (including those at our “Karaya Blue” managed development in Long Bay as well as the sole remaining villa in our 2/3-complete “Ridgeview” development on Providenciales’ North Shore) with fully-integrated solar electrical systems featuring the TeslaTM Powerwall energy storage package and home vehicle charger.
These systems – custom-designed for us by RENU Energy TCI – will radically reduce both energy use and cost, as will our villa designs which make intelligent use of island breezes, roof overhangs, glazing with Low-E and Argon gas, and spray foam insulation, to minimize the need to use A/C for cooling. In addition, to further conserve electricity we use only LED lighting, point-of-use or on- demand water heaters, and Energy StarTM appliances, ceiling fans, and air conditioning units. There’s also an advanced water catchment and recycling system.
Sustainability concerns also influenced our decisions to design our villa pools to be maintained via saline rather than chlorine; to use only NO-VOC GreenGuardTM certified paint; and to ensure that all landscaping is locally sourced and appropriately integrated with the existing vegetation.
As well as being designed to deal efficiently with the constant tropical weather challenges of heat and humidity (which, to be fair, are naturally less of an issue in the Turks & Caicos than other Caribbean islands), our villas are also engineered to address the potential sustainability threat from damaging storms, up to and including hurricanes. (After all, it’s hard to imagine any building project less sustainable than one which has to be rebuilt after a storm). Our villas are essentially integrated steel & rebar-reinforced concrete structures, weighing in excess of 25 tons, and sealed in commercial standard triple-pane glazed walls that meet or exceed Miami-Dade’s exacting storm- force standards.
At our latest managed villa development, Karaya Blue in Long Bay, we will go further still: adding additional sustainable features that, we believe, will make it a model for sustainable new villa construction in the Islands (and beyond). For example, we expect Karaya Blue villas will be the first on the Island to be built using state-of-the-art heavy-steel frame construction, thus providing all the strength of our current villas but with a ‘zero-waste’ building system to boot.
Karaya Blue will also employ a ‘Dark Sky’ protocol to reduce exterior light pollution and further reduce energy usage. As research has shown, ‘dark sky’ environments improve the emotional well-being, and health and safety of both people and wildlife. (They’re also a big boost for stargazing – a worthy goal in itself for the dreamer in us all).
All in all, then, our villas will be both resilient in the face of mother nature’s occasional wrath but will sit lightly – and respectfully – upon her earth.
So, is that all there is to ‘sustainable development’?
In a word: no.
While we believe that applying a sustainable mindset to villa development certainly includes the type of measures described above, we also believe it is by no means limited to those measures. On the contrary, we see ‘sustainable development’ as a much broader concept – one that, through a series of individual judgments and trade-offs, demands application at every stage of the development process.
Let’s be honest here: ‘Sustainability’ has become one of those concepts that everyone agrees is good, and desirable, but often means very different things to different people. For example, some seem to see sustainability as essentially a new-fangled word for conservation: the idea that natural resources should be used with both respect and restraint. Others, though, seem to view sustainability as meaning that natural resources should barely be used at all.
At Latitude 22, we tend to chart a course somewhere between these perspectives. We are unashamed lovers of nature, beauty, architecture, and interior design, who also care deeply about functionality and smart efficiency. We revere and rejoice in both the natural environment and the creature comforts that modern design and technologies bring us. As a result, we go about the process of conceiving, designing and creating our villa micro-developments thoughtfully engaged in harmoniously reconciling these different perspectives (among many others). Put another way: at Latitude 22 we see the issue of ‘sustainability’ in every part of the process we go through in creating our developments as we build upon mother nature’s gifts (or, at a minimum, seek to tread lightly upon them).
At Ridgeview, for example (where two of the three planned villas are currently under construction) the project began when we found an acre+ of virgin land, densely covered in familiar TCI scrub, on a 14-degree hillside in a quiet and prosperous neighborhood overlooking Providenciales’ North Shore lagoon.
For us, it was love at first sight. Between the spectacular view and the charming locale, it was simply impossible for us not to imagine people living on that beautiful property and treasuring every moment of the experience.
However, given that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever,” it was still necessary for us to consider whether we believed that a development of any kind would be appropriate at that location. (It’s one of the great ironies that the very places developers most want to develop are often wonderful, at least in part, because they’re undeveloped; or, to be more precise: because there is no ugly development there messing up the natural beauty.) A decision to proceed came only after we had concluded we could build something there that would add to mother nature’s work rather than detract from it (including affirming that we could build on the site without negatively impacting any of the neighboring homes).
The next task was to decide what exactly should be built there: One large palatial villa? Two villas side-by-side? A modestly sized condominium resort??
In the end, we decided on a single-story three-villa development – arranged in a triangular pattern that virtual 3D models confirmed meant that each of the resulting villas would have panoramic ocean views that were unobstructed (including by each other) as well as having sufficient space around them to assure privacy without the need for excessive new landscaping. Having done this, we then set about designing, orienting & siting the three villas into our comprehensive plan for the development.
The point here is that we believe all of this work in the building cycle is just as integral to the
process of ‘sustainable development’ as later decisions about energy conservation and
The United Nations World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism like this: “Tourism that
takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing
the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”
Applying this same framework to ‘sustainable development,’ we can say that we launched our
Ridgeview development because: it would optimize for panoramic views from every point within the villas (a positive current and future economic impact); each villa design would work with, rather than against, the naturally-existing elements such as the prevailing breezes and the arc followed by the sun (a positive environmental impact); and construction and sale of the villas would cause no harm to the immediate neighborhood while bringing valuable capital and employment to the TCI economy (a positive social impact).
While different people may come to different judgments as to the variables in any such analysis, we think this structure provides a useful way to think about and frame the debate.
The UN Model Can Be Applied To All The Small Decisions Too
This sustainability framework is also usefully applied, we think (either consciously or otherwise), in the dozens if not hundreds of subsequent choices to be made regarding the development.
One relatively simple example makes the point: designing the pools for the villas required us to decide (1) whether to have a pool or not, and, if so, (2) what size to make it, (3) what depth profile to give it, (4) whether to give it an infinity-edge, (5) whether to include a ‘swim up bar’, (6) how it should be surfaced, and, very importantly, (7) how it would be maintained. Each of these decisions involved balancing many factors that implicate sustainability. For example, we chose to maintain our pools with saline rather than chlorine after judging that the higher upfront cost we would incur was more than offset by the increase in aesthetic value, the reduction in toxic load, and the lower future & ongoing costs of maintenance.
Applying the framework to Karaya Blue
Unlike our hilltop development at Ridgeview, our Karaya Blue development is located among the unspoiled beauty of a 50-acre reserved natural open space a short walk from one of the world’s foremost kiteboarding venues at Long Bay Beach.
For development of Karaya Blue to be sustainable, therefore, it required a different value proposition than the one at Ridgeview. After a great deal of thought, however, we conceived of Karaya Blue as a chance to create a whole new kind of Island development: a place where modern technology, leading-edge design, and simple luxury, could each be integrated perfectly with their natural surroundings. When built, we believe our managed villa development at Karaya Blue will be the most advanced expression of sustainability the Island has yet seen.
Because at Latitude 22 we typically sell our villas pre-construction (i.e. ‘off-plan’) our buyers are known early enough in the construction process that they are able to impose their own unique preferences into the sustainability decision-making process (such as, for example, regarding the specifics of their pool). And while accommodating the buyer’s preferences into the development process can be challenging, we find the effort personally rewarding because it helps us create finished villas that map as closely as possible to the needs & values of their actual users. And, of course, by helping us create our villas such that their new owners feel no need to re-create them later, our owners help us to build more ‘sustainably.’
Happily, to date we’ve found that our buyers’ sustainability judgments and preferences map pretty closely with our own. This is not that surprising since most people are increasingly keen to avoid choices that are needlessly wasteful and/or abusive of the environment, and therefore appear to appreciate & endorse the efforts we’re making to achieve sustainability without compromising in any way on the beauty, comfort and aesthetics of their new villa. It also doesn’t hurt that, for the most part, choosing the more sustainable approach generally results in real financial savings over the long term.
And while it’s possible that a day may eventually come when a buyer has a radically different perspective on sustainability than our own, for now, at least, we’re happy to leave resolution of that intriguing challenge until we come to it!
Julian A. Biggs, CEO, Latitude 22. April 2020.
More Turks & Caicos articles that may interest you:
- Reasons To Buy in the Turks and Caicos
- Disadvantages of Buying a Condo
- Steps to Ownership: Infographic
- Musings of a Remote Worker
- A Drones Eye View of Providenciales
- 5 Tropical Cocktails To Help You Escape Shelter in Place
- Here’s Why You Should Plan a Vacation in the Turks & Caicos
- Ridgeview construction timelapse
- Funding Your Escape to Paradise