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Energy-efficient town to leap off the drawing board

Picture this community: Nearly 400 custom-designed homes blend naturally into the horizontal lines of the rolling landscape. All are heated and cooled by passive solar systems and cold-air wells -- systems mandated by a stringent community code.

Windmills scattered about the development's 2,200 acres of tawny hills pump water uphill into hidden reservoirs from which it is released through turbines to produce electricity. The power produced is enough to meet all the energy needs of the community -- for a little as $200 a year per household -- with enough left over to sell, at a profit, to the local utility.

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The winding streets as well as the hiking and equestrian trails are impeccably cared for -- their upkeep funded by money generated from the community harvest of avocadoes and citrus trees that shelter the seethrough fish farm tanks strung like beads along public walkways.

If you ventured out in search of this community today, you would not find it. It exists only on the drawing boards of a developer in the rural San Diego hills -- and in the minds of eight architects and scientists. These eight men, well-known pioneers in the use of alternative energy systems, were flown in for a recent week of brainstorming on designs for what is known as the Honey Springs development.

Honey Springs is attracting attention for two reasons:

1. If built as recommended, this development could be the nation's first entirely energy self-sufficient community.

2. It is believed to be the first time a developer in the United States has invested private money -- with no government subsidies -- in designing a community based on alternative energy systems and architecture.

"The [project] is right on the cutting edge," says David Sellers, a Yale University architecture professor whose accomplishments include designing the Vermont community he now lives in. "If this happens, it could have a tremendous impact in a very short time."

"In the past the private sector hasn't been willing to invest in this kind of experimenting," says Mr. Sellers, who designed one of six model homes for the Honey Springs development. "This is a milestone in that sense."

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None of the energy systems proposed for the development are new. Most, if not all, are in isolated use in individual homes or experimental projects.

But by bringing these designs together even in an admittedly high-priced housing development -- with home prices estimated between $360,000 and $430,000 -- those involved with the project say they hope to move alternative energy out of the domain of backyard inventors and government- funded projects and eventually into the "mainstream of American popularity," in the words of one architect.

And, says developer Damon Siskin, if this project proves that an environmentally sensitive community can be built and make a profit -- as he believes it will -- he expects that other developers may follow his lead.

Although plans for the community are not complete, Mr. Siskin is moving ahead with designing the energy system proposed by Ted Taylor, a former nuclear physicist now involved with alternative energies.

In addition, Siskin says he may begin construction later this year on the six model homes designed by the architects.

The development site is in the town of Jamul, some 23 miles from downtown San Diego.Under a zoning code now being drawn up, future homes -- to be built by individuals who buy lots of from 1 to 10 acres -- will be strictly regulated by an extensive land-use and design book. Obligation to abide by those regulations will be written as part of the land sales contract and will be enforced by a neighborhood group.

"This is the crowning point -- bringing all these ideas together and hitting middle- class America with them," says David Wright, one of the Honey Springs architects and author of several books on solar design. "And this architecture can be done economically for the poor, too. . . .

"I think all of us have dreamed about doing this kind of thing," says Mr. Wright of his fellow architects on the project. "Now I think you'll see us going out an d using these ideas in other project of our own."

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