While smart growth and eco-developments have become part of the mainstream planning dialogue, trailer parks demonstrate a form of sustainable infrastructure and development patterns that already exist. The oft-snubbed trailer park is probably the most overlooked form of sustainable and affordable housing, a true diamond in the rough. With a little help from green design, the stigma of trailer parks as low-class and low-style might just be overcome by approaching the developments with high-performance, high-style homes, masterplanning, and ecological landscape design.
I have had a love affair with trailer parks since 1995 when I realized it was next to impossible to design off-grid homes to be compliant with obsolete building codes. Let me clarify, Building Codes that demand every building be connected to a grid (where available) and conform to certain size requirements. Many people that have the desire and means to be off-grid, and build smaller homes, should have the right to do just that. Since then, not much has changed, with one notable exception thanks to some incredible foresight from the planners in Grey Highlands. My personal frustration with the building codes, which are devoid of incentives or even any consideration of off-grid and deep green design, led to my personal quest in the early 1990’s for affordable, efficient alternatives to home design. I then discovered that (recreational) vehicles, tents and trailers fell under a different set of standards (CSA Standards) that are closer to camping, which has more in common with off-grid and green living than any conventional dwelling designed to building code standards. That was when the design mantra of ‘Architecture as Camping’ started to bubble up and manifest in all of my work.
Understanding and designing to the trailer codes gave my interest in small, green, affordable homes a new direction, and that’s when I began designing in the prefab and trailer genre. The more I designed, the more I started to realize that trailers are in many respects inherently greener than conventional housing. For one thing, they are smaller and so less resources are used to build them. This also makes them easier to heat, light and cool with less total energy. In this context, the trailer park as a model of neighbourhood development is potentially ‘as good as it gets’ for satisfying eco-development goals in our current legislative and planning frameworks in Canada and the USA. Home to nearly 2 million Canadians and 16 million Americans, trailer parks provide an actually affordable alternative to conventional housing. Better still, they do so with minimal disruption to existing flora and fauna, and need not kill off valuable topsoil in their location and placement. Trailers do not require permanent foundations or expensive infrastructure and landscaping and roads are often designed to preserve their park’s natural features and hydrology.
Trailer parks also offer unique opportunities for neighbourly interaction on common grounds and shared paths. Since parks are usually a single ownership entity and not a subdivision of lots, this allows for a diminished emphasis on the car, which results in a more rustic and recreational atmosphere. Streets and driveways are non-existent, and gravel or other porous hard-scaped paths connecting trailer sites and common spaces are the norm. Such pedestrian friendly, community-positive aspects include common facilities (rec-halls, cafes, boathouses, docks), playgrounds and green spaces, low speed limits and even off-site parking. In many trailer parks you won’t even see the expensive, noisy, ugly and unsustainable road, sidewalk and ‘curb and gutter’ asphalt and concrete infrastructure of the suburbs. The trailer park thus has ‘good bones’ and excellent potential as a model for the future of green development.
Some trailer parks feature exceptional landscaping and architecture and capitalize on the natural beauty of their surroundings, providing views and vistas while still maintaining privacy. It should be noted that none of these developments feature ‘streets’ or ‘street addresses’ and as such cars don’t cut through the development. If they do, strict and very low speed limits are set (ie. 10km/hr) in fact, this alone is one of the most appealing aspects of life in such a development, no car noise, visual blight or local pollution. Virtually silent, pollution-free electric carts are a common means of providing services and shuttling occupants and goods around the property.
The trailer park in its essence can be an exemplary form of eco-development, that both nourishes the mind and soul of its inhabitants, and heals the planet of the thoughtless and entropic patterns of residential development that masquerade under the guises of ‘sustainable development’ or ‘smart growth’. There is nothing inherently ‘smart’ about achieving a specific development density, or about fighting lengthy political battles over pervious versus impervious paving. The real battle to be fought is for living closer to nature, closer to one’s source of food, and living with the option of greater autonomy (now called ‘resiliency’) from the parasitic infrastructure of ‘the grid’. While urban developments struggle with incremental steps towards true green design, the Eco Trailer Park could be seen as a shining beacon of what it means to live with one’s feet firmly planted on the ground.
1. THE ECO TRAILER PARKS: A NEW MODEL FOR THE AFFORDABLE, ECOLOGICAL NEIGHBOURHOOD
We imagine Eco Trailer Parks as a completely new form of affordable, sustainable community that takes the best aspects of trailer park, resort and eco-village master planning, and networks these into an organic constellation of multiple well-designed and compact housing units (prefab/ trailers) on small leased lots.
For many individuals and young families, vacation properties and second-homes remain a distant dream. Even for current second property owners, taxes, annual upkeep and maintenance can prove to be a substantial burden of both time and money. We propose a radical solution to all of these problems by redeveloping existing trailer parks into ecological resorts, and populating these resorts with the eco-trailers.
Trailer parks development is one of the least expensive forms of resort and community development, since lots are not subdivided but held as a common property, and pads or trailer sites are simply leased annually from the park office, no municipal design guidelines apply, and thus, the expensive forms of sidewalk, curb and gutter, power, gas, water-supply and wastewater infrastructure also do not apply. Simple frost-protected clean water-supply and 30-amp electrical service are commonly the only infrastructure hook-ups to individual trailer units. But just because the infrastructure is lightweight and inexpensive, doesn’t mean that a trailer park needs to look ‘cheap’, such as evidenced by Calistoga Ranch (images below).
This proposal thus makes the ownership and maintenance of a second, green ‘dream home’ a viable reality. Eco-trailer units could be bought for as little as $150,000, have tax bills of ~ $150-$300 annually (even in Ontario, Canada), and require little to no maintenance. Compare this with any number of other resort or vacation options, or with waterfront home and cottage costs of $400,000+, thousands of dollars in annual property taxes, capital gains taxes and regular, costly and time consuming maintenance. For as little as $12-15k annually, park residents could secure ownership of an eco-trailer and access to a lot in the eco-trailer park, including all site lease, taxes and operating fees, making accessibility to moderate luxury green resorts a viable option for almost any family.
Trailers are relatively small in size and cost, and work best in resort settings with ample outdoor amenities and common areas. In our proposed model, Residents buy their trailer outright from the park office and lease small plots of land in a the development. There are hundreds of trailer parks all over North America that are just perfect for this kind of redevelopment. Rather than simply buying park properties to develop into the sites of ever more condominium towers (as has recently happened all over the lower mainland near Vancouver), we can imagine a more sustainable approach. Ultimately, we imagine these kinds of parks, since they are equipped with high-performance units and infrastructure that is designed for year-round occupancy, to be able to support residency in both a resort, as well as a full-time capacity. The ecological resort thus becomes the future of permanent, year-round ecological communities.
2. THE ECO TRAILER: A SUSTAINABLE BUILDING BLOCK
The Eco Trailer Park couldn’t live up to its name without Eco Trailers – but what would these look like? How would they function and perform? Just take a look at the Prefab Design section of our website and you’ll see exactly what we have designed and prototyped and built over the last 20 years!
The miniHOME, designed as the world’s first off-grid, solar-powered mobile dwelling and classed as a ‘travel trailer’, was based on sound ecological and advanced building-science principles. Such an Eco Trailer delivers even more durable, spacious comfort in all seasons and climates for a fraction of the price of a conventional home or cottage. Annual operating costs, even when in full-time, year-round use (in cold climates) can be as low as $800. In more temperate climates such as California, annual energy costs can be net-zero (with optional PV systems), with targeted gas costs less than $500.00. The Eco Trailers would target the claim to be the world’s greenest commercially available prefabricated dwellings. Designed in Canada for year-round living in a wide-range of climates, Doubleplusdesign provides an award winning design experience for the consumer seeking an affordable, simple, compact, contemporary and high-performance second home.
3. A DESCRIPTION OF THE ECO TRAILER PARKS: DEVELOPMENT MODELS
Existing trailer parks are usually depressed or marginalized real estate assets because they are sometimes considered low class, low revenue and a low tax-revenue base for municipalities. These properties are often undervalued because of the low quality of housing units (trailers) and unfettered DIY additions aka. ‘Florida Rooms’, sheds and decks that cover the sites.
Their principal attraction for us is in the very fact that they are already zoned as trailer parks – something that is very difficult to achieve on existing, undeveloped properties for the reasons stated above, and something that would requires expensive and lengthy approvals processes to initiate from scratch. Setting out to create a trailer park where one does not exist, even a green one, would be met with significant opposition from neighbouring residents and residential associations. However, improving and upgrading existing parks with 3-4 star facilities, year round, ecological units will invariably make host municipalities proud, and go a long way towards eradicating the stigma associated with these particular forms of redevelopment and ultimately new development.
Our proposal to populate these redeveloped parks with high-end units in conformance with a professionally and tastefully designed master plan, together with strict adherence to community bylaws, will thus raise the value of the properties substantially in a very short timeframe. The most efficient process then, rather than buying land and develop new parks from scratch, is to revitalize and redevelop existing and/or derelict, distressed and/or under-utilized parks in locations of outstanding natural beauty.
The ROI of a completed Eco Trailer Park can also be increased by extending the both the dwelling season (especially in Northern climates) from the usual 6 months to 9 and 12 months, as well as increasing the number of units on the site. As the popularity and demand for affordable, green vacation properties increases as the concept becomes published in the media (which is already chomping at the bit for this kind of story), the value of the initial investment stands to increase substantially. Even with a 6 month season and limited total units (i.e. 60), Eco Trailer Parks still make an excellent business.
Thomson Architecture, Inc. will support Eco Trailer Park Management teams and their respective unit sales efforts with continual improvement, creating new and more stylish models with each calendar year – maintaining novelty of design and sustaining demand across a growing market. Our Eco Trailer Park development program is poised to become a significant revolution in the housing development on this continent and in many other places in the world, providing superior solutions that are at once affordable, and entirely sustainable for generations to come.
A Note On Renewable Energy Micro-Utilities as a Feature of Eco Trailer Parks Additional community-wide renewable energy services may be part of the park development. In California, the current ‘Standard Offer Program’ of grid-buyback of PV generated electricity makes deployment of large-scale solar arrays highly attractive. The provincial utilities will pay $0.42+/kWh of electricity generated from PV arrays guaranteed for 20 years. This will pay for the equipment (and finance charges – if applicable) in many cases by the 5th year.
4. PRECEDENT: CALISTOGA RANCH – A CASE STUDY IN WHAT A TRAILER PARK CAN BE
RE-CONCEPTUALIZING TURNING A LOWLY TRAILER PARK INTO A 5-STAR RESORT
The way to move forward is to redevelop Trailer Parks into Eco Trailer Parks by creating holistic, comprehensive ecological communities, complete with clean and modern amenities, well-considered landscaping, generous lots with rich vegetation, privacy between units and generous playgrounds and common areas for gatherings and casual or programmed activities. Eco Trailer Parks – when developed this way – are scarcely recognizable as Trailer Parks. Observe the precedent set by the 5-star Calistoga Ranch Hotel in California – 99% of its first-time visitors would never believe it is actually classed as a trailer park! The Calistoga Ranch was developed on the bones of a pre-existing trailer park because the municipal zoning did not permit any further permanent developments to occur within the Napa County Agricultural Preserve but did allow the grandfathered use of the existing trailer park. The architects, Sandy-Babcock of San Francisco, took advantage of the existence of the already zoning-compliant trailer park to create a 5-star experience by providing a configuration of high quality trailers, connected by outdoor-living rooms on spacious decks with trellises and arbours.
We feel that it is just a matter of time before thousands of pre-existing trailer parks become renovated in a similar manner with ecological trailers by savvy eco-entrepreneurs. We are positioned well ahead of the curve in being able to offer fully developed prefab solutions and site plans for these redevelopments for a wide range of climates.
5. PROJECT GOALS: A FIVE YEAR TRANSITION TO A GREENER COMMUNITY
We believe that without setting hard targets, goals can never be reached. We strive to be 100% energy self-sufficient, using a fraction of the energy and water of conventional residential developments. We place strong emphasis on preserving the natural beauty, flora and fauna of our sites, and re-naturalizing the ecological features of sites that have been compromised. We believe in creating healthy, diverse communities that encourage participation in an organic lifestyle – from our cafe, to our community garden plots!
ALL ECO TRAILER PARKS WOULD BE COMMITTED TO THE FOLLOWING GOALS:
ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN GUIDELINES
- Standards of Efficiency – exceeding R2000 Performance
- 3kWh/Day Peak Electrical Budget per Unit
- Non-Toxic, Healthy, Renewable Materials and Finishes
- Consistent High Quality Aesthetic throughout Park
- Ample opportunities for customization – individual expression – within design guidelines
- Low Impact Maintenance – No leaf-blowers or lawnmowers, no pesticides, meadows not lawns
- Ecological and Habitat Restoration – tree planting, grassland naturalization, zero-potable watering
- Grocery Deliveries – Online shopping and delivery encouraged
- Organic Culture – promoted through organic cafe with home-made goods
- Organic Gardening – user-tended plots, supervised by a master gardener
- Healthy Groundwater – de-paving, high permeability surfaces, swales, planted runoff buffers
- Low-water consumption – through architectural specifications, rainwater collection and use
- Low Energy Consumption – through Design/Architecture, Systems Design and Infrastructure Design
- Carbon Neutral – Gradual 100% Renewable Energy Production Onsite (PV/Solar Electric Array + Community Wind Turbine), starting with offsets and moving to 100% biofuels
- Solar Domestic Hot Water on All Common Bath Facilities
Renewable, Selectively harvested charcoal and fire woods for sale at site office
Rechargeable vehicle outlets provided at site office Propane available at site office
- Biofuel Friendly – Where possible, biodiesel availability
- Electric Cars – Quiet, Clean – all Park service vehicles electric
- Low Vehicle Speeds (10km/hr. inner-park limits) Off-Site Parking – deliveries permitted, no parking within the park
- Weekly collection of recyclables and compost – compost to be used in garden operations
- Attractive enclosure for critter-proof compost and garbage bins for each unit
- Recycling bins provided at site office
- No combustion of waste permitted – strictly enforced
- Interest-free rent-to-own units available for sale with 30% down-payments
- Annual site fees, no need to buy lots
- 5 year lot leases available with Doubleplus units
- Silent Sports – No Jet-skis, IC-Engines or other gasoline-powered recreational activities
- Fishing, Canoeing, Swimming all encouraged
- Healthy Communities – through activities and programming
- Noise Curfew – Noisy social activities to cease past 11pm and before 8 am
- No alcohol, tobacco permitted in common areas of park – strictly enforced No illicit drug use – zero tolerance
- Mutual Respect among neighbours – no abusive language or actions tolerated
ARTS & CRAFTS PROGRAMS
Art and Craft Programs Offered for Young and Old
- Pet Friendly – Responsible ownership, dogs must be on-leash at all times
- Doggie Park – Designated fenced area for off-leash dog play
- Designated Pet-Waste Compost Collection Areas
- Controversial animals will be asked to stay home – 3 strikes/complain system. incl. barking, growling and/or aggression.
6. PILOT PROJECT CASE STUDY: RENEWAL AND REVITALIZATION
I was approached in Q4 of 2008 by a Private Equity Fund to draft a proposal to study the conversion of a conventional Trailer Park into a Eco Trailer Park. I quickly set to work to identify desirable characteristics of potential properties, and came up with the following criteria:
- Max. 1.5 hr Drive from Major Cities in Canada and the USA
- Min. 5 acres in size 50 to 200 Unit capacity
- Ability to transition to 4 Seasons of Operation
- Waterfront access with min. 800′ of Shoreline
- Max. 20 Dwelling Units per Acre
Based on this criteria, we located an existing trailer park property on the shores of ‘Generic Lake’ in Ontario, Canada. The Lake is just North of Lake Simcoe. A major Casino and a number of resort communities are just a few minutes in any direction. The commute from Toronto – even during a snowstorm – was clocked at 2 hrs.
Two possible highway routes lead to the site, HWY 400 North and HWY 12 – providing good access even when the 400 is jammed from Northbound cottager traffic. The site’s current user base is predominantly from the Hamilton area.
When evaluating properties based on the criteria outlined above, a ‘Generic Lakefront’ property in Ontario, Canada was selected as it met all of the criteria outlined above. With a low initial sale price of $1.2 mil., this site featured:
- 1.5 to 2 Hour Drive from Toronto
- 9.5 Acres 120 to 200 Unit Capacity (Currently 90 Units, 6 Year-Round)
- Ability to transition to 3 and Ultimately 4 Seasons of Operation
- Waterfront access with min. 1200′ of Shoreline Capacity for 10+ Dwelling Units per Acre
- Adjacent Properties for Sale, To North, RU Property, to South, Closed quarry operation.
The Site also featured several cash businesses that were not in the Park’s financial records, including a Marina and Dock Rental Facility, complete with 30 boat slips and on-site storage of over 100 boats. There was also a concrete launch ramp adjacent to a rec-hall facility. Existing workshops, outbuildings, washroom facilities and 2 site cabins were not deemed to hold significant value. Excellent water quality and fish stock, and 12 foot high limestone cliffs were all attractive waterfront features. Wastewater pump-out and treatment and propane deliveries were handled by external contracts. Freshwater supply treatment was by chlorination, daily testing ensured compliance with Provincial requirements.
7. OUR FIRST ECO TRAILER PARK: A GLITTERING EXAMPLE OF WHAT CAN BE DONE
The vision of the Eco Trailer Park is one of an organic and naturalized resort community, with soft, meandering paths, lush vegetation, elegant water features and uninterrupted expanses of the starlit night sky.
Fortunately, these natural features are often already found in many of the less-developed waterfront parks in the $2 to $8m range. We imagine a simple, smart approach to contemporary master-planning and landscaping that will serve to unify the contemporary design of our units while providing privacy, excellent vistas and an efficiency of infrastructure layout that retains the low-cost, light footprint of the trailer park infrastructure.
Initially, we would like to establish a shining example of what can be done, and subsequently have some deals for derelict properties in-hand (The Options Model) so profit can be maximized upon their remediation. To this first Eco Trailer Park we would ‘pull out all of the stops’, dedicating all of our energies towards creating an incredible, green community that will be a hotbed of media activity (free editorial marketing buzz) for years to come. From the success of this pilot model, we will work with clients to establish further Eco Trailer Parks in key locations, all over North America and abroad. For our first development, we would propose a total investment of approximately $5M, to cover all land acquisitions, options on future parks, master-planning, site upgrades and landscaping, delivery of units to form the sales centre, marketing, communications and sales initiatives – for detailed analysis, please contact Andy (see contact page).
Over the years, we have established key relationships with property owners and developers that have already prepared the groundwork to continue with park redevelopment. These individuals have expressed interest in converting their properties to Eco Trailer Parks.
The Eco Trailer Park model is one of moderate luxury resorts in beautiful, natural settings, with amenities shared among a membership structure, where visitors and residents lease the land that their units are on, and where residents/ visitors own their units outright – these are bought from the park sales office. We will be vetting Park Managers with track records that prove their ability to manage residential parks at a profit. We would like to consider Urban Residential Parks as a separate proposal for Q2 of 2011.
We have to date considered Eco Trailer Park proposals for:
- Saltspring Island, British Columbia (Preliminary)
- Cortes Island, British Columbia (Preliminary)
- Pender Island, British Columbia (Preliminary)
- Santa Cruz, California (Preliminary Co-operative Development)
- Brighton, Ontario (Mature plans)
- Whistler, British Columbia (On Hold)
- Okanagan, BC (Mature Plans with adjacent manufacturing opportunity)
- Victoria, BC (Preliminary)
- Huntsville, Ontario (Preliminary, AB & Co.)
- Seattle, Washington (BW Group)
- Boulder Colorado (RCH Housing Systems, 38 Units)
- Soames Hill Park, Sunshine Coast, BC. (Pending Investment Capital)
- Canmore, Alberta (Option Proposal)
- Rossland, BC (potential interest)
8. OUR MARKET: EDUCATED, YOUNG, OPTIMISTIC PRIMARY PROPERTY OWNERS
Our market research indicates that our current prospective customers (based on over hundreds of prospects surveyed under the miniHOME projects) already own a primary home, and command a household income of over $100k. While some are considering an alternative to their current home, the vast majority are interested in Eco Trailer Park as second homes or places to get away for the weekends, holidays and Summers. Our research indicates interest in 20+ acre waterfront and other properties, within a 1 to 1.5 hr. commute from major urban centres, to develop and/or redevelop into exclusive, Eco Trailer Parks that can accommodate from 50 to 200 units (which translates to a development density of approx. 10 Dwelling Units/Acre). Our Eco Trailer Parks Action Plan will elucidate what is involved in the purchase, design, and implementation of a sustainable Master plan for Eco Trailer Parks.
9. PARK REVENUE: TWO STREAMS, FEES AND SALES
The Park generates revenue from fees collected for pad leases for each unit, and can also obtain additional revenue from initiation or membership fees. Units conforming to specific Eco Trailer Park criteria such as excellent energy performance, healthy materials and durable, low maintenance construction will be sold to members from the Park Office, forming a sales revenue stream. Additionally, revenue can be generated by:
- Sales: 20% per unit of MSRP
- Accessories: Upgrades, Furniture, Decks, Sheds and Landscaping Options
- Siting: Delivery, Installation, Set-up and even transportation costs
- Maintenance: Servicing, Winterizing, Repairs, Fuel Surcharges (propane/biodiesel)
- Renewable Energy Contracts: (i.e. Park Solar and/or Wind Utility Premiums)
- Community Centre Activities & Programming: Lessons, Workshops, Food/Concessions, etc.
- Hospitality Suites*: Some Units may be set aside as Hotel-Type Suites or Holiday Rentals
- Grants: In the case of parks designed to function as artist in residence or community development projects such as at Cove Park in Scotland.
*Sales Centre can convert to hospitality suites once park initialization is complete.
10. PARK OVERHEAD: COSTS BALANCED BY AMENITY REVENUES
The Eco Trailer Park design guidelines have the potential to greatly reduce typical park overhead costs*, from reduced water and electrical consumption (units), to reduced landscaping costs by inclusion of xeriscaping (low or no irrigation requirements), indigenous planting, soft paths vs. hard-scaping and low-maintenance, naturalized areas vs. energy, water and fertilizer intensive expanses of lawns. Additional profit improvement can be seen with the deployment of community scale solar, wind and solar thermal projects.
*A Note Regarding Property Taxes on Units: Taxes are a ‘pass-through’ item. The assessments are modest and they are simply collected and paid. The typical tax bill is $150 to $300 per year. Property taxes on the land itself are the same as on land considered ‘undeveloped’ and hence are very low.
11. PRO FORMA SUMMARY ANALYSIS: A $3M INVESTMENT PROPOSAL
We modelled the Park outlined in section 6 above to with a custom-designed Pro Forma Spreadsheet that gave us the following Summary Conclusions. All projections were based on a total initial investment fund of $3,000,000 Canadian Dollars, with a phased, 5-year, Condominium-style sales program.
Generic Lake’ Pro Forma Summary
- Initial Property Investment $1,200,000
- Additional Capital Invested (Year 1) $1,800,000
- Total Combined Project Capital Costs (5 Year Total) $6,408,000
- Project Duration (Years) 5
- Total Unit Capacity (5 Yr. Phased Development) 200
- Sales Profit Potential per Unit (Net) $41,000
- Total Unit Sales (Net Average on Units, Siting, Delivery & Accessories)** $8,200,000
- Annual Fees per Unit $3,500
- Total Project Overhead (5 yr. Total) $970,365
- Total Fee Based Revenue* (Hotel Units, Rental Units & Site Fees) $13,452,550
- Total Combined Revenue $21,845,050
- Project Final Value at Year 6 (Real Estate + Equity Improvements) $8,040,586.752
- Year 6 Final Operational Annual Combined Revenue Streams $5,542,327
- ROI 180%
There is a reason the highly profitable Killam group has been busily purchasing every trailer park in Canada.
*Complete Revenue Streams included Hospitality, Rental Units and Site Fees. The numbers above are a summary of findings from a much more comprehensive operational analysis of the entire Eco Trailer Parks business for the proposed site. Costs of borrowing, some taxes, and unit/capital depreciation rates were not considered in this Pro Forma, but can be readily adjusted to reflect these rates for a different development proposal.
**Based on base wholesale cost of $120k per Eco Trailer Unit, with 25% markup, and approx… $20k in accessory upgrades, delivery and siting fees per unit.
Contact Thomson Architecture, Inc. to obtain our proforma to study the business case of your own property to function as an Eco Trailer Park, please visit our contact page for more information.