Note: This is the second of four case studies spotlighting winners of The Home Depot Foundation's Awards of Excellence.

Winners of the homeownership project category, Troy Gardens includes a working, organic farm, community gardens, and green-built accessible cohousing.
Madison Area Community Land Trust Winners of the homeownership project category, Troy Gardens includes a working, organic farm, community gardens, and green-built accessible cohousing.

Troy Gardens in Madison, Wis., is a masterpiece of mixed land use. It combines an organic farm, community gardens, prairie restoration projects, and green-built accessible co-housing-all in the city and on the bus line. The 31-acre site was home to community gardeners and bird watchers for years when Wisconsin announced in 1995 it would sell it to the highest bidder. Concerned neighbors formed a coalition and developed a proposal to combine housing with open and agricultural space. The Madison Area Community Land Trust (CLT) purchased the site in 2001 and leased 26 of the acres to the Friends of Troy Gardens, the steward of the natural areas. The remaining five acres were reserved for 30 units of mixed-income housing.

With a sustainable land plan, green-built, Energy Star-certified housing was a natural fit. While the homes are mixed income, they include identical base features with a "tremendous upgrade package," says Greg Rosenberg, executive director of the Madison Area CLT. "If you go out there, you can't tell who's income-restricted and who's market-rate."

All of the homes are pre-plumbed for solar thermal water heating and the four-unit buildings have optional solar thermal and photovoltaic panels. A lot of residents chose the upgrades, including some income-restricted buyers, Rosenberg says. About half of the units have one source of solar energy and some have both. Many chose tankless water heaters and dual-flush toilets, he adds, and bamboo flooring was "super popular."

In addition, all the homes include fiber-cement siding and blow-in-blanket insulation for a higher R-value. But building environmentally friendly wasn't the only factor the trust had in mind, Rosenberg says. "When we're talking about sustainability, that includes [things such as] urban agriculture, it includes livability, which includes accessible design."

Troy Gardens
Winner: Homeownership Project
Location: Madison, Wis.
Developer: Madison Area Community Land Trust
Builder: McGann Construction
Architect: Glueck Architects
Size: 31-acre urban infill development, including
30 homes on five acres
Housing type: Mixed-income; two-thirds of homes
are income-restricted and priced one-third less
than market value
Green Features
  • Solar thermal, photovoltaic, and tankless water-heater options
  • BIBS insulation
  • Prairie restoration open space 
  • Working farm and community gardens

The dwellings are designed with a barrier-free first floor containing a bedroom and a bath for disabled residents. Furthermore, the development is designed to be walkable, with miles of paved and unpaved walkways.

In fact, the sense of community is what sets Troy Gardens apart, Rosenberg says. Co-housing is a model in which residents participate in all aspects of their neighborhoods. "They lean on each other in hard times, and they celebrate good things-like lots of babies being born," Rosenberg says. Six households have new babies already.

Finally, residents can grow their own food and own a share of the farm, kids have 26 acres to play on, and the Friends of Troy Gardens operates a children's education program in the summer.

With two-thirds of the homes going to income-restricted buyers, "Folks questioned whether we could sell market-rate at all," Rosenberg says. But in Madison, people want to live in a development that has a sense of community, and that's what Troy Gardens delivers. An added bonus: The development has been popular with buyers aged 55 and over who find the access and intergenerational features appealing.

Also see: Home Depot Foundation Award Winner, Rental Project