EDGY, CONTEMPORARY, AND VIBRANT are all words that describe Garden Crossing, a nifty 55-unit for-sale project on the burgeoning north side of Boulder, Colo. But there's another word, one that's red hot in the housing world these days, that also comes to mind. Garden Crossing is affordable. And you can add sustainable to the list of adjectives too, since it also meets (and even exceeds) green building and Energy Star requirements.

Best of all, though, it's just plain fun.

“It was fun, very fun,” says Rick New, director of residential architecture at Boulder's DTJ Design and the principal architect for Garden Crossing. “Every project has its share of pains and slings, but this one was fun because we knew the architecture was going to be really dynamic, highly visible, and would fit into the community well.”

That community, Holiday Neighborhood, has its own fun side—or at least a history that brings smiles to most baby boomers. It's the site of the old twin-screen Holiday Drive-In Theater, which operated on these 27 acres from 1969 to 1988. (The community even boasts an Easy Rider Lane, named after the first movie that brought folks to this North Boulder outpost.)

LONG ROAD HOME The road from drive-in movie theater to lively mixed-use neighborhood, complete with parks, artist's studios, and a community garden, was a long one. That won't come as a surprise to anyone who's tried to build in the city of Boulder, which has some of the most stringent growth limitations in the country.

After the theater shut down in 1989, its owners made plans to build a 120,000-square-foot, big-box warehouse on the site, shortly after the property and some other nearby parcels had been annexed to the city. That clashed with what Boulder officials had in mind for the site—a more urbanist, mixed-use plan—so the city set out to acquire the land. Eight long years later, in 1997, the city did just that and, in turn, sold the 27 acres to Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), its housing authority. BHP became the master developer of Holiday Neighborhood.

“At that time, we did a solicitation asking, ‘Who wants to come partner on the site?' and spent the next year and a half talking with 45 different developers, really sorting through who was appropriate and who wasn't,” says Cindy Brown, co-executive director of BHP and project manager at Garden Crossing. “Our master site–planning architects, Barrett Studio Architects [in Boulder], produced a set of design guidelines that were given to [seven] developers. Then we went through a design review process with each of the developers, sometimes more than once. The first drawings that came in for Garden Crossing created quite a stir. They were brightly colored with unusual materials and metal finishes. There was some excitement and some controversy. But I find when I give people a tour of Holiday Neighborhood, Garden Crossing creates the most buzz. People either love it or they don't.”

SMART DESIGN The architects at DTJ Design certainly loved what they were able to do with Garden Crossing. In fact, it became a unifying element at the firm, which is located just three miles from Holiday Neighborhood. “This project generated a lot of internal interest, especially with some of our younger designers,” says New, who has always had a penchant for sustainable design. “But it was Peak Properties, the selected builder and developer, that really stepped up. Peak Properties had done a lot of traditional projects before, but contemporary architecture was really driving the boat here. They were committed to getting the details right.”

Peak Properties, another Boulder-based company, gave the forward-looking design the green light and committed to making more than 50 percent of the attached town-homes and carriage units affordable as required by BHP. In addition, all the homes went 30 percent above the national standard for an Energy Star rating. Each home features energy-, water-, and resource-conservation measures, including recycled content insulation, minimal VOC content in paints and finishes, low-flow faucets, OSB sheathing made from fast-growth trees, and recycled job waste.

Although only four floor plans were used, the orientation of the buildings and the use of a variety of materials give each unit a unique feel. DTJ Design chose to put a diagonal line of carriage-house units in a sawtooth pattern along the eastern edge of the site, which runs along busy Highway 36. That helped mitigate noise and directed views back to the west and south. “The western sun can be tough, but we controlled it with shading,” says New, who was also anxious to capture as much solar benefit as possible. Directing views toward the west and south also oriented Garden Crossing more toward the rest of Holiday Neighborhood.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Boulder, CO.