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Two housing projects slated for Phoenix

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by Jim Flint for the Mail Tribune Jul 26, 2021

Architect Mark McKechnie, left, and property owner Vin Mehta look over plans for a four-story, 55-unit apartment project to be constructed on the site where Mehta’s VS Plaza commercial center burned down in the Almeda fire. Photo by Jim Flint

Two shopping centers that burned along Highway 99 in Phoenix will be turned into housing

In the 10 months since the Almeda fire destroyed nearly 2,500 residences in the Phoenix-Talent area, new and transitional housing has been slow to develop. Families are still scrambling to find a place to live.

Two new projects slated for construction in Phoenix will help alleviate the shortage, providing an estimated 135 new rental housing units.

The projects will be constructed on sites formerly occupied by the Pacific Plaza Shopping Center at 4149 S. Pacific Highway and the VS Plaza at 4150 S. Pacific Highway, across the street and behind the Jack in the Box restaurant. Both centers were destroyed by the Almeda fire last September.

Construction of VS Apartments on the former VS Plaza site will likely begin in October or November of this year and completed in early 2023. Specific plans for the former Pacific Plaza site will be announced at a later date.

Oregon Architecture, Inc., a Medford-based firm, is the architect of record for the projects. It also is working on other residential projects in the cities of Phoenix, Talent, Medford and Ashland to deal with the loss of housing from the Almeda fire. The projects will create nearly 300 new units.

Mark McKechnie is the principal architect with the eight-member firm, which specializes in historic redevelopment, energy-efficient structures, multifamily housing, medical offices and hospitality. He credits the city of Phoenix for making the two new projects possible.

“In a bold and forward-thinking move, the city changed its development code in April of this year to allow residential uses within the Highway Commercial Zone,” McKechnie said.

The city has two commercial zones — Highway Commercial and Center City Commercial. Prior to April, residential uses were allowed only in the Center City Commercial zone.

“This change makes a lot of sense in the post-COVID era,” McKechnie said. “Online shopping has exploded and the current need for commercially zoned land is greatly diminished.”

The change also allows for multi-use properties offering a combination of residential and commercial uses to be developed without having to go through a conditional use or exception process.

“In the case of the VS Apartments project, residents will be able to take advantage of its convenient location near many existing businesses,” McKechnie said.

The owners are Vin and Seema Mehta, a couple who developed the Jack in the Box franchise flag within Oregon and southern Washington. Ultimately, they owned more than 60 franchise locations prior to selling them about two years ago. They also own other restaurant and hotel properties in Oregon.

The change in zoning regulations was welcome news to Mehta.

“I want to thank the city of Phoenix for helping make it possible to build here,” he said. He also expressed appreciation for the fast settlement by his insurance company, Oregon Mutual, on the loss of his commercial center. “They cut me a check in two days,” he said.

VS Apartments will be four stories high in roughly the same footprint of the burned-down strip center. It will have 55 units — 16 two-bedroom and 39 one-bedroom apartments, with a variety of floor plans.

Apartments will range in size from 625-700 square feet for the one-bedroom units and 850-925 square feet for the two-bedroom units. All will be single level residences.

The building will have a public lobby, a mail room, an elevator and a fire-suppression system. Each unit will be equipped with a private washer/dryer hook-up.

A green area will be developed nearby for residents to enjoy.

“The site is located adjacent to Coleman Creek, which was mostly spared by the fire, even though all the construction around it burned,” McKechnie said.

“The retail center had a nice little landscaped park adjacent to the creek, which will be refurbished with shrubs and trees.”

The project will be constructed to comply with current green and energy-efficiency standards, and will have mini-split mechanical units for heating and cooling.

“The building will be structurally equipped to accept solar panels in the future,” he said.

The project is currently in for development approval with the city. McKechnie expects to submit the building permit application in August. Final construction cost has not yet been determined and a general contractor has yet to be selected.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at

Two housing projects slated for Phoenix

Medford architect’s $50,000 fellowship targets net-zero for affordable housing

By News

by Jim Flint for the Mail Tribune Tuesday, December 15th 2020

Oregon Architecture owner and principal architect Mark McKechnie, left, goes over housing designs with associates, from left, David Summer, senior design project manager; Megan Morgan, design project manager; and Martin Lee, designer. McKechnie won a $50,000 Net-Zero 2020 Fellowship from the Energy Trust of Oregon to research energy-efficient designs for affordable housing.

Affordable housing may become more energy efficient because of a grant from the Energy Trust of Oregon to Medford architect Mark McKechnie.

McKechnie is the recipient of the $50,000 Net-Zero 2020 Fellowship from the Energy Trust, the only grant awarded this year. He’ll use the funding to research cost drivers associated with net-zero affordable housing in Oregon.

A practicing architect for more than 40 years, he is the owner and principal architect of Oregon Architecture, Inc., 132 W. Main St., Medford.

The Energy Trust is governed by a volunteer board of directors and is overseen by the Oregon Public Utility Commission. Three stakeholder advisory councils guide its work.

Through his research, he will create resources that developers, designers and construction teams can use to evaluate a range of energy consumption reduction options and rate them according to cost of construction and return on investment.

“I’ve always been interested in energy-efficient design,” McKechnie said.

In the early 1980s, he designed an energy-efficient demonstration house in Minnesota.

“The project was so efficient, it could heat itself to 50 degrees through the depths of a Minnesota winter,” he said.

Over the years, he observed that energy efficiency on construction remained primarily an academic exercise.

“It was almost consistently ignored by builders until they were forced to consider it, either by homeowners or code changes,” he said.

Even though energy-efficient construction designs have become more prevalent in recent years, they’re found more in middle- and upper-income housing. Buyers of those homes want and ask for the new technology, and they can afford it.

Cost is the reason affordable housing often fails to utilize the new technologies and building designs.

“Net-zero typically has a higher front-end cost, which isn’t always recognized by lenders as freeing up income to pay for a higher mortgage,” McKechnie said.

“Low-income housing” is generally constructed by public or nonprofit agencies that mostly receive financing from the state or federal government. Those loans typically have per-unit spending limits.

“We are hoping to show that a net-zero home will free up additional monthly income for rent,” he said.

By demonstrating that additional energy reductions will save money over the life of the loan, they hope the state will allow additional costs of building for greater energy efficiency.

Net-zero construction generally means a building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements. Oregon Architecture has not designed any net-zero housing to date. But it did the design work on three energy-efficient projects for the Klamath Housing Authority, within the limits of the building code and the funding source.

“The Klamath County climate is harsher than the Rogue Valley or the Oregon Coast,” McKechnie said, “so it provides a better opportunity for payback on energy-efficiency expenditures.”

Oregon Architecture will partner with Klamath Housing Authority on research funded by the fellowship. Also involved will be MEP Consulting for mechanical engineering and Bogatay Construction. David Sommer and Niru Patil, associates at the firm, will assist.

McKechnie hopes that the research will provide practical solutions that could demonstrate to the building community how energy efficiency can be instituted without radical changes in lifestyle or large outlays of money.

He sees several opportunities for more efficiency — in the building envelope, better use of daylight, and utilizing low-tech alternative energy systems. A “building envelope” is defined as the separation of the interior and exterior of a building, which can help facilitate climate control.

McKechnie acknowledges there can be resistance to low-income projects, but believes that resistance is based more on perception than fact.

“The local agencies that own and operate projects have a long history of strong management,” he said. “The average citizen would be hard-pressed to identify a low-income project just by looking at it.”

McKechnie expects the results of his research to be reflected in future affordable housing in the Rogue Valley.

“My expectation is we can provide local builders with some energy-efficient construction techniques they can use in their work going forward,” he said. “The purpose of the fellowship, after all, is to flatten the curve on energy usage growth.”

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at

Medford architect’s $50,000 fellowship targets net-zero for affordable housing

And the recipient of the 2020 Net Zero Fellowship is…

By News

Energy Trust of Oregon:

Please join us in congratulating Mark McKechnie of Oregon Architecture, Inc., the recipient of our 2020 Net Zero Fellowship grant. Mark has been a practicing architect for over 40 years. For the past 12 years, he has been the principal architect of Oregon Architecture, Inc., an architecture firm in Southern Oregon that specializes in historic redevelopment, energy-efficient structures, assembly uses and multifamily housing.

Mark will use funding from Energy Trust of Oregon’s fellowship grant to research cost drivers associated with net-zero affordable housing in Oregon. Based on his research, Mark will create resources that developers, designers and construction teams can use to evaluate a range of energy consumption reduction options and rate them according to cost of construction and return on investment.

Energy Trust is proud to support and celebrate innovative thinkers leading the way to a net-zero future. We’re excited to share Mark’s progress with you in the coming year through our training and education series, and look forward to seeing the results of his research.

For more information about the Net Zero Fellowship and past recipients, please visit our Net Zero Grants website.

Victoria Magda, market outreach specialist, Energy Trust New Buildings

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