Natural Home Earth Movers: David Pelletier and Pearl Schaar

Natural Home salutes David Pelletier and Pearl Schaar, who helped save a small town from being swallowed by developers.

| November/December 2004

  • David Pelletier and Pearl Schaar collaborate together on a project.
    Photo By Jim Bryant
  • Design Stanwood volunteers work to save their town from over development.
    Photo By Jim Bryant
  • David Pelletier and Pearl Schaar collaborate together on a project.

When architect David Pelletier moved to Washington fourteen years ago, the town of Stanwood, a gateway to Puget Sound’s Camano Island, was a sleepy hamlet. Since then, the small community halfway between Seattle and Bellingham has doubled in size as families flee metropolitan areas for a more rural, slow-paced lifestyle.

Pelletier and his business partner, Pearl Schaar, worried as they watched strip malls and fast-food outlets set up shop on the town’s outskirts. Would unbridled growth suck the life out of a downtown situated in a flood plain? Could sprawl be avoided? How could Stanwood retain its identity?

“If you want to make a difference, you have to take action,” Pelletier declares. The partners discovered an American Institute of Architects process called Design Assistance Team (DAT), a grassroots approach to community development that provides a platform for citizen and community leader input. They presented the idea to the Stanwood community in October 2002. Thirty-five residents signed on to help implement the team, with Pelletier and Schaar assuming leadership roles on the steering committee.

On April 25, 2003, a multidisciplinary team of architects, urban planners, landscapers, engineers, transportation specialists, and economists set up shop in Stanwood, donating $100,000 in pro bono services. For three days they toured the community, interviewed residents, and held public forums. The result: Design Stanwood, a comprehensive vision for the community that was quickly adopted by city planners.

“Our small community was on the verge of being swallowed up by malls, but our team leveraged against that,” says Pelletier. “Our grassroots effort told developers, ‘Don’t destroy what’s here. There’s plenty of room for a variety of projects.’”

A year later, the volunteers remain at work on implementation committees. Design Stanwood, a nonprofit organization, has been formed to carry through the concepts and suggestions in the DAT final document. Both Pelletier and Schaar sit on its board of directors (she’s president; he’s vice president) and oversee committees such as landscaping, parks, gateways, signage, and commons.

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