The same principles that Rick Holliday is using to plan Truckee’s railyard have garnered the Emeryville-based developer a prestigious award from one of the state’s largest conservation groups.

Holliday, who is planning a mixed-use development on the 21-acre railyard adjoining downtown Truckee, was one of three individuals honored by the California League of Conservation Voters Saturday for a career that has focused on affordable housing, pedestrian-oriented projects and smart growth.

“I am particularly honored that they would pick me for the award because they have typically been hard on developers,” said Holliday, in a telephone interview on Monday.

The League of Conservation Voters, a political action committee that has more than 20,000 members in the state, picked Holliday for the award because of high density development that prevents sprawl and residents’ dependence on automobiles.

“It’s about sustainable communities,” said Jason Gohlke, spokesman for the league, about the award ceremony’s theme, “Vibrant Cities: Urban Solutions for a Healthy California.”

“It’s about places where people can live and work without contributing to urban sprawl,” Gohlke said.

After founding two of California’s leading affordable housing developers, Eden Housing and BRIDGE Housing, Holliday formed the for-profit company Holliday Development.

Along the way Holliday broke from convention and challenged historical patterns of building. By building lofts, live-work units and buildings that flex between commercial and residential uses, Holliday’s developments have been able to fluctuate along with the changing market.

“I try to create spaces that are flexible,” Holliday said. “I think that a building that can be flexible and breathe with the changes of the market … is what we are about.”

The environmental movement did not always back Holliday’s ideas. It took a while to convince environmentalists that high-density, infill development was healthier than low-density, sprawling suburban-style building.

“The environmental movement is getting more active in trying to promote smart growth and affordable housing,” said Holliday. “The only way, I think, that you have to get meaningful affordable housing is to increase density.”

At the railyard, which is still in the planning and design stage, Holliday sees the opportunity to put smart growth practices in place “times 10,” he said.

“Truckee is such an amazing place, but the town doesn’t have a cultural center,” he said.

Holliday is planning the railyard, which he bought from Union Pacific Railroad, as a mix of housing, commercial and office space with all uses feeding off of one another.
The mix of uses and a high density should add vibrancy to the center of town, Holliday said.

“I’m confident I’ll pull it off,” he said.