Anders Swahn stays busy running a solar energy startup.
In his spare time he plans his new home, a clean-technology marvel said to be carbon neutral with solar panels, geothermal heating and gray-water recycling. It would be built to last for 200 years and measure up to Marin County’s green building standards.
It would also be one of the largest homes in the county, at 15,240 square feet (the average American home is 2,000). That does not include the 2,250-square-foot guesthouse and the 737-square-foot caretaker’s cottage. And it would be constructed on a wooded bluff jutting into San Francisco Bay at the tip of Tiburon.
Six years after beginning the approval process, it appears that Swahn, 52, will get the go-ahead from the Marin County Planning Commission in the coming months. But some neighbors remain unconvinced that such a big house can actually be good for the environment.
“It will be green, but the truth is that a 15,000-square-foot house isn’t sustainable,” said Sandra Swanson, who lives a few miles down the road. “Trees will be destroyed and think of all the building materials.”
Swahn, an understated Swedish-born engineer who made his millions with semiconductors in Silicon Valley, said in an interview last week that the carbon footprint would be far less than for a smaller, conventionally built house. The naysayers, he continued, are stuck in the old environmental movement.
“There’s one part of the movement that lives in the 1960s, dogmatic, fighting the old fight, and there’s the other part that’s living in the current century and is much more practical,” said Swahn, adding that the former group’s position has been: “‘We don’t care how green it is; we don’t like big houses.’”
Randy Greenberg, a planning commissioner who opposes the project, said she worried that it would set a precedent for size and be an eyesore when seen from the bay. (Just down the road, a 10,944-square-foot estate, with 11 bedrooms and 10 baths, is on the market for $37 million.)
“The population of the world is increasing, and we can’t take so much more than our share,” said Greenberg, who lives nearby.
The 15-acre Swahn property will be left wild around the house, which will be hidden by trees, and the house will be clad with local fieldstone, factors that have placated some concerns on the planning commission.
“In return for a big home, it will be a very green home and it will preserve the site forever,” Swahn said. “I think it’s a fair trade-off between the public interest and my private-property rights.”
Swahn, who will live in the house with his wife, said he liked the feel of big rooms that open “like meadows.”
“It’s just the scale, the volume, the light,” he said. “You know when you go into a public building or a museum how you feel? That is what you get from the size.”
And that scale, he added, does not have to hurt the environment: “I think you can have your cake and eat it at the same time.”