Green offshoots: W. Alton Jones Foundation sprouts Oak Hill Fund

More than a year after the W. Alton Jones Foundation rocked the environmental and anti-nuclear proliferation philanthropic worlds by shutting its doors, the first of three new Baby Jones foundations officially debuted on October 1.

It bears a marked resemblance to its green-leanin' progenitor yet is seeking its own niche.

Oak Hill Fund is the new philanthropy vehicle of W. Alton "Pete" Jones' grandson, Bill Edgerton, an architect and Albemarle planning commissioner.

As reported in The Hook in March, the Oak Hill Fund will focus on funding environmentally friendly residential housing, particularly in the Charlottesville area. Applications for grants that use the words "sustainability" and "affordable" should have an edge.

Scott Chancy, one of five Oak Hill employees ensconced in the old offices of the W. Alton Jones Foundation at Queen Charlotte Square, defines a green building as one that conserves both energy and water.

"We're really excited about the initiatives and the applications we're going to receive," he says.

Oak Hill plans to give away $1.5 million its first year. Chancy says he's not in a position to discuss Oak Hill's endowment until its tax forms are filed at the end of its first fiscal year. At the time parent W. Alton Jones broke up, it had a $400 million endowment that was to be split into three new foundations.

(The other two: the as-yet unannounced Blue Moon Foundation, which will be run by W. Alton Jones' daughter, Patricia Jones Edgerton, and her daughter, Diane Edgerton Miller; and the Edgerton Foundation, headed by Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Brad Edgerton.)

So does that leave Oak Hill with a whopping $133 million endowment? "That was before the stock market fell," says Chancy, who otherwise refused to hint about how deep Oak Hill's pockets are. But as foundations are required to give away five percent of their endowments each year, it appears Oak Hill has at least $30 million, and probably much more.

The new foundation is good news for local nonprofits. Piedmont Housing Alliance seems like a perfect fit, yet surprisingly, its head, Stu Armstrong, had heard nothing about the new foundation in town when The Hook called last week.

Armstrong is working with Bill Edgerton on another project originally approved by W. Alton Jones: Garrett Square. Now funded by the Blue Moon splinter foundation, the Alliance received a $500,000 grant and a $1.2 million loan to buy and rehabilitate the complex. Edgerton is the architect of record working pro bono, and Armstrong says he's "on the cutting edge of sustainability."

In rehabilitating the apartments at Garrett Square, Armstrong says Edgerton's technical expertise in sustainable materials has been invaluable, showing itself in all kinds of improvements. For example, none of the building materials will have formaldehyde, and the air-conditioning units will be chosen to minimize the cost of electric bills.

"We'll look to [Oak Hill] as a potential resource," says Armstrong. "Mr. Edgerton and his staff bring wonderful ideas to the table in sustainable housing."

While the W. Alton Jones Foundation was known for its global perspective and was the 11th largest funder of international causes, Oak Hill will back causes closer to home. It will consider grants nationally for education and to support sustainable and affordable housing organizations, but other grants are limited to the Southeastern United States or the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, which includes Albemarle, Greene, Louisa, Fluvanna, and Nelson counties. Says Scott Chancy, "We're hoping to focus on quality of life issues within the Charlottesville area."