Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pittsburgh: LEEDing the Way

Considering my previous postings on Green Economic Development, I would be amiss if I didn't at least mention the bill that was tentatively approved today by City Council providing for Green zoning "bonuses" for LEED certified building in LNC and other non-residential zoning districts.

You can read the text of the whole thing here, as part of the swanky new eGovernment Legistar system, which, frankly, sounds more like a Star Wars location than anything.* In a nutshell, if you build a LEED certified building you get to build your building 20% bigger and taller; outside a nutshell, the same rules apply, but the buildings are a lot bigger.

Now, don't get me wrong: I think this is a good idea for the City and an interesting way to encourage sustainable development without pouring bucket loads of money into projects. There are, however, some real shortfalls in the proposed plan.

First, it completely leaves out residential construction. While it's a great idea to encourage businesses to go greener, it does nothing to encourage green design at home. If I remember correctly, home is not only where the heart is, it's where the most unsustainable energy choices are made. If the city really wanted to make a real impact (over and above the existing International Building Code standards), it would include residential construction as well. Let's set that aside, however, as there are currently no real guidelines for LEED certified residential construction at this time.

Which brings up the second critique: the use of the US Green Building Council's LEED standard specifically in the legislation. Again, LEED is fine and all, but there are other rating systems out there. Just because a structure is not LEED certified does not meen that it's not "Green." Moreover, in order to get your LEED certification, there is a fee, paid to the USGBC, and performance auditing standards, paid to independent auditors, who have to certify that your building is, in fact, a green building.

Again, that's fine, except that council has narrowed the definition of "Green," and has given USGBC a virtual monopsony on what that terminology means.

And, yes, you do get a Green point for having a bike rack, by the way.

Still, there's no sliding scale for this bonus; developers only have to satisfy the "LEED Certified" criteria, with no incentive to reach Silver, Gold, or Platinum levels. One would have thought that if you go better, you should get a bigger bonus.

So, I'm not really opposed to this legislation (I mean, any chance for the City to get $500 from a Zoning Administrator's Exception or even more for a full blown site plan review, right?), but it just seems to be so narrowly construed that it's more of a pain in the ass than effective policy.

* That's no moon... that's an online database and document retrieval system.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yep. you have a comprehensive grasp of why this isn't so great.

there's more. but you got the big points.