The Spirit Of The Law--Is Baltimore's Proposed 25th Street Station Green?

In 2009, Baltimore passed an amedment to its building code requiring public and private buildings above 10,000 gross square feet to "be equivalent to a LEED “Silver” level."  Obviously, the goal was to get buildings in Baltimore to be more environmentally friendly. Fast forward a year, and a controversy is brewing over whether a proposed Big Box project, including a Lowe's and a WalMart is actually green.  There is some rumbling that the project was not green because it was not being certified by the USGBC, and may not be properly managing its wastewater.  According to Baltidome:

During community testimony at the hearing, the Planning Commission was presented with concern that the developers were not applying for LEED “Silver” certification for the project and that the proposed development appears to be failing in its method for waste water management of the site. Despite the developer’s assertions, the project may, in fact, be ineligible for LEED “Silver” standards set by the city.

Without deeply analyzing the nicities of wastewater management, the resistance to the 25th street station project appears to be mainly one of local vs. chain.  But I am wrestling with the more baasic regulatory concept of incentivizing inner city development because it is green, even if it does not embrace green building practices.

Work with me here.  Cities are inherently green.  One of my favorite New Yorker articles of all time was David Owen's 2004  piece on why New York City is sustainable.  The argument for 25th Street Station's green cred goes like this "If the 25th Street Walmart project comes to fruition, your average Baltimorean will have greater access to retail within walking or short driving distance.  No need to go to the suburbs to shop, wasting fossil fuel and requiring expensive additional infrastructure.  In addition, it provides an amenity which makes inner city living more attractive."  Weighed against that, of course, is the long distance shipping of goods to WalMart, and potentially the non-green siting and construction practices. But the non-green practices and the long distance shipping would exist wherever WalMart built, in downtown Baltimore or in an exurban location. 

Baltidome is rightly concerned that Baltimore's green building regulations are not being enforced, and there is currently considerable stress on municipal budgets which are leading to green building programs being scaled back.  Are we better off, in an era of severly constrained municipal finances, focusing on incentivizing urban development and renewal than specifying (and enforcing) green building practices?  

What a welcome back!

I have recovered from my surgery earlier than expected, and on my first day back in the office, Green Building Law Blog (along with Friends of GBLB Green Building Law Update and GBNYC) was honored to be on the Top 10 Green Building Blogs by Joe Stampone of A Student of the Real Estate Game, a great blog on real estate topics. He has a very self-depricating and clever pen, and I enjoy reading his blog as I too am a student of the real estate game.

Back to my regular twice a week posting this week, then next week I am taking a well deserved vacation.  If anyone is "down the shore" next week, let me know!

Interview: Karen Bandheuer on EPA's Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments

A few weeks ago, the EPA released its Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments. The Toolkit:

is designed to assist local governments in identifying and removing permitting barriers to sustainable design and green building practices. It provides a resource for communities interested in conducting their own internal evaluation of how local codes/ordinances either facilitate or impede a sustainable built environment, including the design, construction, renovation, and operation and maintenance of a building and its immediate site.

The toolkit can be downloaded here.

The Toolkit was developed by EPA Region 4, and we are very excited to have Karen Bandhauer, an Environmental Scientist at EPA Region 4 for an interview about the Toolkit.

GBLB:  Why did you develop the Toolkit?

KB: The Toolkit was the result of a relationship between the EPA and Roswell, GA. The city approached EPA wanting to develop green, protect natural resources and provide resources for its residents. The Roswell representatives told us that there had been some innovative projects that came into their permitting pipeline, and had run into permitting problems because of green features. They realized they were creating barriers to projects that they wanted to have in their community. The asked us whether we could help them create some resources to help communities identify the barriers in their codes to developing green. Some funding became available through the internal EPA innovation work group, about $50,000 in seed money for innovative projects. This project was put forward as an innovation project in 2008 by Region 4. That got it started. The project ended up being a partnership with Smart Growth and Green Building at [EPA]  headquarters.

GBLB: What does the Toolkit contain?

KB:  The Toolkit has three parts:  an assessment guide that allows users to tak a look at their codes and ordinances under the categories of the LEED process [sustainable sites , water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor air quality, materials & resources]. The assessment tool identifies objective and rationale for each category, and then questions for communities to identify gaps in the current regulatory system, then a list of potential tools and techniques [for addressing those gaps].

There is also an assessment tool—green, yellow and red—to determine how well the community is promoting each practice. Green is where the tactic is either mandatory or incentivized, yellow is where the practice is typically allowed, and red is where the practice is hampered or prohibited [by the current regulations].

There is aslo a resource guide attached to each section which has tools, information and case studies. The resource guide has a compendium of policy tools, best practices and other materials. In some cases it might be an example of a community that has put in a model ordinance, it might be an example of a best management practice guide or a green roof technical specifications. It allows the user to get a good sensse of the existing information in the field without having to spend a lot of time searching around for it.

The last section is a guide for developing an action plan. We had not originally envisioned this section for the project, but the City of Roswell gave us feedback that they wanted advice on next steps. This is a step by step guide for changing the regulatory environment. It helps communities identify things they need to look for and address if they want to implement the changes to their regulations.

GBLB: What are some of the barriers that play out in communities?

KB: A lot are the ones you hear about, and some are community specific. One of the things that we heard about was barriers in the code to installing waterless urinals, reuse of greywater. Others were “unintended consequences”—some communities prohibit groundwater wells which prohibit geothermal. Or specific ordinances which require tree planting, but if there is a drought, there might be issues better addressed by native planting. Or street widths, which [were put in place for fire safety] but might matter in terms of building sustainable communities.

Other barriers are institutional or process oriented—specific to historical legacies like union involvement. We wanted to walk [communities] through from their environmental objective to how they could implement codes and ordinances to achieve those objectives. We tried to flip it—here’s the outcome you are trying to achieve, here are things that you can do through your permitting process to try and achieve them.

In no way is EPA trying to tell localities how to do their permitting process, but to give them resources to help them look at their codes and ordinances, and save some time and money in the process.

GBLB: Who is the intended audience?

KB:  Local government officials, and it could also be useful for developers and other private entities who are looking to develop green projects. We hope it will provide a resource for communities to bring their codes and ordinances in line with sustainable policy efforts.

GBLB: What is the status of the Roswell project?

We have completed the pilot project, and they have provided excellent feedback.
In addition, we held a Lean Kaizan event in Roswell [to identify potential efficiencies] in their land disturbance permitting process. If they wanted to incentivize a specific thing, communities can identify process improvements, allowing them to provide incentives without taxing additional resources. Roswell is continuing to work on that. We are going to work with them over time to promote the project as well as improve it.

GBLB: Have they made any changes to their code yet?

KB: Not yet. Now that the Toolkit is done and the Lean project is done, we will see where they want to take it.

Sorry Readers--GBLB Takes Medical Leave

Dear readers,

I have to have some minor surgery this week, so I will not be posting this week, and will probably be posting sporadically during the month of August. 

Have a relaxing end of summer, and I will recommence regular posting in September.