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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Portland Passes Green Building Codes

Portland passes green ordinance to encourage carbon and cash savings


The Portland City Council in early April approved a building ordinance that will require all city-funded new construction and major renovation projects to be built to the Silver standard of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The ordinance, which originally was met with some opposition by the local chamber of commerce, is part of a larger effort to meet goals outlined by the Architecture 2030 Challenge, according to city officials.

The ordinance applies to city renovation projects that are more than 5,000 square feet and all new city-funded private construction and renovation projects more than 10,000 square feet. Both types of projects would also need to have a total cost of more than $250,000 for the ordinance to take effect, according to the measure. It also applies to projects receiving more than $25,000 in Tax Increment Funding or municipal grants, which meet the other project criteria.

"If you are going to get a tax break for building in the city of Portland, you are going to be building for the future," David Marshall, the city councilor who introduced the proposal, told Mainebiz. "It was a huge step in the right direction."

The goal of the challenge from Architecture 2030, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based nonprofit, is to achieve carbon neutrality for all new buildings by 2030.

Marshall said he spent many months working with developers and other potential stakeholders on the ordinance's language to diffuse potential concerns

"We wanted to pass a good ordinance, because any time you tie any sort of string to an incentive, developers may see that as an obstacle," he said.

Susan Ransom, marketing director for PDT Architects, Portland-based firm that specializes in LEED-certified buildings, said even though the economy is in a recession, it's still a good time for such a measure.

"Yes, we're in a recession, but we're talking about permanent buildings -- long-term it's going to save money and save energy and make people more comfortable in buildings," she said. "This is not just about being high-minded and doing the ‘right' thing."

The point system used for obtaining LEED certifications offers options that don't necessarily cost developers more than building a non-certified building, Ransom added.

"LEED involves a checklist so development is very individualized to the building and which ‘points' the project aims to get," she said. "Ten years ago, when LEED was first invented, it was generally considered to be a much more expensive way of building. But you can get points for using a building with existing utilities or not using an irrigation system for your landscape."

The whole point of LEED is to save resources in the long term, Ransom said, which often results in monetary savings.

Some changes were made to the proposal to address concerns raised by the local Chamber of Commerce, Marshall said.

"They didn't want to see this have negative consequences that people hadn't anticipated, so we tried to think of the different projects it would have an effect on," he said. "We raised the square footage for projects receiving tax incentives from 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet."

"We initially objected, but we did come along," said Chris O'Neil, of Drummond Woodsum, representing the local chamber. "In general, what they did was raise the bar, so it wasn't punitive especially in smaller projects where the certification could be cost prohibitive."

The city planning director can also issue waivers in cases where the LEED certification process might impact the character of a historical renovation project, Marshall said.

Marshall called the policy a "living" ordinance.

"We might see some hurdles come up," he said. "We're largely in new frontier of policy-making, so you have to be flexible."

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