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Aldermen raise caution flag on green plan

Evanston aldermen asked for more information Monday about a proposal from the city’s Environment Board to require green standards for construction projects.

Environment Board Chair Len Sciarra told the Human Services Committee the standards would reduce energy consumption in new buildings, helping the city meet goals it set in 2006 to reduce global warming pollution.

They call for requiring that any new commercial building larger than 10,000 square feet achieve at least a silver rating in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program.

City-owned buildings would be required to achieve the higher gold standard.

Similar targets would be set for renovation projects in commercial buildings.

The proposal drew critical comments from Walter Hallen of the city’s Community Development Department.

He suggested the 10,000 square foot trigger for the new rules was too low and should be raised to 20,000 square feet, because smaller projects may not have the financial capacity to pay the extra costs of the green building program.

He also suggested that a penalty provision in the proposed ordinance that could lead to revocation of the certificate of occupancy for a building that failed to meet the standards was excessive, because it would potentially displace tenants and condo owners who had nothing to do with creating the problem.

Sciarra, who is a consultant on green building projects, said that in his experience advance planning can effectively eliminate any cost premium for reaching silver status, but said the average cost national runs about 2 percent of the total project cost.

He said reaching the gold level can add another 1 percent with good advance planning, but if the decision is made late in the planning process it could add as much as 6 percent to the cost.

But Hallen and Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said said the city has had to add 6 to 7 percent to the construction budget for Fire Station #5, now nearing completion on Central Street, just to achieve silver status.

Sciarra said developers the Environment Board met with while preparing the proposal said that being green has become a popular marketing tool for new developments, and that their main concern with the proposal was penalty provisions, which he said the board revised as a result of those comments.

Andrew McGonigle of 2526 Princeton Ave. said the proposed ordinance didn’t mesh well with provisions of the draft downtown plan that call for zoning bonuses for achieving LEED certification or with the Climate Action Plan being developed by community volunteers coordinated by the city and the Network for Evanston’s Future.

He said that because of the limited number of sites for large building projects downtown most new development is likely to take place on small parcels and those should be considered by the ordinance as well.

Moran said he was concerned that costs could become excessive if the complex rules were applied to small projects. He suggested developing a formula for applying the standards so that "we’re not killing a fly with a sledge hammer."

The aldermen asked the Environment Board members to work with the city’s sustainability coordinator, Carolyn Collopy, to address the coordination and cost concerns and bring the proposal back to the committee in two months.

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