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Chamber: Green ordinance could stunt growth

Despite complaints from business groups, Evanston aldermen Monday accepted for introduction an ordinance to require that large construction and renovation projects in the city meet green building standards.

The proposed ordinance would require that any construction or renovation project larger than 10,000 square feet meet silver certification standards under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, said the ordinance could make it much more costly to build in parts of town that are not well-served by mass transit, because the green building program gives large automatic credits for projects close to mass transit.

Projects that don’t qualify for those “free” credits would have to use additional more expensive building technologies to meet the program standards.

Former Environment Board chair Len Sciarra disputed that claim at the City Council meeting, saying that the LEED standards include bus service in the definition of mass transit and that essentially all of Evanston is served by buses.

But Perman this morning said that the standards only count bus service if a project is within a quarter mile of a bus stop that serves at least two different bus routes.

That standard, he said, would leave large portions of Evanston’s 2nd, 5th, 6th and 9th wards out of luck.

Perman noted that Evanston’s west side has struggled for years to draw much new development and said the new ordinance could create a new disincentive to development there.

Perman said the chamber agrees with the goal of reducing Evanston’s greenhouse gas emissions, but has serious misgivings about the ordinance’s impact on economic development.

Perman also criticized the requirement in the ordinance that developers post a bond with the city that they would lose if the project ultimately did not win silver certification under the program.

The bond would range from $50,000 to $500,000 depending on the value of the project.

“No other building regulation is enforced this way,” Perman said, “It’s a very heavy-handed approach and shows a very arrogant attitude on the part of the city.”

While Sciarra said the Environment Board has consulted with all interested parties about the ordinance, Perman said business people who were involved in drafting the ordinance “are well-intentioned but are not representative of the entire business community.”

Howard Handler of the North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors also criticized the ordinance, noting that it provides no incentives for green development — in the form of greater floor area ratios or discounted permit fees, and that developers would not earn interest on the bond money they deposited with the city.

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