Evanston aldermen Monday voted to introduce an ordinance that would create a hardship exemption from the city’s green building ordinance.

But they promised to have staff consult with activists on the city’s Environment Board about revising the proposal before it comes up for a final vote in two weeks.

Evanston aldermen Monday voted to introduce an ordinance that would create a hardship exemption from the city’s green building ordinance.

But they promised to have staff consult with activists on the city’s Environment Board about revising the proposal before it comes up for a final vote in two weeks.

Paige Finnegan of 525 Elmwood Ave., the co-chair of the Environment Board, complained the board hadn’t been consulted about the proposed changes to the year-old ordinance, which took several years to draft in the first place.

And she said the proposed revision was “completely unsatisfactory.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that, because of the weak economy, no development projects that would fall under the ordinance have been proposed since it was adopted.

But, he said, in recent months the city has started to receive inquiries.

One project, which Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, described as a free-standing retail development of between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet (but not a Trader Joe’s, she hastened to add) is now getting fairly far “down the road,” Bobkiewicz said.

He said the developer is concerned that with the green building ordinance in its existing form costs in Evanston are too high, compared to the cost of building a similar store in neighboring communities.

The developer “is looking for some clear understanding of the city’s position by the end of February,” he added.

“They’re not pulling our chain,” Bobkiewicz said, “They are serious and have to make a business decision.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said it appears that for some types of buildings — retail in particular — it is more difficult to meet existing green building standards than it would be for office buildings or residential construction.

Alderman Coleen Burrus complained that the revisions “are being railroaded through without considering input from expert local residents.”

She said it appeared that the city was “showing favoratism for people who can hire expensive attorneys.”

But Rainey said, “nobody’s crooked here, and the applicant doesn’t even have an attorney.”

The debate focused attention on conflicting pressures on the council over encouraging economic development in a tough economy while also trying to be responsive to environmental concerns.

Rainey said, “a vacant lot is the greenest site of all,” but it doesn’t do anything to create jobs.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The Green Police, they live inside of my head…

    I wonder how many businesses shy away from Evanston because of the green ordinance and the confusion it might cause? Somebody should investigate soon.

    In these tough economic times, the city needs to be more cooperative and less demanding (see Tilted Kilt scenario).

    Colleen Burrus claims the city is "showing favoritism for people who can hire expensive attorneys." Ann Rainey's response was classic – " the applicant doesn't even have an attorney."

    Perhaps Burrus should do her homework before making false accusations.

    The local experts Burrus refers to are the green activists such as Paige Finnegan, chief operating officer of e-One, who helped write the ordinance.

    Let's not forget that green activists, though good intentioned, helped create more obstacles and government bureaucracy for developers and rehabbers in this challenging real estate market. These green activists also helped create an unnecessary scare when it initially proposed that developers cough up five percent of the value of construction projects only to be returned if they successfully got LEED certification.

    There needs to be a relief valve in this green ordinance, and a hardship exemption is a good start.

    You don't need expensive attorneys to understand that.

  2. Green Buildings

    Doesn't building a green building save the owner's money on the utilities over the life of the building and isn't that the point?  A year and a half ago, the economy was not in any worse shape than it is now (in some ways, it is better now that projects are being discussed) and yet that ordinance passed.  What was the council thinking then that has changed now?  The fact that retail construction may have different circumstances than residential or office construction should have been uncovered when discussions about this ordinance first happened.  This is not new information. 

    Doing an about-face only a year later, with no real economic change from a year or so ago, appears that the City Council is schizophrenic. 

  3. City caves at slightest pushback from real estate developers

    The proposition on the table will basically rescind the Green Building ordinance.

    Essentially, the ordinance as it stands requires that private developers pay the full costs of their development and not pass them on to taxpayers.

    Without the green building ordinance developers can  put forth projects that are deficient in stormwater maintenance, traffic congestion, and air quality.

    It is disconcerting to see the City Manager placate to the interests of private developers.  Of course they will say their projects are "not feasible" due to the ordinance.   They are looking to minimize their costs and get the general taxpayers to pick up the tab relating to their externalities.

    Developers of retail space are not necessarily  concerned with the long term health of communities (just take a look at the Dempster-Dodge shopping graveyard).  With such a surplus of vacant retail space as it is, there is really no reason to cave to private real estate interests.

  4. Anonymous Al’s view prevails

    I'm an environmentalist but I have no illusions about environmentalism.

    Environmentalism looks into the future, often the distant future (20+ years) and economic decisions are made on immediate needs.

    When any crunch comes, whether in household or business finances, the future which is always intangible, will be sacrificed to immediate wants and needs.

    We can see this effect when a decision is made at a store on whether on not to buy the cheapest or the greenest item. We can see it also globally where the concerns about warming (that are becoming more indisputable all the time) have had little impact on the use of coal and fossil fuels. China is certainly aware of environmental consequences (it has terrible pollution problems) but is ramping up coal use anyway.

    Wind generators, popping up everywhere, are still a tiny fraction of the power generation provided by coal and they are popping up because they are subsidized.

    Here in Evanston, the simplest, easiest environmentally positive act – recycling – is a farce. Those blue bins behind our homes are increasingly filled with garbage in the very thing that is most to be avoided in recycling programs – bagging up everything in plastic garbage bags. The majority of Evanstonians don't bother to look at the recycling rules that are right in front of them on the underside of the blue bin lids, much less abide by them.

    Nationally, did you see that the sales of big pickups is roaring right back up? The Ford F-150 and the Chevy Silverado are #1 and #2 best selling vehicles in the country. The F-150 has been #1 for decades now. Take a look at driving habits – almost every car has one person, the driver, inside as the CTA writhes under cutbacks.

    Environmentalism is a nice thought, though, and has resulted in some damn nice coffee table books about the rainforest.

  5. Green Building Ordinance discussion needs reality check

    First, the assertion that any developer of a 10,000-sf+ project — especially if the project involves a municipality's land — does not have an attorney at least in the background, is ludicrous.

    But the larger issue is the false premise behind the argument for diluting the hue of the Green Building Ordinance. You can build green for retail, you can get Silver LEED for it, and it's being done. If McDonald's can build Gold LEED in Chicago and Sprint can build a SIlver LEED phone store in Texas it can be done in Evanston.

    I've posted a bunch of references online and urge all to get up to speed on what green building really entails in this context.

    1. Too much city regulation needs a reality check

      What Jeff Smith and other green activists fail to mention is that we are in a severe Recession with state unemployment hovering near 10 percent and a serious financial crisis in the state. The commercial market in Evanston is kaput – we will have another vacancy when Borders closes, which means more of a tax burden for property owners.

      It should be noted that there have been NO NEW development proposals involving more than 10,000 square feet since 2009 when the green ordinance was passed. This should send the alarm bells ringing. 

      The green ordinance is just another unnecessary restriction on businesses and developers at a time they need relief and incentives.

      It's interesting that of the references Smith provides, there have been no LEED certified retail buildings built last year, most of them are international corporations, all of them are located on properties likely less expensive than Evanston commercial real estate and NONE of them were 10,000 square feet or more.

      If Evanston is serious in trying to attract businesses and development in a declining real estate market then it had better be lenient on restrictions such as the green ordinance. So far, the green movement is an expensive proposition: It's not cost effective. If it were, we'd all be installing solar panels on our homes and driving a Toyota Pious.

      Last I checked, SUV's sales are up.

      1. Lax building standards raise costs for ALL taxpayers

        Al, You can't take the municipality out of regulating land use and building.  Every municipality regulates these things because development creates externalities that are borne by the entire community.

        All the green building ordinance does is make sure that the general taxpayer doesn't overbear the costs for a private developer.  If you want to locate in our community, you shouldn't be able to overburden our sewers, air, and quality of life.  The green building ordinance simply insures that the social costs are minimized.

        It is sensible from an equity and economics standpoint.

  6. Buildings account for 39% of US total energy

    For the most part, I agree that we have too much government interference in our lives and almost every property owner in Evanston can agree that there are too many regulations placed on private properties in this City, but in this case, the government must step in.  The reason that we must encourage our elected officials to stand by their convictions when they passed this ordinance is that buildings account for 39% of the total energy use in the US.  We have to encourage the City Council to stand firm to reduce this enormous burden on our environment, since most of that energy comes from coal fired electric plants.  I don't like it any more than the developer does.  Nobody – and I mean nobody – wants to spend a dollar more than they need to.  But we have to realize that cannot just keep ignoring the facts and "wait" for the economy to improve.  That could be 10 years – or more.  Unfortunately, we all need to make changes to our lifestyles in the future that will not be easy.  And, to make matters worse, most everything will be costing all of us more money going forward.  We waste energy like there will never be another tomorrow – and buildings are the worst of the worst wasters.  Yet, energy saving techniques and methods are well within our grasp.  Once they are built, it is many times more costly to effect the changes necessary.

    I was proud of Evanston in 2009 to show such a commitment to our planet.  I hope they can show some of that backbone they demonstrated when they first committed to this requirement.  It would be a considerable, and very public disappointment if they backed away now.

    "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
    Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

  7. LEED as a requirement – unsound policy

    Requiring any one to follow LEED is unsound policy.   The city should have structured the ordinance to make it a extra benefit.   That is the cost to hire the consultant, fees to apply and paper work should have been a deduction against the building permit. 

    Why would this be disfavored by the city? 

    The main reason the city needs its cut of the process in building permit fees to keep the large useless community development operation going.   Any group that would propose moving the animal shelter when we have almost no funds is not need.

    Building permit fees became a profit center of the city during the boom, to help fund other wasteful activities.

    It is ironic the city and Wally want to pretend they need Windmills on the Lake look how far that went – how much staff time was wasted on that silly effort? We do not need the sustainability coordinator position, the city of evanston showed us that recently when they claimed they reduced the carbon foot print of the city 3/10,000 of a  percent!  Great accomplishment?

    Whats going to happen on the silly Robert Crown proposals will the developers be required to follow LEED?  I doubt it, ofcourse if we taxpayers foot the bill – the council will be happy to have them follow it.

    I think its time the city eliminate the sustainability coordinator position,  Wally does not need to have it as a direct report, we don't need more silly PR , but more tax cuts.

    Just like adding on fees to developers to fund the city totally mismanaged affordable housing program. Another total waste of taxpayer money.  Wait and see the next developer who wants relief from this will get it.

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