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Green building debate gets heated

Developers and environmental activists sparred Monday over Evanston’s proposed green building ordinance.

This ordinance “has the ability to put me out of business,” developer Andrew Spatz said.


Developers and environmental activists sparred Monday over Evanston’s proposed green building ordinance.

This ordinance “has the ability to put me out of business,” developer Andrew Spatz said.

The Environmental Board developed the ordinance to require commercial and multi-family buildings to obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver Certification.

It met Monday to discuss how to implement revisions to the plan that were hashed out at a meeting last week of a task force the City Council formed to develop a compromise plan that could win support from both developers and activists.

In revising the ordinance, Len Sciarra and other members of the task force assigned to draft the ordinance abandoned a rule under which developers would have been forced to make a deposit before construction to ensure compliance. If a building failed to make LEED Silver Certification, its developer would lose the deposit.

The revised ordinance would instead charge a developer a $25,000 penalty for each point a project falls short of the 50 points required for LEED Silver Certification after two years. The ordinance applies only to projects 10,000 square feet or more.

That’s bad news for small developers, Spatz said. The threshold size for affected buildings should be higher than 10,000 square feet, he said. Otherwise, applying for LEED Certification would be such a drain on his time that it could end his business, even though most of his designs are already energy efficient, he said.

Committee members acknowledged that the certification process can be time-consuming – references to a two-and-a-half inch stack of necessary documents and forms were commonplace. Nevertheless, they were hesitant to recommend raising the threshold because they said it would lower the effectiveness of the ordinance, which is estimated to affect five to six projects a year.

To resolve the issue, Sciarra suggested that the ordinance should drop LEED certification and have the city develop its own, more simplified certification system.

Citizen Michael Drennan said the fee of $25,000 per missed point is too sharp. But the city council wants a high fee, Sciarrra said.

“They said the stick needs to be enough of a stick for people to do it,” he said.

If developers miss a point for a technical error, the revised ordinance enables them to appeal to the city manager, he said.

The ordinance is set to return to the city task force, which comprises business leaders, environmental activists and city staff at a meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28.

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