One set of green concerns clashed with another last night at the Human Services Committee meeting in Evanston.

The Environmental Board renewed its pitch for an ordinance that would require larger new commercial buildings in town to meet the green building standards known as LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Commercial projects would have to meet the silver standard, while the city’s own developments would need to meet the higher gold standard.

But aldermen voiced fears that the standards might lead to less green — less money from economic development and further strain in paying the city’s bills — especially when the real estate market is already in a slump.

So they voted to invite local developers to talk to the committee at a future meeting about how the proposal would impact them, before deciding whether to send the plan to the full City Council for action.

“We have to consider the cost factor and implications for future development in the city,” Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said. “I think it’s a good thing, but we need a clear understanding of the costs.”

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he thought affordable housing projects should be exempted from the requirement, because the added costs would make the already difficult process of funding such developments even harder.

Environmental Board Chairman Len Sciarra said people who need affordable housing would benefit the most from the reduced energy costs that result from green building techniques.

But Dick Whitaker of 1400 Chicago Ave. said the LEED program doesn’t very effectively address the energy costs of a building over time.

Sciarra conceded that because the program tries to deal with a variety of environmental goals, it’s possible to achieve a high rating for a building without doing everything possible to reduce future utility costs.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, joined Moran in voicing objections to provisions in the ordinance that would give the city the power to revoke the certificate of occupancy for buildings that failed to meet LEED requirements.

They said the penalty was too extreme, and that because LEED certification isn’t determined until a year or more after a project is finished, it could leave condo association members who had no responsibility for the construction flaws unable to live in their units.

Aldermen also suggested that the minimum building size required to trigger the rules should be raised from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet and that the city should not have to meet higher standards for its own construction projects than those required of private developers.

Building and Zoning Director Jill Chambers said the penalty provisions need more investigation, and that it might be better to provide incentives for adopting green building standards instead.

In an example of that approach, the proposed downtown plan would provide floor area ratio bonuses to developments that met green building standards.

Related stories

Aldermen raise caution flag on green plan

UC Berkeley study: Green efforts boost economy (San Francisco Chronicle)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.