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Plan: Hold money hostage to go green

An aldermanic committee Tuesday approved an ordinance that would require Evanston developers to give the city up to five percent of the value of construction projects — money that would only be refunded if a project ultimately met environmental building standards.

The proposal, developed by the city’s Environmental Board, was approved the Human Services Committee after the committee directed the city’s building department to develop a sliding scale for the fees, so that small projects would have to deposit the full five percent, while the largest projects might only have to come up with 0.5 percent.

If a project failed to meet the U.S. Green Building Council‘s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certification standard, the money collected would be turned over the the Climate Action Fund of the Evanston Community Foundation.

The ordinance would apply to both city-owned and commercial new construction and renovation projects of over 10,000 square feet — which means the city itself could have to turn over taxpayer-funded deposit money to the community foundation if one of its own construction projects failed to win certification.

The ordinance, in the works for over a year, is intended to deal with the issue that while developers can make promises about green construction in advance, the actual award of certification doesn’t take place until testing is conducted after the building is completed.

It drops an earlier proposal to deny certificates of occupancy to buildings that failed to meet the standards as being impractical and overly punitive.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdah, 7th Ward, said she likes the sliding scale proposal, saying she didn’t want the program to be so costly that it would “send people out of Evanston to build elsewhere.”

The head of the city’s building division, Jill Chambers, said the program will require “a lot of education and responsibility by the staff.”

“If we do a good job up front of educating people and explain why this is what we want, we shouldn’t have a problem with them not succeeding in getting green certification,” Chambers said.

Len Sciarra, an architect and the former chairman of the Environment Board who was instrumental in developing the ordinance, said that developers typically would seek to get more points under the certification program than the minimum needed to meet the silver standard, knowing that they might end up “getting dinged a bit” on one or two items.

Estimates vary about the added cost of green construction techniques, with some advocates saying they are negligible, and other experts saying they can add three percent to five percent or more to construction costs.

The proposal now goes to the City Council for final review.

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