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July 8, 2009 > Green Building and Landscaping practices will undergo modifications

Green Building and Landscaping practices will undergo modifications

By Meenu Gupta

"Green" has been in for a long time now. Green building reduces per capita energy use, provides energy from renewable sources, diverts waste from landfills, uses less water and encourages the use of recycled wastewater. On June 18, Union City Planning Commissioners considered and supported draft proposals by City Staff to modify "Green Building and Landscaping Practices" for private development projects.

Stopwaste.Org's Green Building in Alameda County Program has developed a new Small Commercial Green Building Checklist [Checklist] for use throughout the County in preference to a city-specific checklist to address non-residential projects. Staff recommended support for the StopWaste.Org checklist at the March 24 Council Meeting. The Council supports this approach and directed staff to continue preparation of a green building ordinance for private development. Additionally, the Checklist addresses all of the main areas of green building, not just water and energy efficiency. The Commission also supports mandatory green building and asked about specific requirements for particular types of projects.

Current green building and landscaping requirements apply to public and public-private partnership projects with estimated construction costs over $3M. Public projects must be certified by the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program or Alameda County Green Points, which has since evolved into Build It Green's GreenPoint Rated system.

Public partnership projects are encouraged to incorporate as many LEED checklist items as possible. City-sponsored and public partnership landscape projects over 5,000 sq. ft. must achieve a minimum number of points on Stopwaste.Org's Bay-friendly Landscaping scorecard. A policy statement adopted in 2006 encourages green building measures in private projects and requires landscaping projects to incorporate measures from the Bay-Friendly Landscape guidelines.

Green building evolves constantly. The original ordinance references the LEED rating system, Bay-Friendly Landscaping guidelines and Alameda County Green Points. The proposed ordinance also includes the GreenPoint Rated and Green Building in Alameda County Program's checklists.

The Small Commercial Green Building Checklist addresses projects less than 10,000 sq. ft. and less than $3M but it can also be applied to larger projects. Staff does not recommend mandating LEED certification for private projects because, unlike GreenPoint Rated, LEED is not designed to be accessible to most builders and achieving LEED certification can incur substantial costs. Staff recommends mandatory use of the Checklist because it successfully addresses the top priorities of green building and establishes achievable requirements for both existing buildings and new construction. Use of the Checklist will result in improved energy and resource efficiency in the City's non-residential building stock without overburdening the business community and hindering economic development. The Checklist has a grading system.

"For the private sector we think the commercial checklist is something that is accessible and it's definitely less costly than the LEED certification. If all our commercial projects required LEED, it would be a bigger burden on the commercial development community. Even though the checklist was created for small projects specifically, City Staff recommends the Small Commercial Green Building Checklist developed by Green Building in Alameda County for commercial projects over 10,000 sq. ft," said Avalon Schultz, Union City Associate Planner. "We recommend all new residential construction be GreenPoint rated."

GreenPoint Rating is a certification program developed by Build It Green. It was developed to meet the growing need for a standard to qualify a new home as sustainable or "green." "Build it Green" is a Berkeley-based, professional non-profit membership organization that promotes healthy, energy- and resource-efficient building in California. The rating is like a report card for new home construction, based on five categories - Energy Efficiency, Resource Conservation, Indoor Air Quality, Water Conservation and Community.

"For people with an existing home, we're not recommending they must be certified. If they want an addition over 500 sq. ft., we'd meet them prior to building permit submittal to discuss green building measures they could incorporate," said Schultz.

Several cost-effective, energy-saving improvements can be made to existing homes, such as replacing old appliances with energy star-certified appliances, adding new insulation, replacing standard water fixtures with low-flow units and replacing older windows with more energy efficient models. Applicants for non-covered residential projects will receive user-friendly handouts explaining easy ways to incorporate green building measures.

Staff proposes raising green building standards for City-sponsored projects from LEED Certified to LEED Silver. This will require public partnership projects to achieve a LEED Silver rating and achieve the minimum points recommended by Stopwaste.Org on the Bay-friendly Landscaping scorecard. To help offset the added cost of building a GreenPoint Rated residence, certified City staff will provide the rating service for individual single-family residences and secondary dwelling units.

"We expect to hold the Public Hearing at the Planning Commission on August 6 and introduce the Ordinance to the City Council on August 25," said Schultz.

For more information, visit www.unioncity.org or call Avalon Schultz at 510 675 5321.

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