EDITORIAL - Green acres: Two proposals would deliver better buildings

Written by Susan Mannella on .

City Council's effort to encourage more green development combines the best motivating features of the carrot and the stick.

Council could take a final vote as early as today on an amendment to the city building code that would add this carrot: Tax-increment financing incentives from the city would be available only to developers who meet the standards for a green building. The new rule would apply to all new construction on city-owned property when projects are 5,000 square feet or larger or will cost more than $2 million. In the case of city-owned buildings undergoing renovation, only the $2 million threshold would apply.

Buildings would have to earn Silver LEED certification, a designation that is the third-highest available based on a system that awards points for energy and atmosphere, building materials and resources, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.

Here's the stick: Any project that gets the tax credit but doesn't acquire proper certification within three years would have to pay a fine equal to 1 percent of the cost of construction. If the fine goes unpaid, the city could revoke a building's occupancy permit.

A bill that overwhelmingly passed in the state House on July 13 contains similar incentives connected to state funding. House Bill 444, sponsored by Rep. Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon, would affect state-funded renovations that exceed $1 million and new construction of at least 20,000 square feet or, in cases where the state intends to lease 90 percent of the space, 10,000 square feet.

Unlike the city measure, though, the state bill does not require developers to meet the rigorous LEED certification standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Instead, the state Department of Environmental Protection would develop regulations for the state. That's unfortunate because LEED certification is seen nationally as a rigorous, comprehensive standard for environmentally friendly and sustainable construction.

Although the city measure requires meeting the tougher standard, both plans, over time, would save taxpayer dollars spent on energy and preserve natural resources while developing high-quality, healthy buildings for the future. They'll make it easier to be green.


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