SLC embraces green building

New ordinance
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Private developers who tap Salt Lake City green must build green.

City Council members Tuesday night unanimously adopted an ordinance requiring builders of commercial structures, apartments and condos to meet national environmental building standards if they are funded by city loans, grants or tax rebates.

The ordinance also endorses Mayor Rocky Anderson's executive order mandating that municipal buildings - such as a new police and fire administration building, fire station, east-side police precinct and Sorenson Unity Center - also meet Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) standards. Anderson signed that LEED order in July 2005.

"It's a tremendous first step toward encouraging in every way possible greater efficiency in design and material used for buildings in our community," Anderson said after the vote. "High-performance buildings should be the norm. Municipal governments have a huge role to play in bringing about that progress."

The next step for the city includes providing incentives to all developers to seek LEED certification. The inducements could include expedited reviews of plans and cheaper fees.

The goal: Promote environmental practices in construction.

The U.S. Green Building Council created the national LEED standards and awards points for water and energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, material use, design innovation and building-site issues.

Salt Lake City will require municipal projects meet the "silver" standard, while private ventures would have to meet the minimal level of "certified." There also are "gold" and "platinum" ratings.

"It's a very small step in a very significant industry that has huge impacts on our environment, but a very important step," said Councilman Soren Simonsen, a LEED-accredited architect. Before he was elected to the council in 2005, Simonsen helped the mayor's office think through the idea.

Councilman Eric Jergensen noted the costs of LEED buildings can be higher, but they generally recoup the money through savings in energy bills. He said it's only right to require that "people who use city funds also follow the philosophy of reducing, reusing and recycling."

The ordinance doesn't yet affect the city's Redevelopment Agency or library projects. Nor does it apply to single-family homes, though the U.S. Green Building Council is working on residential standards, and the City Council has shown interest in adopting them before the city's undeveloped northwest quadrant - bounded by 2100 South and 2700 North and between the international airport and 8800 West - starts to grow. The city is in the midst of creating a master plan for the quadrant.

Under the ordinance, developers and the city have to meet the standards if the new or renovated buildings are larger than 10,000 square feet. The city will grant waivers if the buildings are temporary, serve a limited function or when LEED standards prove to be impractical.

But if developers agree to meet LEED standards and don't, they will forfeit a $10,000 "good faith" deposit and may have to repay some or all city funds.