Baltimore 'Green' Rules On Par With Boston, D.c.

City's Regulations Include Private And Smaller Buildings

August 15, 2009|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,

Baltimore's leaders have been encouraging developers to go green for a while but recently made it official. All sizable new projects and major renovations have to make energy and environmental upgrades.

That will mean healthier buildings with lower operating costs for developers and cleaner air and water and lower carbon emissions for the city. It puts Baltimore in a league with more than 200 other cities and states with mandates, though Baltimore appears to have one of the more progressive programs, including private as well as buildings as small as 10,000 square feet. Washington, Boston and San Francisco are also among those that have broad rules. So do Howard and Montgomery counties and Annapolis.

"It is important to include private, not only public buildings, because we all share the same resources," such as energy and water, said Andrew B. Frank, first deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development. And "including the private sector in the green building requirements can elevate the design standard of the entire Baltimore building stock. Residents, organizations, and businesses looking to call Baltimore home will have the assurance that new buildings are built to a standard of excellence in efficiency and health."

The city passed legislation requiring green buildings two years ago and phased it in, with July 1 as the deadline for full compliance. The city expects to have Baltimore-specific standards in place by year's end that will outline improvements earning points toward certification, said Kim Schaefer, an architect at Terralogos, an environmental consulting firm hired by the city to help develop standards. If someone applies before then, the project must adhere to LEED standards, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

The Baltimore standards will focus on stormwater management, reducing runoff into the Chesapeake Bay and Inner Harbor, creating a cooler city through roof systems and tree plantings, promoting resource conservation and sustainable transportation alternatives. "In general, we want the standards to promote the greening of the city," said Schaefer, adding the city system will likely be more flexible than LEED.

She said once developers become accustomed to building green, they will appreciate savings that could amount to 25 percent of energy and 15 percent to 50 percent of water. But there can be an upfront cost, particularly when renovating older city buildings, that is worrying developers. The city is considering incentives, like most other jurisdictions with green mandates. But they might include a faster or more flexible permit process, rather than tax credits, because of budget constraints.

The city needs to ensure it doesn't chase away investment, said Jon M. Laria, a real estate attorney and a coordinator of the Baltimore Develpoment Workgroup, which represents city real estate professionals. Laria is working with the city on standards and said his community largely supports Baltimore's greening efforts.

"Most developers recognize the societal and even economic benefits of more sustainable development, and it's exciting to work in a city that is paying attention to these issues," he said. "The reason we have concerns about the green building law is that it goes too far too fast, by mandating LEED Silver, or a locally generated equivalent, while providing no incentives."

But because developers have largely followed the government in building green without incentives - Maryland now ranks 12th for the number of LEED-certified public buildings - it's not clear what government should offer, said Buz Winchester, chairman of the Maryland Green Building Council, which was created by the Maryland legislature to recommend ways to green public and private buildings.

"We're struggling with this at the state level," he said. "Culture is moving faster than government. Energy costs are driving people to build green without incentives. ... If we can find a building practice that needs an incentive, we'll recommend it."

Stuart D. Kaplow, also a real estate attorney, said he didn't think the city should be mandating the standards. Developers, he said, are building green because they see the economic benefits. Mandates can deter smaller, more marginal and complex projects and put off developers in general. "The market will drive green building, with a prodding from government," he said.

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