Howard should go green, not go easy

November 09, 2011

Howard County is considering creating "green" residential property tax credits for property owners ("Bill would foster green construction," Nov. 6). To get the proposed credit, a project would have to earn a Silver Rating as defined by the U.S. Green Building Councils LEED Building rating system. The property tax credits can be as high as 75 percent and reduce to zero after three years, and the intent is to promote environmentally responsible housing.

As an accredited LEED professional, I was shocked when I read Michael Harrison, director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, had requested the county to adopt other standards, as they felt the LEED system is not fair. "We'd like to see the tax credit expanded to another program similar to LEED," he was quoted as saying. Mr. Harrison's complaint is that LEED can be more favorable to urban environments, where public transportation is more accessible. In Howard, it's harder for developers to find land that could be served by public transit. "LEED is easier to get credits in metropolitan areas — if you are closer to public transit, pathways," Mr. Harrison said.

Mr. Harrison's comments show how ignorant he is of the intent of the LEED system. The LEED system is designed to change the way buildings are viewed. It addresses the environmental impact of a building and its occupants. When the occupants have no access to public transportation, this impacts the environment in numerous ways — the runoff from all the roads needed for transportation and the emissions generated from the driving to work and school. These are environmental impacts that are directly linked to the building location, and Mr. Harrison would like to ignore them because it makes it harder to achieve a LEED Silver rating. LEED projects earn points for adopting best practices. Land-use and transportation impacts should not be ignored by any credible rating system to make it easier to gain certification.

As a Howard County property owner and taxpayer, I would like a return on the county's "investment" in any tax credit program. Often, the financial benefits in building green are lost in the image the environmental community projects. When you mention green buildings, the common reaction is "tree hugger." Facts are, building to LEED standards allows governments to reduce their operating costs. When built to LEED standards, the cost to Howard County for infrastructure construction and maintenance, and services such as police, fire, and trash removal, are greatly reduced. This allows residents to pay lower taxes, helping all Howard County residents,.

The LEED system rewards property owners who build in an environmentally friendly way. Instead of trying to adopt easier building standards, perhaps Mr. Harrison's organization should help its members understand the LEED system so they can better serve the growing demand for sustainable housing. His members can still build where they want; they just have to use other strategies if they want to qualify for the county's proposed property tax credit.

Tom Paxton, Columbia

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