Sunday, August 20, 2006

LEEDing the way? Some perspective on FCR's sustainability efforts

"Atlantic Yards is committed to achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of all 16 buildings and the arena, with a goal of LEED Silver, when possible," Jim Stuckey, president of the Atlantic Yards Development Group, told three community boards on August 3.

It sounds good--and efforts to achieve LEED certification certainly represent progress, since most developers don't try.

Still, as the New York Times reported on August 13, LEED Silver--FCR's goal rather than promise--is not the highest rung, since LEED Gold and LEED Platinum demand greater commitment.

The article, headlined Getting Easier to be Green, notes:
The green designation is conferred on buildings that incorporate recycled or renewable materials and that slash energy use and water consumption with features like photovoltaic cells, internal sewage treatment systems and roofs covered in soil and vegetation

Green construction can make buildings more marketable; there are only six LEED-certified apartment buildings in the city as of now, while more are under construction, and some office towers have LEED certification. The designation is conferred by the United States Green Building Council. [Update: originally I wrote that there were only six green apartment buildings, but there are more; not all green buildings are LEED-certified.]

A new city requirement

New York City is becoming a LEED pioneer. The city's new "green buildings law" requires new buildings and major alterations to be designed according to LEED standards. In fact, it requires LEED Silver for certain buildings, mostly office space:
(1) Each capital project with an estimated construction cost of two million dollars ($2,000,000) or more involving (i) the construction of a new building, (ii) an addition to an existing building, or (iii) the substantial reconstruction of an existing building shall be designed and constructed to comply with green building standards not less stringent than the standards prescribed for buildings designed in accordance with the LEED green building rating system to achieve a LEED silver or higher rating, or, with respect to buildings classified in occupancy groups G or H-2, to achieve a LEED certified or higher rating.

Occupancy groups G and H-2 include schools, libraries, and hospitals. Buildings that are solely residential are exempted.

The law also applies to all capital projects that receive $10 million or more from the city and, as we know, the city has pledged $100 million in direct subsidies for the Atlantic Yards project: The law states:
This section shall not apply to capital projects of entities that are not city agencies unless fifty percent (50%) or more of the estimated cost of such project is to be paid for out of the city treasury. This exemption shall not apply to any capital project that receives ten million dollars ($10,000,000) or more out of the city treasury.

It's unclear whether the law would apply to the Atlantic Yards project, since it won't apply to projects that receive money from the city treasury before 2007. (The money has been pledged, but has it been delivered?) The Atlantic Yards buildings would be mostly residential, but with retail and some office/hotel components.

Strategy and cost

The Times reports:
To receive a LEED rating, completed buildings must be evaluated, and points are awarded for their green features.

And does it cost more? For the higher levels, yes:
Developers say that features necessary for a gold LEED rating generally add 6 to 8 percent to the cost of a building.

It's not clear how much LEED Silver, or some notch below that, would add to the cost of the Atlantic Yards project. Perhaps that's a question for Pamela Lippe, the developer's sustainability consultant--who worked on the Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square, the country's first 'green' skyscraper.

Regarding Atlantic Yards, the e4 web site states:
e4, inc. is supporting the project team in all aspects of sustainable design including site planning, stormwater management, high performance building strategies, alternative waste treatment systems and distributed generation possibilities. e4, inc. will also be working to maximize the incentives available for the project.
(Emphasis added)

So there's some green in going green. Indeed, as the Department of Buildings web site states:
New York State is unique in the financial incentives it provides for green building. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers financial assistance for energy-related projects, and the Green Building Tax Credit provides tax incentives to owners.

And so far there's no evidence that the value of those tax incentives has been calcuated into the fiscal impact of this project.

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