LEED Urges Smart Land Use

LEED Urges Smart Land Use GRAND RAPIDS, MI - Green buildings are a great starting point for sustainability - they're easily planned, executed and measured - but the next step is to create entire green areas, sustainability experts say. The USGBC is preparing to launch a LEED rating system that focuses on location and the composition of a community, instead of the usual systems that focus on one specific building alone.

LEED for Neighborhood Development has three main sections of credits - smart location and linkage, neighborhood pattern and design, and green infrastructure and building. Wendy Ogilvie, senior environmental specialist at Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber in Grand Rapids, and Grand Rapids City Planner Landon Bartley led a roundtable about the new system at Business Review's "Michigan Leaders Speak" forum, "Moving Sustainability Forward," June 3 at Aquinas College.

Location is an important part of LEED ND, Bartley said. It encourages neighborhoods to locate closer to existing buildings and existing infrastructure, instead of building on greenfields, and to stay out of flood plains, farmland and natural habitats.

"In a way, we're kind of lucky, because we don't deal with that kind of stress on a day-to-day basis," he said. "The townships, they're at the forefront of sprawl, and they have to be a lot more responsible, I think, as far as good land use. We're 97 percent built-out here, so a lot of our development, by rule, is going to be infill."

The size of the "neighborhood" is flexible - Ogilvie said some of those seeking certification across the country are as large as thousands of acres and some are as small as one city block. But they should contain a certain percentage of residential space and a certain percentage of commercial space, plus as many other types of spaces as possible. "They want multiuse, multifamily - just a very diverse, mixed-use neighborhood," Ogilvie said.

The system is trying to promote walkability and reduce dependence on cars, reduce the neighborhood's carbon footprint, and create a better quality of life, Ogilvie and Bartley said. There is a big emphasis on making sure residents can walk to work or to buy groceries, and that public transportation is readily available. "We're not building neighborhoods for cars - we're building neighborhoods for people," Bartley said.

Although he and Ogilvie said it's hard to quantify a better quality of life and put a dollar value on it, they agree this is where the market is going.

"To me, this most-recent housing crisis is sort of a reflection that the model we've been building the last 50 years in this country, centered around suburban sprawl, is not sustainable," Bartley said. "LEED ND reflects that and is a new model. It's a way of kind of objectively measuring smart growth - and smart growth has been around for a long time, but there's not really been a gold-star standard up until LEED ND."

LEED ND is in its second draft, and the public comment period was set to end June 14.

There have been two major changes between the two drafts, Ogilvie said. First, the USGBC added the requirement that any LEED-certified neighborhood needs to contain at least one LEED-certified building. The second change was that the USGBC specifically said this system is not intended for existing neighborhoods, which was unclear in the first draft.

"It is kind of counterintuitive of what it's for, because they're trying to not promote sprawl," Ogilvie said. "So if it's only for new neighborhoods, I think they're going to come out with something for existing neighborhoods."

That approach would be similar to the way LEED for New Construction came out, followed by LEED for Existing Buildings, she said. However, LEED for New Construction also applies to buildings undergoing major renovations, so Ogilvie wouldn't be surprised if LEED ND included an equivalent provision for neighborhoods.

In preparation for the launch of LEED ND - and a possible existing-neighborhoods rating - Grand Rapids revamped its zoning ordinances, which hadn't changed since 1969. As far as Bartley can tell, Grand Rapids's new zoning ordinances are more strongly oriented toward LEED ND standards than just about any other municipality anywhere.

"We kind of looked at LEED ND and went, 'Yeah, this is a good thing - this is getting at what we've been saying all along,'" he said. His department wanted to incentivize building to these standards - or at least make it easier for developers to do so. "Historically, a lot of zoning ordinances have made really good development difficult, if not impossible, and we were sort of seeking to do the opposite," he said.

He doesn't know how many developers will seek LEED ND certification, but neighborhoods could earn enough points to get certified just by following the new zoning ordinances.

"Politically - developers, politicians - they want to hit that gold star to say, 'Hey, look at what we did,'" he said. "As planners, we don't really care if they get certified - we just want them to build it right."

But LEED ND also is profitable for the developer, he added.

"Good land use makes money," he said. "The old sprawl model is comfortable. ... I think there hasn't been widespread adoption of LEED ND because people are concerned that it's going to cost more money to build, and it's been shown it doesn't."

Bartley also feels LEED ND is facing a challenge of time. Although planners have advocated this kind of design for a long time, the system is still a bit ahead of its time for the general public.

"LEED is kind of trendy - green building is kind of trendy - and I think if LEED ND can ride that wave, it's a good thing," he said. "If more people can go, 'Oh yeah, LEED - that's cool. What's this one? This one's different,' it might promote people to understand the relationship between land use and the environment and the economy and social equity."

Unfortunately, most neighborhoods across the country preparing for LEED ND certification are on hold due to lack of financing, and there are none being developed in Michigan right now, Ogilvie said. Bartley hopes one will come to fruition in West Michigan soon.

"Frankly, I don't want us to get left behind," Bartley said. "In this area, we're way ahead of the curve in the country, and we have to stay ahead of the curve, especially in these times."
Source: mLive.com

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