LEED plan leads way | SteamboatToday.com

LEED plan leads way

City decision may be first of its kind

Brandon Gee

Zach Williams, with Peak Construction, cuts a board Thursday at Bud Werner Memorial Library, which is utilizing lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for remodeling.

— With its approval of the proposed Inspritu Verde project earlier this week, the city of Steamboat Springs unknowingly may have gone where no community has gone before.

Sandy Wiggins, a member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s board of directors and its former chairman, said his research suggests Steamboat is the first municipality in the nation to consider green building practices as a public benefit that can offset requested variances to a development code.

“That really is a very unique public policy move,” Wiggins said. “There are lots of public policy pieces at play across the country where green building is being (encouraged with incentives) or mandated. But this is a little bit different. : I think it’s a national first.

“I think it’s appropriate,” Wiggins continued, “and I really think it’s kind of groundbreaking.”

Wiggins said he is basing his opinion on consultation with the U.S. Green Building Council’s policy staff and a search of its policy database.

Inspiritu Verde (translated “inspired green”) is a proposed mixed-use development for the northeast corner of Fourth and Oak streets that would replace two yellow, stucco duplexes, built in 1949, with two new buildings. The project requested seven variances from the Community Development Code in exchange for three public benefits including a promise to achieve a “gold” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The Steamboat Springs City Council approved the project Tuesday, 4-2.

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Because it requested more than two variances, the project was required to be reviewed under the city’s Planned Unit Development criteria. The PUD process is intended to provide for flexibility and creativity, but it also requires “that the extent of the variances requested shall have a direct and proportional relationship to the magnitude of the benefit that is received.”

The PUD process requires developers to build a LEED-certified project, except at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. Denver architect and Inspiritu Verde developer John Buchanan calculated the value of “gold” certification at about $55,000, an estimate of the additional money that would have to be spent in construction to achieve a certification level three levels higher than the city requirement.

City officials said they were surprised when Buchanan stood up after his approval to congratulate the city on its pioneering move.

“We didn’t think we were going out on a limb,” Senior City Planner Bob Keenan said. “There’s some obvious public benefit for them doing that. : The educational piece to the community is probably the biggest. It demonstrates leadership to the community and shows how energy efficiency and sustainable design can be profitable.”

Councilman Scott Myller, who voted in favor of the project, said it didn’t cross his mind that Steamboat might be the first community in the country to use green building practices to see its way through requested variances.

“I see these things as public benefits as much as being the right thing to do,” Myller said. “It was clearly enough for me.”

Myller said his decision was based on the planning staff’s approval of the project and his belief that the requested variances were minimal. Three setback variances, for example, are mostly the result of the buildings being skewed from the building rectangle to capture full solar gain. Other variances related to the project’s mass and scale and its diversion from traditional settlement patterns in the Old Town area.

In their review of Inspiritu Verde on Tuesday, some council members expressed concern related to the city’s ability to ensure the public benefit, because LEED certifications are not awarded until after a project is built. But, like Keenan, they didn’t seem to second-guess whether it was appropriate to consider environmentally friendly design as a public benefit.

Other projects, some much larger in scope, likely will follow Inspiritu Verde’s lead in promising a high level of LEED certification in exchange for taller buildings, more square footage or other variances. At the base area, where LEED certification isn’t a requirement of all PUDs, LEED certification is listed in a table of public benefit options. On Tuesday, council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would make LEED certification of silver or higher one of three No. 1 public-benefit priorities in that table.

“I guess that’s an indication we, as a community, value LEED certification,” Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said.

The developers of large, high-end base area projects, such as Jamie Temple’s St. Cloud Resort & Spa and The Atira Group’s redevelopment of Ski Time Square and Thunderhead Lodge, have said they will seek LEED certification.

Green news

– Gov. Bill Ritter announced Thursday that the Colorado Capitol building has become the first capital building in the nation to obtain a new LEED certification for existing buildings.

– Routt County has received an $87,000 grant from Ritter’s New Energy Communities Initiative for a solar project at Bud Werner Memorial Library and a small hydroelectricity project at the Fish Creek Falls water plant that will help offset the plant’s energy consumption.