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Developers Use Green Thumb for Falls Church Blueprints

 As Kermit the Frog succinctly states, “It’s not easy being green.” In the development realm, it might not be easy, but it’s proving worth the effort.

In fact, the development explosion rocking the City of Falls Church and producing an upsurge in the construction of new building complexes offers a challenge to city officials and staff, citizens, developers, business owners and other stakeholders in the community, to place Falls Church on the cutting edge of “green” environmentally-responsible development and building operations.
The surge in new construction allows the City the rare opportunity to carefully monitor and oversee new development from this standpoint.

 The City of Falls Church has the chance to ensure environmental integrity in building practices and preserve open space in the community. That includes the ability to commit to aesthetic redevelopment and utilize improved design techniques to revitalize and create an architecturally striking face of Falls Church. It is possible to halt the draining of resources and utilize the present and future offerings of the green building industry. Advancements in building science and technology have made it possible to achieve all of these significant goals.

Breakthroughs in building technology are enabling designers, developers, architects, engineers and owners to greatly enhance the economic and environmental performance of structures. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGGBC) some of the benefits of green building include improving surrounding air and water quality, conserving the area’s natural resources, reducing building operating costs, improving employee productivity and satisfaction, as well as improvement of thermal and acoustic environments. The combination of the benefits leads to an improvement in the overall quality of life for building residents.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, (LEED), Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. LEED certification provides an independent, third-party verification that a building project meets the highest green building and performance standards. Projects earn LEED points for satisfying specific criteria.

Projects must meet prerequisites and earn points in six categories. They include sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. The number of points the project earns determines the level of LEED certification the project receives. LEED certification is available in four progressive levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum.Such developments, like the new Read building at 404 W. Broad Street, although not LEED certified, were recently spotlighted in the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce newsletter for its green components, as was the Waterford

Development building the Spectrum, newly completed at 444 W. Broad Street.

The Read building also boasts some additional green features, such as the first dual flush toilets installed on a large scale.

These toilets will save over 100,000 gallons of water annually. Restricted flow faucets and shower heads will result in an additional savings of 150,000 gallons per year; the installation of energy-saver appliances reduces the electricity demands for the entire building.

Both buildings boast the first green rooftops to grace the city. Green roofs are flat and partially or completely covered with a growing medium or soil and vegetation, planted over a waterproofing membrane. By utilizing these various species of vegetation and soil, the roof greatly reduces excess runoff. It absorbs rainwater, acting as a sponge instead of creating runoff, like traditional roofs, which is important in storm water management. These roofs also retain and filter pollutants from storm water which serves to protect the surrounding streams and rivers. The vegetation absorbs air pollution and stores carbon. They effectively reduce noise transfer from the outdoors and provide insulation from extreme temperatures mainly by naturally blocking heat, thereby keeping the interior of the building cool in the summer. Although green roofs may cost more to install, they are less costly in the long run because vegetation can extend the life of a roof. Since less solar energy reaches the roof substrate, the temperature fluctuations that can cause damaging in traditional roofs due to repeated contractions and expansions, are limited by vegetation.

Robert Young, the president of The Young Group and the developer of the Read building, confirms that it is more expensive up front to go green, but pays off in the long run. “Primarily we are all responsible to do our part in respect to the environment, that’s the main reason,” Young says. “I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do.” His next proposed project is a Hilton Hotel in the heart of Falls Church, which is awaiting approval by the City Council.

City Planning Director Elizabeth Friel plays an essential role in the planning and approval of develop projects in the City of Falls Church.

She works closely with developers on permitting and the overall development processes. Friel says that LEED certification “is not required, but our staff has gone to training over the past several years on these sorts of developments.”

There is green training and certification available for professionals. The certification of LEED Accredited Professionals (AP) is available to experienced building industry practitioners who have demonstrated their knowledge of integrated design and their capacity to facilitate the LEED certification process. As for Falls Church, “I do believe this is the wave of the future and the city has seen quite a bit of green building,” Friel said. “We are quite proud of what has been happening. People are talking about it on the national level.”

Recently, the City hosted the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority “Evening of Environmentalism” to address the City of Falls Church and environmental concerns. Of the multiple Falls Church environmental endeavors discussed at this event, one item pertained to Monarch Construction, which is currently pursuing a LEED Platinum certification for its building, to begin construction off Hillwood Avenue in the City, bonds pending. The structure will include green features beyond a green roof, including cisterns, pervious pavement, a large solar veil, geothermal heating and many other environmentally friendly components. It will be a net-zero energy building, meaning it will have no net energy waste, will have no storm water runoff and will require no connections to the City storm system.

Northgate, a retail and residential building, is also in development and will feature a green roof along with other green features.

Northgate will be constructed to obtain LEED certification. The building of LEED certified structures is seen as a positive advancement, a technologically informed answer to the questions raised by the prolific development occurring in the City of Falls Church. Current green building practices provide a path to an environmentally sustainable city, officials say, while leaving many burgeoning projects on the table, yet to be analyzed. They insist that since Falls Church is a small jurisdiction, it is imperative that every project is a great project, green, environmentally conscious and striking architecturally.

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