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F.C. Council Mulls Stiff Environmental Standards for New Public Structures

May Put Private Developers ‘On Notice,’ As Well

At its work session this Monday, the Falls Church City Council set in motion a process for ensuring high environmental standards for all public buildings in the City, a process that, if adopted, would also put private developers “on notice” that such standards shall be those “to which they shall be encouraged to design and build.”

May Put Private Developers ‘On Notice,’ As Well

At its work session this Monday, the Falls Church City Council set in motion a process for ensuring high environmental standards for all public buildings in the City, a process that, if adopted, would also put private developers “on notice” that such standards shall be those “to which they shall be encouraged to design and build.”

The standard being considered is called “LEED Silver,” in accordance with the widely known and recognized “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) national program, aimed at encouraging “best practices with regard to protecting the environment, conserving energy and providing occupants with healthy workplace conditions.”

Noted in a draft resolution by the City’s Environmental Services Council considered by the F.C. Council this week was that “experience on both international and national levels as well as the experience of surrounding jurisdictions have demonstrated that environmentally responsible buildings result in higher market values.”

While “some marginal increase in capital investment” would be required in new buildings to conform to these standards, the resolution stipulates that “operating expenses are lower when appropriate steps are taken to ensure energy efficiency, and the improved atmosphere achieved with more friendly interior materials both contribute to the health and comfort of the tenants of such buildings and combine to allow developers to realize a premium for their investment.”

It adds that “attention to storm water management and heat mitigation mechanisms on roofs contribute significantly to public efforts at general environmental enhancement.”

The Council will not act on this measure until it has been forwarded to relevant boards and commissions of the City for review and comment. The Environmental Services Council (ESC) considered the matter at its April 2012 meeting, and recommended the resolution referenced above. The City’s Planning Commission took up the issue on May 7 and agreed to continue consideration pending additional information.

Not contained in any of the materials the Council considered Monday was reaction from the developer community. At a time when the regional economy may be showing signs of recovery sufficient to spur new development projects in Falls Church, the issue of mandated added costs to new projects is, at best, a sensitive one.

In a report by F.C. Public Utilities Director Brenda Creel to the Council, it was noted that “associated costs vary with specific projects. In consultation with Arlington and Alexandria (governmental) staff as well as other consultants, costs have ranged from one to 15 percent, depending on a number of variables.” It notes that “costs may be offset in part by lower energy and water costs,” but also that smaller projects impacted by fixed costs face “higher cost implications.”

That is why, Creel stated, “projects less than 5,000 square feet, less than $1 million in cost, and certain leased spaces are proposed to be exempt from this policy due to cost considerations,” suggesting “Energy Star” or alternative green concepts for such projects.

In terms of the City’s current Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) plan, the policy if adopted would apply to City Hall and Public Safety renovations and expansions.

In its current draft form, the policy does not extend beyond public facilities owned and leased by the City’s general government and its utility fund. Creel reported that “the City Attorney is conducting related research as to what authority the City Council may have to apply such a policy to the City’s public school facilities.

It was noted that “the best practices enumerated in the LEED certification process address the major areas of concern, including energy efficiency, storm water management and heat islands and add measurably to efforts to reduce environmental impacts of development.”

Under the standards set by the LEED program, they have been widely adopted as respected criteria for environmentally responsible construction being carried out in all parts of the U.S., including in surrounding Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

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