PORTLAND — An ordinance that would require construction projects financed by the city to receive environmental certification will be considered by the City Council.
The Green Building Code would require projects in excess of 5,000 square feet and $250,000 to receive basic, Silver certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Projects that don’t meet those thresholds would be required to receive Green Building certification from the Maine State Housing Authority.
City Councilor David Marshall said the initiative is designed to put Portland on a path to becoming carbon neutral.
“This would be a huge step for the city to try to achieve our goals of reducing our carbon footprint,” said Marshall, noting the city has signed on to the Governor’s Carbon Challenge and has become a Cool City by joining U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.
Marshall said the city’s Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, which he chairs, has been meeting over the last nine months with local business and community leaders. He said most generally support the effort, but some are hesitant to fully endorse the code until they are confident there
are no unintended consequences that would discourage development.
One of those groups is the Portland Regional Chamber. Chris O’Neil, an attorney who works as a liaison with City Hall, commended the city’s efforts to impose standards on its own projects, but said the chamber is concerned about the wide reach of the proposal.
“City funding rightly begets city expectations,” O’Neil said. “But we need to be careful about tangling these thickets around the ankles of progress. Thickets have a way of becoming impenetrable, even intimidating.”
O’Neil said city should offer incentives for green building designs. The code also needs to specifically define “renovations” and what it means to be “funded in part,” he said.
As it currently stands, O’Neil said, it’s unclear whether projects that receive policing or other indirect city support would qualify as “funding.”
The chamber also believes the code would work better for new developments, rather than renovations. Also, it should only be applied to major projects that require cite approval from the Planning Board, or those greater than 10,000 square feet, he said.
O’Neil said he asked the city to provide a list of projects from 2007-2008 that would have been affected by the new code as a way to gauge how many future projects might be included. “It could be two per year or it could be 22,” he said.
Marshall said the committee is continuing to work on the chamber’s concerns. He emphasized the city is not requiring private developers to receive LEED certification, which require oversight by a certified, third-party consultant. Certification is based on the building construction, recycling and reusing materials and the types of heating, cooling and lighting systems installed.
In some cases, certification can cost $20,000 or more.
“It’s not as though we’re imposing anything on the (private development) community,” he said. “We’re just showing leadership by setting an example.”
Any project that is funded in part or full by city funds, including those funneled from federal programs through the state, would be subject to the new requirements. Also, projects that receive tax increment financing would be affected.
Projects that exceed 5,000 square feet and cost more than $250,000 would not only have to achieve Silver LEED certification, but also meet the targets of the 2030 Challenge, which sets benchmarks for achieving carbon neutral buildings by 2030.
Proof of the appropriate certification would have to be provided before any new or renovated building could be used or occupied.
There is, however, a procedure for waivers, which could be granted if the requirements would have negative impact on historical structures, create an unreasonable burden or be cost-prohibitive. If granted, the project would still have to meet as many LEED standards as possible.
Marshall said expects the City Council to conduct a first reading of the code on April 7. If significant changes are made, it may have to go back to committee.
If passed, the new code would take effect 30 days after council approval and would only apply to projects submitted to city planners after that time.