A City ordinance that would require all new buildings over a certain size in the City to meet green building standards moved forward in the Dec. 1 meeting of the Human Services Committee. While hurdles regarding the green standard to be met and exemptions for historically significant buildings appear to have been cleared, hurdles still remain concerning the penalty clause, the placement of solar panels, and the threshold square footage.

At issue is whether the City should adopt the green building ordinance recommended by the Evanston Environment Board (EEB). Under the proposed ordinance, all new buildings greater than 10,000 square feet, including multi-family residential buildings, would be required to obtain certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED” certification).

In addition, all new or replaced low-slope roofs greater than 5,000 square feet must be Energy Star-compliant as determined by federal government’s Energy-Star program.

At the Dec. 1 meeting, the Environment Board presented a proposed ordinance that had been revised to take into account a number of concerns raised by the Human Services Committee in an earlier meeting. While the Environmental Board had previously considered recommending that new buildings be required to obtain a LEED certification at the “gold” level, Board chair Len Sciarra said the Board had decided to recommend that the less-stringent “silver” certification be required. LEED certification can be obtained at four different levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum.

Addressing another question, the proposed ordinance as revised contains an exemption for historic buildings and districts.

Responding to the Committee’s request for input from developers, Bob Horner of Winthrop Properties, LLC endorsed adoption of the ordinance.

“This ordinance is not a burden on development but instead a tremendous opportunity for the City,” said Mr. Horner.

He pointed to his company’s development of the Winthrop Club at 1567 Maple Ave., which, if certified when completed, will be one of only six LEED gold-level certified condominium developments in the country. While acknowledging that obtaining LEED certification adds costs, up to $2/square foot for gold certification, Mr. Horner voiced his enthusiastic support for passage.

Historic Preservation Coordinator Carlos Ruiz spoke in favor of the ordinance as revised. He praised the exception for historically significant buildings, but cautioned that more work needed to be done regarding the treatment of solar panels under the ordinance.

Sixth Ward Alderman Edmund Moran, Jr. agreed, noting that it took the Council significant time and effort to craft City policy regarding solar panels and said the issue needed to be thoroughly addressed in the roof replacement portion of the ordinance.

Significant other questions appeared to remain. Earlier versions of the proposed ordinance provided for the withdrawal of the certificate of occupancy (COO) of a building that failed to obtain the required LEED certification. That recommendation came from the Environment Board, but City staff members said they thought the penalty was too stringent and that it punished the occupants rather than the builders of a project.

That penalty provision has been removed in the latest draft, but a new provision to ensure compliance with the provisions of the ordinance has not yet been crafted. Members of the Human Services Committee await a staff report regarding the feasibility of requiring performance bonds for environmental certification achievement. Mr. Sciarra said he believed bonds were available, but said the cost of such bonds needed further research.

Further study also awaits the threshold square footage requirement. Ald. Moran requested a staff report comparing the impact of this ordinance if the threshold is 10,000 square feet or 20,000 square feet.

Staff reports are due in January.