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Under the green building ordinance adopted by City Council on Oct. 26, all new buildings over 10,000 square feet in the City of Evanston must be certified as green buildings by the US Green Building Council through their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. The ordinance, three years in the making, does not currently apply to rehabbed buildings or adaptive re-use.

The ordinance traveled a winding and sometimes rocky course on its way to passage, but ultimately passed by an 8-1 vote with 8th Ward Alderman Ann Rainey casting the lone dissenting vote. Just two weeks ago, when the ordinance was held by Council while a new compromise committee was selected, it appeared as though the ordinance would disappear into that committee for at least six weeks. In the two weeks since that meeting, however, a compromise brokered by Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, apparently gained traction.

Ald. Wilson opened the discussion by saying, “I think it’s very important that we actually take a step forward and get an ordinance” passed tonight. He called the ordinance “close” but “not exactly where we need to be” on the renovation/re-use side. He proposed an amendment removing the section that addressed rehabilitation entirely.

Ald. Rainey objected, moving that the ordinance be tabled to give the newly appointed compromise committee the opportunity to address the entire ordinance. “It should not be fragmented; it should not be piecemeal,” she said. Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, agreed.

“I am in full agreement with [Ald. Wilson] regarding the modifications you propose, but it does not make sense right now,” said Ald. Jean-Baptiste. He pointed to the new compromise committee, and the input of small builders into the process that both he and Ald. Rainey have cited several times as lacking from the start.

Momentum toward passage was too strong. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Alderman Melissa Wynn, 3rd Ward, all spoke in favor if passing the ordinance as amended. The motion to table failed by a 6-3 vote, with Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, joining Ald. Rainey and Ald. Jean-Baptiste. After tabling failed, Ald. Rainey was left alone in opposition. Ald. Wilson’s amendments passed 8-1, and the ordinance soon followed by the same 8-1 vote.

How the Green Building Ordinance Works

The City’s Green Building Ordinance, three years in the making, passed last night. The Ordinance currently applies only to newly constructed buildings in excess of 10,000 square feet. What does the law, revised nine times (per the ordinance itself) since it first appeared on February 4, 2009, require? 1. All new construction and additions of 10,000 square feet or greater must attain a LEED rating of silver or higher. Because technological and other innovations result in the revision of LEED standards with some regularity, “the version of LEED New Construction and Major Renovation [standards] in effect 180 days prior to the date of application for a building permit” applies. 2. The City must “meet with potential developers to discuss possible incentives, including expedited plan review or financial assistance for the costs that may be associated with a LEED Certified Silver project.” These costs have been estimated at up to 6%, though often lower, of total project costs by several sources during the course of the debate surrounding the ordinance. The requirement that the City help developers find ways to defray these costs, including possibly waiving or lowering building permit costs, was added by the first compromise committee according to documents provided by City Staff. 3. All developers proposing projects to which the ordinance applies must submit to the City’s building department “a proposed … LEED credit checklist, signed by an accredited LEED Professional,” that details how the developer plans to meet LEED Silver requirements and documents the projects registration with the United States Green Building Committee (USGBC). 4. The developer must provide the building department with “a completed USGBC LEED Design Phase Review Approval letter before the Building Official may issue a Final Certificate of Occupancy for the project. 5. The penalty for failure to comply is a fine that will be calculated based upon how close the project actually came to meeting LEED Silver requirements. Developers have 2 years from the date of issuance of the Final Certificate of Occupancy to supply a LEED Certification letter in order to get credit for coming close. Failure to meet the two year deadline means that the developer gets no credit for coming close and must pay the full fine. All fines collected go in to a Sustainable Evanston Fund to be used to support the City’s Office of Sustainability in providing assistance to green builders and promoting green practices.