Compromise fails to placate critics, supporters of LEED

Ani Ajith

Evanston City Council’s decision to amend the 2009 Green Building Ordinance during Monday’s meeting capped a nearly month-long test of the city’s efforts to encourage business and ensure sustainable building practices, goals that are sometimes viewed as either dueling or complementary.

Despite negotiations to craft a compromise that simultaneously retains a level of sustainable construction mandates while lessening the cost of green requirements for businesses seeking to enter Evanston, the business whose interest in setting up shop in Evanston prompted the amendment process has indicated the amended ordinance’s requirements are still prohibitively expensive, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.

The amendment adjusted the city’s rules on “green buildings” to allow new buildings between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet in size to either gain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification or meet 15 of 27 Evanston Sustainable Building Measures for Interior Renovations. The latest iteration of the amendment was drafted in a meeting between city staff and representatives from environmental groups last week. All but three or four ESBMIRs are applicable for new construction and interior innovation, said Jeff Smith, a Weinberg ’77 alumnus and a board member of Citizens’ Greener Evanston.

The ordinance amendment process was initiated by Bobkiewicz’s discussions with Gordon Food Service, a family-owned food distributor hoping to open a 16,000-square-foot “GFS Marketplace” in Evanston. At the council’s Feb. 14 meeting, Bobkiewicz informed the council in a memo the green building ordinance requirement to meet LEED Silver certification was blocking the company’s entry into Evanston.

“This business has indicated to us that they would like to come to Evanston, but the costs are too high and they would like to make a decision by the end of February,” Bobkiewicz said, explaining the reason the amendment was drafted and submitted in a relatively hurried fashion.

Bobkiewicz’s initial draft amendment, which would have significantly slashed LEED requirements for new constructions, provoked sharp disapproval from environmental groups and aldermen.

Smith said he and other residents interested in sustainability issues first heard of Bobkiewicz’s proposed amendment in an e-mail four days before the Valentine’s Day council meeting, the same evening the city’s Environmental Board was set to meet.

“It came out of the blue … that’s the entire point of such volunteer boards, to have people with expertise provide input,” Smith said. “It’s like if the Obama administration and Congress changed the Clean Air Act without consulting the EPA.”

In response to frustration from aldermen and residents during the citizen comment section of the council meeting, Bobkiewicz promised to meet with environmental groups to work out a compromise.

Catherine Hurley, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said participants met on Feb. 23 in the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to discuss the issue. Representatives from the Environmental Board, CGE and members of the 2009 Green Building Ordinance Committee were present.

Smith, who was not present at the meeting, said events unfolded with such rapidity that CGE was not able to meet to form a cohesive strategy on the amendment, instructing its representatives to not “back down” on keeping the 10,000-square-foot-and-above requirement for LEED or ESBMIR requirements.

Smith said ESBMIRs are “the biggest parts of green, sustainable construction that are meant to be streamlined for maximum bang-for-the-buck,” sans smaller LEED point-worthy measures such as installing bike racks, plants and electric car parking spots.

During the Monday City Council meeting, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said GFS had indicated it would be able to meet only 10 ESBMIR measures because the costs of cleaning up the debris and a slime pond on the targeted land would disallow the company implementing other sustainable measures.

Smith said this line of argument was flawed because the compromise amendment allows new construction to follow either LEED guidelines or ESBMIR measures. LEED Silver requirements awards points for land remediation.

“Rainey doesn’t get the difference between pollution and sustainability,” Smith said. “U.S. buildings consume 10 percent of the world’s energy, and concrete and cement production produces more CO2 than cars.”

Because the council passed the original ordinance in 2009 after three years of negotiations between city staff and green groups, it “expressed a desire for staff to report back on how this ordinance may impact economic development in the current economy,” according to city documents.

Bobkiewicz did exactly that and simultaneously proposed the amendment to the ordinance.

Smith said he and other environmental activists in Evanston would likely oppose any further attempt to weaken the ordinance.

“Whether GFS wants to be the first LEED Silver grocery store in Chicagoland, it’s up to them,” Smith said. “If they’re interested in being a good steward of the Earth, this is a good way for them to show that.”

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