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Becker offers builders a hefty green bonus

Published July 30, 2008 12:04 am

Developers employing energy savings and other design efficiency methods would be fast-tracked for permits
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ralph Becker wants to grow Rocky Anderson's green revolution by spreading it to a sometimes-stubborn demographic: developers.

The new Salt Lake City mayor is crafting an executive order to fast-track permits for builders who agree in advance to achieve energy efficiency for homes and other projects by snagging an Energy Star rating. The incentive also would apply to developers who meet or exceed the "silver" level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

"Our goal is to see how we can get everyone to build with LEED standards," says Vicki Bennett, the city's sustainability director, who adds that architects and builders are enthusiastic about the idea.

"They're quite pleased because time is money."

And money, besides environmental stewardship, may become a mutual motivation. Bennett predicts developers will hype green design as a marketing tool to lure buyers. That, in turn, could mean more cash for homeowners who would save over the long term on their energy bills.

Becker plans to sign the green measure in late August. It would take effect 60 days later. After a one-year trial, Bennett says, the City Council could adopt the policy as an ordinance.

Few U.S. cities require LEED certification in private-sector projects, though an increasing number use it as an incentive. Bennett notes that while Rocky Mountain Power also offers discounts for energy-efficient homes, only 10 percent of 2007 permit holders applied for the break.

"There's still a gap we need to fill," she says. "That's the only way we're going to reduce our power use in the valley."

Ellen Parrish, marketing manager for Salt Lake City-based VCBO Architecture, says Becker's move "might" work as a green-building incentive - depending on the downturn in the economy.

"It could be contagious," Parrish says. "We're all for it. It's a lot more cost effective to plan for sustainability on the front end of a design than to retrofit a building."

VCBO should know. Besides working on the Main Library, the firm also handled the Sorenson Unity Center and restoration of the state Capitol. VCBO is currently going green with the Health Sciences Education Building at the University of Utah, and Parrish says the firm is going for "LEED gold" with Westminster's science center.

"We're finding interest in the corporate world as well." Becker's push to put green builders at the front of the permit line satisfies a campaign promise. It also comes as the new regime has promised to streamline city planning, which an audit recently scolded for a decade of dysfunction.

djensen@sltrib.com

The line on LEED in SLC

* Right now, anything built by Salt Lake City itself must meet the silver level of LEED certification.

* Mayor Ralph Becker wants to expand the scope to private projects. He is writing an executive order that puts home builders and other developers who agree to meet LEED standards at the front of the permit line.

What's next?

The city's Planning Division is staging an open house Thursday about the mayor's latest green initiative. The gathering is from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Room 126 at City Hall, 451 S. State St. Comments will be included in a report to the Planning Commission.