The Proposed Green Building Regulations: Can We Do More?

On May 21, the City of Rockville provided an update on the revisions to the Building Code, including the new Green Building Regulations, to the Historic District Commission and Recreation and Parks Committee.

I am delighted that this action is finally taking place, indeed, I sense it will be adopted with few objections because so many of these ideas have been already accepted by the community with our growing awareness that the nation’s resources are limited and our current ways of living are no longer sustainable.  I especially appreciate that the City is following the standards of LEED from the US Green Building Council, while providing a less costly alternative through “Rockville Certified” and “Rockville Silver” ratings.

However, I urge the Mayor and Council to be more visionary and adopt higher standards than proposed, as follows:

1.  Ensure that the City Code is aligned with the latest LEED rating system.  I believe the proposed code is based on LEED 2 (released in 2000), however, the US Green Building Council adopted LEED 3 (aka LEED 2009) in April 2009 and all new projects must be certified under LEED 3 after June 27, 2009.  Builders and property owners should not be required to meet two different standards and it will only result in opposition to green building practices in Rockville.

2.  Require that all new construction, no matter the size, meet the Green Building Code. The proposed code exempts “non-residential” (aka commerical) and “multi-unit residential” (aka apartments) projects that are less than 7,000 gsf, but requires all “low-rise residential” (aka single family houses) to be certified (Sec. 5-303).   If Rockville is to be a “green city,” it needs to be “green all over,” not just in some places.   I’d prefer that  all new construction projects at least be “Rockville Certified”, but if the City decides to exempt commerical and apartments that are less than 7,000 gsf, they should also exempt single family houses that are less than 7,000 gsf.  Fair is fair.

3.  Tweak the “additional credits” in the Rockville Certified and Rockville Silver ratings to encourage the reuse of existing buildings and materials. The proposed code emphasizes points related to energy and environment (Sec. 5-316), but given that the City is mostly built-out, we should also encourage the reuse of existing buildings and recycling of materials.  More than 25 percent of Maryland’s trash is due to demolition and construction—and for Rockville, it has to be hauled outside the county since there are no landfills nearby.  That is a tremendous waste of energy and materials, and should be discouraged.

4.  Modify the code to include existing buildings, not just newly constructed or substantially improved buildings.  Most of Rockville is built-out and filled with existing buildings.  The ability for Rockville to make significant progress in “green building” will not be achieved by limiting our efforts on new construction.  We must include existing buildings. Indeed, the US Green Building Council is aware of this national issue and has included a new rating system for the operation and maintenance of existing buildings in LEED 2009.

5.  Offer a variety of incentives to encourage certification and measure progress.  Plaques with the certification level and year of compliance are the easiest and cheapest to provide and to further our goals in public art, have them designed by an artist so they contribute to the beauty of the street (not just a logo with text).  For small projects (perhaps less than 7,000 gsf) where the overhead costs are highest, the City should provide grants, rebates, or tax credits to a maximum amount through 2020.  The entire community benefits through lower energy costs and healthier lives when an individual project goes “green.”  Finally, we need to include metrics to measure our progress and evaluate our success on an annual basis.

The City has already held two public meetings (May 19 and May 21) and is preparing a final draft ordinance for presentation to the Mayor and Council on June 15.  Public hearings will be held in July with potential adoption in September.  If you’d like to provide comments, email greenbuilding@rockvillemd.gov or call (240) 314-8872.

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