Commissioners back incentives for green developers

Four Miami Beach commissioners agreed that it is better to encourage
developers to build structures that are environmentally friendly than
it is to force them.

Miami Beach
commissioners Saul Gross, Jerry Libbin, Victor Diaz and Jonah Wolfson, the members of the Land Use and Development Committee, met January 12 to
back a voluntary “green building” ordinance that sought to encourage
developers to get their projects Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design, or LEED, silver certified.

“I think it is a good idea to start with the voluntary program,” said
Gross, who is also owner of Streamline Properties, a commercial real
estate firm. But he said that getting a building LEED certified
may increase the cost of a project by between 5 and 15 percent.

An ordinance that requires developers to get certification is also on the table. Both the voluntary version of the green building ordinance and
the mandatory version will come before the seven-member Miami Beach
City Commission in February.

The committee also said incentives should be offered to all buildings
that obtain LEED silver certification and not just those buildings more
than 10,000 square feet in size.

Since 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization,
has granted LEED certificates to 14,000 buildings all over the world
that are deemed “environmentally responsible, profitable, and a healthy
place to live and work,” according to the council’s Web site.
From a checklist of more than 60 items, applicants can earn as many as
69 points. Projects that are merely LEED certified earn between 26 and
32 points. Those that have silver certification receive between 33 and 38
points. Those with gold certification earn 39 to 51 points. And,
finally, the coveted platinum certificate comes with 52 to 69 points.

Once passed, the voluntary green building ordinance will refund any
fees developers pay to get LEED silver certified and allow them to
showcase their LEED plaques on their respective buildings. The
voluntary ordinance would also put LEED certified projects at the top
of the list for review by city land use boards and building inspectors
and be publicized in city of Miami Beach press releases and on the
website. Hotels with LEED certifications can also seek reduced parking
rates at city-owned lots and garages for hotel employees, guests or
visitors who own or rent hybrid vehicles.

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A draft of the voluntary green building ordinance would also refund an
undetermined percentage of any building permit fees. However, Diaz said he’s worried that the city may not be able to
afford to offer such an incentive due to shrinking tax revenues. “I
think this year’s budget process will be very interesting, very
challenging for the commission and the administration,” he said.

Both the voluntary and mandatory ordinances would also require
developers to have a bond equivalent to $1 per square foot for LEED
certification. That bond would be forfeited to the city’s green
building program in the event a project does not get LEED silver

Under the mandatory version of the green building ordinance, all new
buildings more than 10,000 square feet in size and renovation projects
exceeding 50 percent of a building’s value will be required to achieve LEED
silver certified.

South Beach resident Erika Brigham said making LEED silver
certification mandatory would send a strong message to the world that
Miami Beach is indeed a “progressive community” that is concerned with
climate change and the threat of rising sea-levels caused by green
house gas emissions.

But Robert Wennett, developer of 1111 Lincoln Road, said getting silver
LEED certification is” immensely difficult,” especially for those
renovating older buildings.  Still, he’s relieved that the Land Use
Committee is backing voluntary certification. “There is clearly a cost
[to get LEED certified],” Wennett said. “Before we impose that on
taxpayers, we should do a voluntary test pilot to see if this is
something we need to do.”