East Lansing Looking Towards a New “Green Building” Policy

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Raymond Holt for ELi

City Council member Jessy Gregg signs a steel beam at the topping-off ceremony of The Abbot in Feb. 2020. That building received tax incentives and was constructed to LEED v4 standards.

East Lansing’s Commission on the Environment will meet this evening, June 21, starting at 6:30 p.m. in part to discuss revising the City’s Green Building Policy, which was initially adopted by City Council in 2009. The agenda indicates that the commission will consider feedback provided by the Downtown Development Authority and its subcommittees, including with regard to tax incentives for development projects.

The proposed revised Green Building Policy aims to “improve the health of building occupants, reduce the environmental footprint of a building, and reduce long term operating costs” by requiring incorporation of certain elements and practices to make many redevelopment projects more environmentally friendly.

City Council passed a Green Building Policy Resolution in 2009 and then, in 2017, the Commission on the Environment formed the Sustainable Building Group. That group met with experts and reviewed policies from other communities before making recommendations for how to update East Lansing’s policy.

The Commission on the Environment then met with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). That was right before the pandemic led to suspension of in-person meetings and slowed the momentum of updating the Green Building Policy. In May 2021, two of the DDA’s subcommittees finally took up the topic again.

The policy revision proposed by the Commission on the Environment states that “[n]ew City owned buildings or construction should be expected to incorporate long term, sustainable principles into their design and operation.”

Private development projects or renovations that are over 5,000 square feet and which receive municipal financial incentives would be required to incorporate a specific number of standards, with the standard level pegged to the relative size of incentives provided.

The draft policy also “requires [that] all private development in the City 5,000 square feet or larger excluding single family homes incorporate LEED standards,” even if it does not obtain financial assistance from the City.

East Lansing is looking to follow the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) guidelines in implementing this new policy. USGBC uses one of the best known rating systems, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, to set the qualifications required to be labeled a Green Building. LEED is aimed at making buildings more energy-efficient and sustainable in the long run.

The Commission on the Environment wrote in the draft of the revised policy that, “LEED Certified buildings, on average, cost less than 2% more than a traditional building, with higher levels of certifications costing slightly more. In all circumstances, the initial cost premium can be recaptured quickly through lower operating costs and a healthier building environment.”

Gary Caldwell for ELi

MSUFCU’s second headquarters building in East Lansing “was built using high-efficiency, environmentally-friendly and locally-sourced products,” according to Granger, which constructed the building.

While the DDA membership largely endorsed the idea of the City incentivizing developers to choose “greener” options, the Project & Infrastructure Committee of the DDA voiced some concerns at its May 20 meeting.

Attendees at that meeting discussed the implications of this new policy. Peter Dewan questioned what incentives or assistance would be provided to builders to justify the costly requirements of the new building guidelines. (Dewan is the outgoing Chair of the DDA and the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, which have the same membership.)

Adam Cummins, Community & Economic Development Administrator for the City, said that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has programs that can help cover the extra costs associated with greener buildings.

DDA member Greg Ballein said he believed the City should promote more green buildings but expressed concern that the draft policy did not clearly outline which economic and financial incentives given by the City to developers would count toward the thresholds at which specific requirements to incorporate green standards would kick in.

Ballein also stated that he found it unclear if green standards would be required of all new developments over 5,000 square feet or only of projects that were both over 5,000 square feet and receiving financial incentives from the City. Cummins indicated he would seek clarification.

Following a meeting of the full DDA on May 27, Dewan indicated he would write a letter to the Commission on the Environment expressing the concerns of the DDA.

The letter, dated June 11 and signed by Dewan, says that, “The DDA Board and its subcommittees are supportive of the draft Green Building Policy and the benefits that will be realized by the community going forward. Also, the DDA and its subcommittees are supportive of incentives offered to developers that will encourage Green Building design.”

But Dewan asked the Committee on the Environment to: identify which economic incentives apply to the policy; identify incentives to offset the cost increase by pursuing greener buildings; and estimate the economic impact of the Green Building Policy.

Those interested can see the agenda for tonight’s meeting here. That agenda includes information on how to attend and make public comment.

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