Developer balks at new green building standard
CARBONDALE, Colorado – What’s being billed by local energy consultants as the new standard in environmental sustainability and energy efficient design for commercial and mixed-use development does have its shining examples.
Particularly when it comes to designing and building projects to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, the redevelopment of the old Stapleton Airport site in Denver and a new Wal-Mart in northeast Denver can be looked to as the pace-setters.
“There are a lot of projects here in Colorado and around the country that have met these standards,” said Jeff Dickinson of Clean Energy Economies for the Region (CLEER), who is working with the town of Carbondale to draft a green building code for commercial development to go along with the recently adopted new residential standards.
While the new commercial code requirements are in the works, Rich Schierburg, the would-be developer of the 24-acre Village at Crystal River (VCR) mixed-use project, is being asked to subscribe to some of those standards even before they’re formally adopted.
“What has been suggested [for VCR] are the same kinds of things that have become the green standard throughout the country,” Dickinson said.
One distinction is that the Carbondale code proposal will likely require standards similar to LEED, without requiring official LEED certification, which is an admittedly expensive process, he said.
Schierburg counters that, while projects on the scale of Stapleton, or with the financial backing of a large, corporate retailer like Wal-Mart, may be able to rise to that challenge, the recommendations being made for VCR are essentially a nonstarter when it comes to getting financing for the project.
“I agree with Carbondale’s energy efficiency goals, and it would be in my best interests to be as green and sustainable as possible,” Schierburg told Carbondale trustees at a Dec. 14 meeting, the latest in the lengthy public hearing debate over the VCR.
“But I look to sustainability as I do anything in a development like this, as a line item,” Schierburg said. “We will build as green and sustainable as is practical, or financially feasible. I cannot build and finance a project that loses money.”
The VCR project proposes 125,000 square feet of commercial/retail space, including a 58,000-square-foot grocery store that would serve as the commercial anchor. It would also include up to 16,000 square feet of office space and as many as 164 multi-family residential units.
At a November meeting, Dan Richardson of the town’s contract engineering firm, Schmueser Gordon Meyer, was critical in his assessment of Schierburg’s statements about environmental and sustainability practices contained in his Planned Unit Development application.
In his assessment, Richardson said the development proposal “falls far short of addressing anything that resembles what would be considered sustainable by today’s standards.”
Asked for specifics, Richardson recommended seven requirements for the town board to consider, which were discussed at the Dec. 14 meeting. They include:
• Requiring Energy Star certification for all buildings.
• Requiring that 10 percent of all projected building energy use be generated by renewable energy.
• Requiring that at least 75 percent of all residential units have south-facing glass.
• Constructing all site components to what are known as LEED “Neighborhood Development Standards,” though not requiring official LEED certification.
• Constructing all residential and commercial buildings to applicable LEED standards (again, without full certification).
• Dedicating at least 25 percent of required open space to growing food.
• Providing mitigation for at least 25 percent of projected vehicle trips through alternative modes of transportation (such as a shuttle system).
The intent of the recommendations, Richardson said, are “to achieve the goal of a high quality project, while allowing the applicant a high level of flexibility in achieving the goal.”
Schierburg has argued that such matters would be better off discussed with each development phase, rather than as part of the initial PUD approval.
“We’re going to do as much as we can, but we can’t afford to have it mandated [as part of the zoning approvals],” he said.
Some trustees and members of the public feel differently, though.
“I do have a little bit of confidence left in you,” Trustee Frosty Merriott said. “But I also know you could just as easily cut your losses, flip this property [after approvals are granted] and walk. … Then we’re not dealing with you anymore, it’s someone else.”
One citizen who commented noted that the proposed public improvements fee, or PIF, that’s being proposed to help pay for such things and streets, sidewalks, paths and Highway 133 improvements, is the town’s buy-in.
“I know you hear our values, but you need to start putting those ideas in the plan,” said Melanie Finan. “Work toward that and we will get behind you. … This is how it’s done in Carbondale.”
Town trustees directed staff and consultants to work with Schierburg to find some common ground on the energy and sustainability recommendations. The public hearing for VCR was continued until Jan. 11.
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