New ABQ building code may be delayed - Albuquerque Journal

New ABQ building code may be delayed

A USEagle Credit Union under construction in Albuquerque. Albuquerque City Council members on Monday will consider delaying implementation of a new building code that would raise energy-efficiency standards for all new buildings and major renovations in city limits. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque’s effort to implement a new city building code may be delayed until 2021 amid concerns from the business community and at least one city councilor.

The Albuquerque City Council adopted the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code on Aug. 3, after two years of work on a replacement for regulations put into place in 2009.

The change updates city standards to set a new baseline for energy efficiency in newly constructed and heavily renovated buildings, drawing praise from conservation organizations.

“We have to start thinking about buildings that are affordable and efficient,” said Tammy Fiebelkorn, New Mexico representative for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

However, after the measure passed, Councilor Klarissa Peña introduced a resolution that would delay implementation of the new code for six months, which will be heard at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Peña, who voted in favor of the original measure, told the Journal she is concerned about costs that will be passed along to renters and first-time homeowners, and said she wants to give builders time to adjust to the new rules. Peña said the delay would also leave time for the city to better assess the code’s financial impact.

“As it is, the cost of an average house in Albuquerque is getting up there,” she said.

Fiebelkorn said the addition of newer energy-efficiency standards should ultimately save homeowners money on utilities.

She cited an analysis from the U.S. Department of Energy showing that the average new single-family home in Albuquerque would save $6,493 over the course of a 30-year mortgage.

“We have a lot of low-income people here in Albuquerque, and having an extra $6,000 is very helpful to them,” she said.

However, some in the real estate industry have argued that the added upfront building costs may outweigh cheaper utilities for homeowners. Lynne Andersen, president of commercial real estate development association NAIOP New Mexico, said the new code can be expected to raise construction costs, particularly for commercial buildings.

“I think there’s going to be a bit of sticker shock,” Andersen said.

Peña, who voted to adopt the code despite her reservations, said she couldn’t be sure whether the utility benefits would offset the higher upfront costs without more study. She added that she’s concerned about contributing to gentrification in older Albuquerque neighborhoods.

“If (owners) get priced out of a home, there’s no long-term benefit there,” Peña said.

Making matters more complicated, the state passed its own energy code for buildings later in the same week.

Shanna Schultz, council senior planner for the city of Albuquerque, said the city can still adopt its code as long as it does not set a lower threshold for energy conservation than the state’s, but added that determining that could require a time-consuming analysis.

Andersen added that she’s concerned about having a different code for Albuquerque than for the rest of the state, which could create confusion for builders and developers. Furthermore, she said implementing the new code quickly would create problems for builders who have already begun designing but haven’t yet received a permit.

“There are some real problems from the private sector in this existing code,” Andersen said.

The council will hear Peña’s resolution Monday, and could move to vote on it by immediate action. If the resolution is adopted, the new code won’t go into effect until early 2021. If not, it could be implemented as soon as next month, Councilor Pat Davis said.

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