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Council, Chávez Green Building Codes Compete

By Dan McKay
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    With two green building codes in the works, the question at City Hall is: more flexibility or more mandates?
    The mayor and City Council will have a chance to find some common ground today on dueling proposals.
    Councilor Isaac Benton, an architect and a sponsor of the council proposal, will attend today's meeting of the "green-ribbon" task force organized by Mayor Martin Chávez.
    And the mayor's task force, in turn, has been invited to the council's land-use committee this evening.
    The council and task force each have been working on revisions to the building code.
    Whether they can reach consensus on how to integrate the proposals— or decide which is better— is an open question.
    Critics of the council proposal say it includes more mandates than the task force proposal, which offers builders more flexibility in some cases.
    The council bill includes a provision aimed at water-conservation and an incentive that would give energy-efficient building projects priority review from City Hall.
    "I don't see any reason we can't meld these two," Benton said Tuesday.
    Chávez said he is still learning about the council proposal but said the task force bill has been vetted by people in the business.
    He said most of the green building movement originated in the building industry.
    The council bill would go into effect in 90 days, while many of the provisions in the task force measure would take effect in 2009.
    Another key difference is how the bills deal with new commercial buildings. The council proposal outlines a host of requirements that apply to both new residential and commercial structures.
    The task force measure says new commercial buildings must be 30 percent more energy efficient than a "baseline" building— which is defined as a building of the same size built to 1999 construction standards.
    That provision allows the architect "to be more creative" in deciding how to meet the 30 percent goal, said John Bucholz, City Hall's green building program manager.
    "It allows a little more practical approach," said Jeff Stuve, a principal in Cauwels and Stuve Realty and Development Advisors in Albuquerque.
    Stuve is a member of the mayor's task force, which includes representatives from the development and home-building industry.
    He takes issue with a council provision that says when a building undergoes major renovation, the whole structure must meet the new green standards. Under the task force proposal, only the parts of a building undergoing renovation would have to meet the new standard.
    Both the council and mayoral bills outline new requirements covering insulation and technical aspects of construction.
    The council bill says hot-water recirculating systems must be installed— an effort to save water because so many people let the tap run until the water warms up.
    It also calls for building-permit fees to double for homes exceeding 3,400 square feet, and go even higher for those of 5,000 square feet or more.
    Stuve compared that to a "social-engineering strategy" that discourages people from having large homes.
    City Councilor Michael Cadigan, another sponsor of the council bill, said the higher fees are intended to reflect the higher administrative cost of handling larger permits.
    Benton said they are justified because "extra large houses really do use, per person, more energy."
    In some cases, though, the task-force proposal is tougher than the council bill. Starting in 2009, for example, the task-force would require a higher level of wall insulation for homes than called for in the council measure.
    The start dates for the proposals are different, too. The council bill would go into effect 90 days after a legal notice is published following its adoption.
    Some of the task-force provisions wouldn't go into effect until 2009.
    Benton and Cadigan sound open to compromise.
    Benton called the task-force bill "wonderful" and a "good document." But he adds that the council bill has some features he prefers.
    Cadigan said, "There's more common ground than uncommon ground."
    Benton said he intends to attend a meeting of the green task force today. The administration, however, sent word that it won't be prepared to make a presentation at the council's land-use meeting today, he said.
City Council proposal
  • Sponsored by Isaac Benton, Michael Cadigan and Martin Heinrich.
  • Applies to all new buildings or major rehabilitation of existing buildings. If the rehabilitation equals 50 percent of the value of the building, the whole building must be upgraded to meet the green standard.
  • Historic structures are exempt.
  • Buildings that meet certain standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council and Build Green New Mexico will receive priority review from the city and be exempt from certain requirements.
  • Water heaters must be Energy Star certified. In new buildings, builder-installed clothes washers, freezers, refrigerators and dishwashers must be Energy Star certified.
  • Hot water recirculating systems must be installed, with certain exceptions.
  • The building-permit fee for a house larger than 3,400 square feet will be doubled— from $1,650 to $3,300. It will be even higher for a house exceeding 5,000 square feet.
  • Swimming pools must be heated primarily by solar collectors.
  • Takes effect 90 days after a public notice is published.
    Mayor's task force proposal
  • Developed by 25-member task force including representatives of the construction and home-building industry.
  • Applies to new buildings or any part of an existing building being altered. Separate codes are written for commercial and residential buildings.
  • Exempt are historic structures, buildings that don't use electricity from fossil fuels and buildings that already meet certain standards of the U.S. Green Building Council or Build Green New Mexico.
  • It's not written into the bill, but the administration says it, too, intends to provide priority plan checks for buildings that meet certain standards of the Green Building Council.
  • New commercial buildings must be 30 percent more energy efficient than a baseline building, which is a building of the same size constructed to 1999 standards. Small commercial buildings must follow certain, specific requirements for energy efficiency or meet the 30 percent.
  • Starting in 2009, new residential buildings must have water heaters that are Energy Star certified. They must meet interim criteria until then.
  • Starting in 2009, swimming pools must be heated primarily by solar collectors. A cover can be used in the meantime to keep them warm.
  • The city Planning Department plans to offer a six-month grace period during which the code would be optional, as is customary for new regulations.