Seattle Imposes Green Building Standards

Maybe because I live in the Midwest, Chicago is the first city that comes to mind when thinking about urban centers encouraging green roofs and living walls in new construction. Seattle, though, is now claiming to be the first US city to write such practices into law. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the city has passed new rules that “…encourage builders to construct ‘green roofs,’ ‘vegetated walls’ and other features that clean the air, insulate buildings and ease the burden of Seattle’s wet climate on the city’s drains and creek beds.” City officials and environmentalists are celebrating; some developers, however, are a bit wary of the new regulations:

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Heather Trim, urban bays coordinator for People for Puget Sound. The question is how developers apply the incentives, she said. “We want to see how it goes; it can be interpreted different ways.”

The “Green Factor” could help meet environmentalists’ long-running calls for standards encouraging trees, storm-water features and other “green” elements at street level, Trim said. …

Builders have offered mixed reviews — raising questions about the practicality of soil-topped roofs and rat-friendly vine trellises. And the Seattle Planning Commission warned of problems in the implementation and consequences of the standards, especially on public rights of way, such as sidewalks and parking strips.

“We support these worthy goals but are concerned about the Green Factor’s impact on small businesses and raise concerns about its implementation,” the commission wrote in a November letter to [City Councilman Peter] Steinbrueck.

Judging from the article, these new rules are pretty flexible: they don’t mandate particular green features, but give developers many choices for meeting goals of lighter environmental impact, particularly in terms of storm water management. I’m also not positive about the mandate in this law, since the article mentions “encouraging” builders to incorporate such features. With these qualifications in mind, I think this looks like a solid approach: the city has set standards for environmental impact of new buildings, but it looks like they’re allowing builders to use their knowledge and experience to choose the best methods of achieving them. These regulations could also lead to consideration of related infrastructure: concerns about parking space, for instance, could inspire public transportation and carpooling efforts. Maybe they’ll move forward with that whole monorail thing (and that may be going on… tell me if it is).

I’d love to hear more about this from our Seattle readers (I know you’re out there), particularly on the general public reaction. This sure looks like a step forward from where I sit…

Photo Credit: Seattle P-I stock photo

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