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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 27, 2008

LEED bill shelved in council for now

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By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser West O'ahu Writer


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The LEED rating system was developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council to measure the environmental sensitivity of a building. To find out more, go to www.usgbc.org/.

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A City Council committee yesterday set aside for now a bill that would require developers and homebuilders to make their buildings more environmentally friendly, but the committee promised to explore the issue further.

Bill 87-07 would mandate that all new buildings meet minimum standards established under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system beginning in 2010.

A LEED-certified building is designed to have less impact on the environment, be healthier for its occupants and be more profitable, according to a LEED Web site.

The bill is part of a trend toward more environmentally sensitive and "green" construction here and across the globe. There's a growing list of buildings around the state built to LEED standards, including Punahou School's Case Middle School, the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kaka'ako, the Gateway Energy Center at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai'i in Kona, and Maui's Dowling Co. headquarters.

But while some builders and owners voluntarily follow LEED guidelines, there's disagreement on whether the city should make them mandatory.

Environmentalists and some building industry professionals encouraged the Planning and Sustainability Committee to pass the bill, arguing it would greatly improve energy efficiency and protect the environment.

Developers and homebuilders sent testimony opposing the bill, calling it too onerous and instead suggested incentives. City officials also said they could not support the bill, stating it would be too burdensome to administer and enforce.

Committee Chairman Gary Okino said that while the bill is deferred, the council will push through a resolution establishing an advisory group to help the city increase the use of sustainable planning, design and construction practices. The working group would be composed of building industry and environmental advocates, as well as land-use advocates, and would be required to submit recommendations to the council in 120 days.

Bill supporters said about a dozen municipalities have passed LEED building requirements, although none have yet been implemented. For instance, Washington, D.C., recently passed legislation requiring new commercial buildings 50,000 square feet or bigger to be LEED-certified starting in 2012.

Randy Ching of the Sierra Club Hawai'i group said his organization "would like to see at least a minimum standard mandated, but in view of the opposition testimony, we're certainly realistic enough to realize that for various reasons, the bill is obviously not going to survive as it's currently worded."

He said the creation of a working group is an encouraging sign.

Some have suggested that imposing LEED standards could add about 3 percent to the cost of a building. However, members of the Hawai'i chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the national nonprofit that created the LEED guidelines, said that figure was questionable and that any added costs on the front end would be more than made up by energy savings and other savings down the line.

Sidney Char, president of the American Institute of Architects' Honolulu division, said the national AIA has not supported requirements based on any particular rating system.

"We're not saying LEEDs is a bad system. It's a good system," he said. However, the national AIA discussion has centered on anti-trust issues and worries about creating a monopoly, Char said.

David Tanoue, the city's deputy director of planning and permitting, said that requiring all new buildings to be LEED-certified would "really put a tremendous burden on the department" and likely would force the agency to create a new division just to administer and regulate the requirement.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Lori Sunakoda said there are other logistical issues that may arise from implementing a LEED requirement in buildings, including establishing an appeals or reconsideration process.

Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, who introduced both the bill and the resolution, said he's happy to get a resolution passed and hopes some sort of requirement will be approved. Dela Cruz said he is also amenable to the idea of incentives.

"We got people to come to the table," he said. "Even if the bill doesn't pass in its current form, we're making headway."

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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