Sustainable or “green” building is the practice of generating resource-efficient and healthy
approaches to construction, renovation, operation, maintenance and demolition. It is typically applied to individual developments (building-specific), but is sometimes used to describe municipal scale development. Green building usually requires more up-front costs than conventional approaches. However, improvements in energy efficiency ultimately offset the initial higher capital requirements.
One of the most effective ways to facilitate more sustainable development is providing incentives for developers. Recognizing that the operation of buildings is responsible for 30-40 per cent of a city’s energy use, and approximately 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, municipalities can considerably reduce their carbon footprints with the right kind of incentives.
I carried out an internet search of North American municipal websites to get an idea of what some jurisdictions are doing to inspire developers to build green. Here are the most common incentives I found:
- Waiving building permit fees for installation of solar panels and small wind energy systems.
- Eliminating parking fees for 100 per cent electric and natural gas vehicles at coin-fed meters in key commercial areas.
- Offering reductions in building permit fees for City-approved energy-efficiency upgrades or LEED certification.
- Permitting an increase in base density of units in residential developments by incorporating energy efficiency, architectural creativity and innovation, and the use of natural features of the landscape.
- Expediting permitting process for sustainable (re) development of underutilized sites, including small-scale infill sites and brownfields.
- Implementing tax incentives such as 5 or 10 year freezes of assessed values if the development has sustainable features.
- Prorating development agreement fees bound by a contract between the municipality and the developer. An agreed upon percentage of the development levy is returned to the developer upon meeting identified sustainability standards.
- Offering limited term, cash incentives to promote specific community goals. For instance, provide incentive programs for a green roofs, energy retrofits, stormwater management etc. on “cash for performance basis”.
- Offering low-interest loans to off-set initial up-front green building features.
Reducing the carbon footprint of cities is an important element of Canadian planning policy. While this post is limited to how municipalities can incent green development – regional, provincial and federal governments also need to be part of the solution.
The province of Ontario’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) is one example. The Growth Plan, among other goals, aims to reduce development pressures on agricultural lands and natural areas by directing growth to existing urban areas; requires that new development creates complete communities that offers more choices in housing, better transit and a range of amenities closer to where people live thereby reducing automobile trips; and, encourages an integrated transit and transportation network that offers people more choices for getting around.
While the Growth Plan addresses new development, there is room to provide meaningful direction with respect to our existing building stock in Canada. In light of increasing oil prices, the need to address climate change and an increasing demand for city liveability, there has never been a better time to have a more coordinated green policy regime.
Andrzej Schreyer , R.P.P. is a senior land use and environmental planner with Hardy Stevenson and Associates and a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Canadian Institute of Planners. His experience includes developing and implementing public participation and communications plans, managing social impact assessments and land use studies in support of infrastructure projects and preparing community-based strategic plans.