Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Do you want to know a secret...

For somebody who likes to share some of the most inconsequential details about his life with a bunch of random readers over the internet, I’ve been awfully reticent about something that’s been taking up a lot of my time recently.

I’m talking, of course, about my Wii. Yes, what started as a simple gift to myself for losing my first election has now blossomed into a full-blown obsession. I’ve already achieved pro status in Tennis and Bowling and am well on may way to becoming a Baseball pro, too (if only I could get that darn screwball to, er, screw).

Oh, all right, I’m just kidding (not about my pro status – I’m dead serious about that).

I’m actually talking about the county’s Commission on the Environment and Sustainability, to which I was appointed way back in February. For the first couple months, we met twice-monthly as a full group, but beginning in late April, the 21-member committee (not including those who are ex-officio) split into six subcommittees in order to focus our discussions on specific subject areas. Naturally, being a chronic volunteer, I signed up for two committees – Open Space and Land Management, and Green Building and Development.

And after many meetings over the last month-and-a-half, the commission finally has something to show for its work: draft committee reports! (see right sidebar.)

Although of interest to the wonky-few, the release of these draft reports is certain to be overshadowed by today’s announcement of new green building legislation.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced today a package of environmental legislation that he said will begin transforming buildings and residential developments in the county.

The three bills, to be introduced before the County Council in July, would require builders of any structure 20,000-square-feet or larger to meet minimum standards set by the Leadership in Energy Environmental Design (LEED).

In addition, the county would offer commercial developers property tax breaks of up to 75 percent for five years, depending on the environmental features a building has.

A second bill would require all government buildings that use 30 percent or more county funds, to meet a "silver" LEED standard. The law would not include school buildings, though Ulman said he would "strongly encourage" school officials to comply.

LEED standards use a point system to evaluate features that increase a building's environmental friendliness. A building can meet a basic standard, or go to silver, gold or platinum.

A third measure would encourage residential builders to design more environmentally friendly home developments. It would allow builders all over the county quicker permission to build if they use the techniques that limit energy use and water runoff, among others.

Ulman would do this by slowing development in the rural western county by 100 units a year and allowing builders all over the county to compete for those housing allocations. Howard allows no more than 1,850 new home allocations annually countywide, including 250 in the western county.
(I’ve got to hand it to Larry Carson here. The time-stamp on this article is 11:37 am, only a few hours after the morning announcement. One can’t help but wonder, however, if the presence of a blogger in the room had anything to do with his quick report. I like to think so, but I also like to dwell on my own sense of self-importance.)

As a member of the green building subcommittee, I was fortunate enough to see this legislation while it was still in draft form and was given an opportunity to provide feedback and suggest changes. But if you’ve got any problems with it, please address your concerns to the commission’s executive director.

In all seriousness, what do you think about the proposal? Most of the committee members agreed that we needed a balance of mandates and incentives, which I think we achieved with mandatory LEED Certification as the floor and LEED Platinum (and a 75 percent tax break) as the ceiling.

What’s more, the annual transition of 100 units from the west to the east as an incentive for green residential neighborhoods is very welcome. I know this won’t ultimately limit total development in the west, but it will slow it down some, perhaps giving the county more opportunities to buy easements, and it will foster better development practices in the county’s eastern half. Win-win, unless you’re a developer waiting for allocations in the west.

Also of note is the schedule for the commission’s public dialogue sessions. I can’t find it online yet, but here is what we were told today:
  • Thursday, June 21, 7 pm, Glenwood Library
  • Saturday, June 23, 11 am, Savage Library
  • Monday, June 25, 7 pm, Central Library
  • Wednesday, June 27, 7 pm, Miller Library
  • Thursday, June 28, 7 pm, East Columbia Library


Anonymous said...

yadda yadda.

Now let's do a post on how getting to know reporters is like the 7 stages of grief, but ends with the realization that they know more than what they're allowed to put into print.

Anonymous said...

Before raising the prices to build new houses, why doesn't he do something about the lack of affordable housing?

What about property tax credits for affordable housing instead of this "green" proposal?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a report on affordable housing last year BEFORE the green report?

Anonymous said...

I think the green proposal will divert property tax revenue from where we need it most: affordable housing.

Also, why did he just spring this on everyone? Why not some discussion and public input before a press announcement? Can't he focus on doing a good job rather than getting himself publicity?

hayduke said...

Be still my beating heart. All this love for affordable housing makes me a very happy blogger, unless, as my cynical instincts want to believe, it's really just disguised dislike of Ulman.

Anyway, although I can't speak for Ulman, I can answer a lot of your questions.

1. This legislation will not raise the cost of housing, except for potentially in the west where development will be slowed -- not that there's any affordable housing out there anyway. Developers of residential properties will not be required to build green, but they will have the option to. And if they do build green, they will be able to tap into a 100-unit allocation set-aside (taken from the West's annual allocation) in order to build quicker. The only mandates are on commerical building.

2. Property tax revenue being diverted from affordable housing: This is the case only if you think the county spends its property tax revenue on two things: the environment and affordable housing. Which is not the case. Also, the tax impact of this legslation will not be major, unless every developer starts buiding a ton of LEED Platinum buildings each year. What's more, who's to say a solution to affordable housing will involve property tax revenue?

3. Involving the public: Actually this legislation was presented to the Green Building subcommittee of the Environmental Commission, which includes several citizens, as well as some developers. It was also presented to a local citizens group. And have you forgotten the Transition team public hearing? There was widespread support for stronger environmental policies, including green building. Regardless, I actually think it's a stretch to say it's bad form to develop a policy, announce it to the public, and then present it to the county council, which then solicits input from the public. That's kind of how things usually work, but in this case there was a lot of public interaction before the announcement.

4. What about affordable housing? As I said above, there has been strongly expressed support for green building legislation since the beginning of the year. In addition, this legislation is fairly easy to put together. Affordable housing, which has a fair amount of support from the community (at least until they realize what's usually involved to address the problem), is a much tougher nut to crack. The Housing Task Force's report is not forgotten, but its recommendations are going to be more difficult to implement and find funding for (it's going to take much more than a chunk of property tax revenue), especially given the growth constraints we face. If this were 1970 and we had a lot of development potential, creating affordable housing would be easy. But it's not and there are very few models that HoCo can look to to base a program off of.

Anonymous said...

To point number 4, there was a stronger expressed support for affordable housing since BEFORE this year. Also, are you saying it's too late for affordable housing but not to late for green building?

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of it. According to the post, it was not announced publicly beforehand.

Affordable housing should involve property tax revenue. What other revenue should it involve?