Atlanta City Council misses opportunity to pass sustainable building ordinance

By Guest Columnist LYNNETTE YOUNG, CEO and executive director of Sustainable Atlanta

For the last 18 months, Sustainable Atlanta has engaged leaders and experts from Atlanta’s academic, business, governmental sectors and non-profits to work on updating Atlanta’s current building code to make the city a better place to live, work and play.

Unfortunately, the Atlanta City Council missed a tremendous opportunity by shelving the Atlanta Sustainable Building Ordinance (ASBO) during their last meeting as a Council on December 7, 2009.

lynnette young photo
By making the decision to not pass this piece of legislation that protects the health and welfare of all Atlantans, they have marred their legacy. They ignored an opportunity to address some of the most critical issues facing the city such as human health, water conservation, energy efficiency and heat island effect. In doing so, they have compromised the quality of life we will leave for future generations.

All parties agree that the ordinance is a technically sound piece of legislation. Sustainable Atlanta worked to ensure the ASBO involved compromise and consensus-based agreement amongst all parties.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to please everyone. The point where compromise fails is the place where leadership becomes necessary when determining the best course of action. This is where the City Council ignored the opportunity and failed to provide needed guidance. Now the ordinance will have to be reintroduced by the new council or new administration

The ASBO would impact the health of Atlantans’ in addition to the city’s environmental and economic sustainability. Numerous studies and articles have explored the link between building quality and worker health. Research shows that LEED rated buildings help enhance the indoor environment and reduce absenteeism, respiratory ailments, allergies and asthma.

Furthermore, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named Atlanta the Asthma Capital of the U.S. in 2007 and ranked Atlanta in the top 10 worst cities for asthma in the last four years. The ASBO would have directly addressed two causes of Atlanta’s poor air quality by mandating higher energy efficiency standards and minimizing the heat island effect.

One of the most important sections of the ordinance addressed water use. In light of the recent federal judge ruling that Metro Atlanta communities are not entitled to water use drawn from Lake Lanier beyond 1970 levels, water conservation should be among our elected leaders’ top priorities. In addition, the ASBO would lessen the burden on municipal water supply and wastewater systems by reducing the overall use of portable water within new buildings by 40 percent.

Also, let’s not forget the ranking from Forbes magazine in November that called Atlanta “the most toxic city in the country.” Rankings should not dictate public policy, but they do serve as frames of reference. Whether Atlanta is the most toxic city or not is irrelevant; it shouldn’t even be a contender. Unfortunately, perception is reality.

The ASBO would also help ensure Atlanta’s position as a leader in proven and accepted building practices while improving Atlanta’s environmental and economic competitiveness.

The longer Atlanta waits to update its existing building code, the further behind we will fall. While Atlanta’s development community deserves praise for their leadership in green building, we cannot rest on past laurels. In 2008, SustainLane ranked Atlanta third in the country for green building, falling from the city’s number one ranking in 2007. It is also important to note that the majority of the buildings contributing to this ranking were institutional and not private.

Atlanta needs to focus on the triple bottom line of sustainability: people, profit and planet to attract the best employers and jobs – particularly in communities that are traditionally underserved. This measure would improve Atlanta’s competitiveness with other leading cities and even provide a competitive edge to businesses.

As we enter 2010 and transition into a new administration and council, now is the time to look ahead. We must think about the future of this city we call home. In my years of service in city government, I know our officials sometimes miss the boat.

Even so, there is still an opportunity for the City Council to look towards protecting the health and welfare of all Atlantans. This is only one piece of legislation where we need city leadership to move us forward in making Atlanta a more viable city.

I hope 2010 is the year our elected officials work together and provide the leadership to pass legislation that will protect Atlantans’ health, environment and wallets.

Note to readers: Lynnette Young wrote the first guest column for SaportaReport last February. So glad she’s back for an encore.

About Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.
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8 comments
ATL
ATL

We need this ordinance now-- we are falling behind other cities-- Among them our primary competition, in attracting business and development... If Dallas (TX) has done this then WHAT are WE waiting for? The developers opposing this are trying to build a case against passage with half-truths and inaccuracies-- don't beleive it-- support the Atlanta Sustainable Building Ordinace (ABSO)-- good for the environment AND good for business...

Shane Totten, AIA
Shane Totten, AIA

As a member of the all volunteer task force that authored the proposed ASBO, I feel it's important to share with the community that, in fact, the task force did engage the NPU's and the real estate community during the process. It's true that there were no NPU members on the task force because the document is indeed very technical in nature. The proposed ordinance is an amendment to the building codes in effect in Atlanta.

Therefore, the task force is composed of primarily technically oriented professionals with experience in design and construction in Atlanta and with sustainable technologies. The ULI, a professional organization composed primarily of real estate developers, was represented on the task force. One of our Advisory Board members is also a real estate developer.

NPU's were visited throughout the summer by members of the task force to share the intended impact of the ordinance: healthier buildings and communities, resource conservation, and reduced burden on the public infrastructure. The task force also presented to APAB and offered to follow up with any NPU wanting more information.

The development community was among the stakeholders included from the very beginning. Throughout the process, the task force hosted eight public meetings where feedback was solicited. One of these meetings was specifically aimed at the development community.

Once the final draft of the language was submitted by the task force, we spent more than three months negotiating with representatives of the development community in the hope of creating a consensus driven ordinance proposal. In the end, the development community wanted a voluntary ordinance with financial incentives for compliance. Such measures rest in the hands of city leaders not volunteer task force members.

It is also in the hands of the city leaders to determine a vision for the future of quality of life and business in Atlanta. Federal agencies, states, and municipalities across the country are adopting sustainable building strategies and legislation because the proof is in regarding the benefits of sustainable buildings. They are win win for all involved and do not have to represent financial burdens on the developers and owners. In fact, ask the most prominent developers in town whether or not sustainable buildings work for them. Ask Fortune 500 companies what type of buildings they prefer to occupy. At a national level even the real estate lobbyists, such as ICSC, IFMA, etc. are encouraging sustainability practices as means to improve the bottom line for people, profit, and planet.

Ed
Ed

I want to clarify some items related to the ASBO and, in doing so, provide some answers to the current opinion-based commentary. I will focus on Necessity, Motivation, Inclusion, and Opinion to address the fallacy within previous posts.

1. NECESSITY
The necessity of this legislation can be proven and validated through multiple sources that are readily available... online or otherwise. I will not get too involved in that process but will instead offer the following summation as the most succinct summary I can provide in this format. I've tried to provide links where necessary if you want to do further research related to sustainable building ordinances.

JUNE 2006
The US Conference of Mayors (as a non-partisan representation of cities with populations of 30,000 or greater) unanimously accepted the goals of ARCH2030 to acknowledge local, regional, national, and international outcry for a more ecologically respectful future for the U.S. [The document may be found at: http://www.architecture2030.org/downloads/USCM_Resolution_50.pdf]

The challenges and opportunities before us are great (http://www.cec.org/files/PDF//GB_Report_EN.pdf) and therefore inaction related to the building industry - the largest energy consuming sector of business in North America - is not an option. This is the first step in an organic and difficult process for Atlanta, but we have to make positive steps and the ASBO is one.

MARCH 2007
Mayor Shirley Franklin signed the USCM Resolution #50, representing all citizens (and therefore, NPUs) of Atlanta, making a commitment that Fulton County will be more ecologically sensitive to resource management within the building sector and become a leader in this effort.

JUNE 2008
Ed Mazria, of Architecture 2030, published a resource guide to help municipalities meet these goals. (http://www.architecture2030.org/pdfs/2030Challenge_Codes_WP.pdf) See TABLE A, specifically.

JUNE 2008
Through the leadership of Sustainable Atlanta (www.sustainableatlanta.org), using the ARCH2030 resource guide and other research into peer cities who have undertaken a revision to their building codes to become more environmentally responsible, a Lead Partners Team was created to oversee the creation of this revised building code ordinance (ASBO).

2. MOTIVATION

My efforts as a member of the Lead Partners Team have been voluntary for the past 18 months and continue to be pro-bono for all work related to creating this document. This is true, I believe, for all members of this team.

The Lead Partner Team was created as a cross-section of experts from a variety of building industry perspectives. We continue to work towards creating a technically sound document that can be useful to the City of Atlanta and its inhabitants.

This team is responsible for the drafting, vetting, and reviewing the ASBO document and continues its volunteer efforts to address community and industry concerns... even today.

3. INCLUSION

JULY 2008
The first public meeting was held to seek community concern and feedback. Additional public meetings were held in September and October of 2008.

SEPTEMBER 2008
A draft of the document was posted online for feedback.
Additionally, FAQ’s, peer city reviews, and fact sheets were posted online. (See the CURRENT ASBO link for this data on www.SustainableAtlanta.org)

Additional drafts were posted in October and November of 2008 which included revisions based upon this outreach. Redlines of the ASBO are available online to provide transparency in this process.

JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2009
Revised drafts of ASBO were published reflecting feedback from small business interests, 3 charettes, and email reviews ranging from individual private citizens to larger development interest groups.

NPU information sessions:

MARCH – JULY 2009
Members of the Lead Partners Team visited NPUs to provide as much data to the neighborhoods as possible and to solicit feedback.

My own presentations to NPU R and N went really well and were very positive, with my hosts being appreciative for having been informed. The primary concerns of the NPUs we visited dealt with single family homes and smaller commercial interests. As indicated on the cover of the ASBO, these are explicitly excluded from the ordinance. The NPU presentations included two large display boards clarifying the FAQ /Facts and a 5 minute verbal summary of the document intent and scope. We left behind contact information for questions and comments, as well as the sustainable atlanta website address, so that all in attendance could remain up to date.

It is important to note that there should be no negative connotation associated with “for information only” efforts.

As many of you know, NPUs are citizen advisory councils that make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council regarding zoning, land use, and other planning issues. The ASBO is a building code ordinance, not a zoning document, and therefore could have been drafted and adopted without any NPU notification. "For information only" sessions are intended to help disseminate data that, in most cases, would not reach these active citizen groups. We actively sought NPU response and feedback and when received used it as an informative component to the drafting of this ordinance.

Beyond NPU meetings:

• Sustainable Atlanta presented to the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board (APAB) which has representation from every NPU;

• The Sustainable Building Taskforce included the NPU presidents and APAB representatives on their email lists to keep them informed of the process; and

• The taskforce invited these individuals to all public meetings hosted by Sustainable Atlanta and the Department of Planning and Community Development.

JULY 06, 2009
ORDINANCE 09-0-1233

Included in the ordinance are multiple concessions and compromises. These are a reflection of all efforts documented above.

4. LASTLY, MY OPINIONS:

It saddens me to think that anyone would view these steps as unnecessary, non-inclusive, and/or profit driven.

Even more disappointing is to witness a lack of vigorous and vocal support for efforts that will directly benefit the citizens of Atlanta. Efforts that were requested from the highest level of our city government... only to be shelved / dismissed by our past council.

Atlanta is already VERY FAR BEHIND other cities who are taking the lead towards new and more ecologically sensitive industries, infrastructures, and businesses. (see Government Initiatives and Guidelines at this link: http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=76)

It's time to pull off the band-aid so our city can heal from decades of neglect and profiteering.

We need truthful and informed leadership in our neighborhoods and in our government.

Perhaps this new administration and council will take to heart the needs of future generations and perform their elected duties with a distant view as well as a view towards our immediate needs during these difficult times.

It is my sincere hope that this post and the ASBO will assist in that effort.

Ed
Ed

I want to clarify some items related to the ASBO and, in doing so, provide some answers to the current opinion-based commentary. I will focus on Necessity, Motivation, Inclusion, and Opinion to address the fallacy within previous posts.

1. NECESSITY
The necessity of this legislation can be proven and validated through multiple sources that are readily available... online or otherwise. I will not get too involved in that process but will instead offer the following summation as the most succinct summary I can provide in this format. I've tried to provide links where necessary if you want to do further research related to sustainable building ordinances.

JUNE 2006
The US Conference of Mayors (as a non-partisan representation of cities with populations of 30,000 or greater) unanimously accepted the goals of ARCH2030 to acknowledge local, regional, national, and international outcry for a more ecologically respectful future for the U.S. [The document may be found at: http://www.architecture2030.org/downloads/USCM_Resolution_50.pdf]

The challenges and opportunities before us are great (http://www.cec.org/files/PDF//GB_Report_EN.pdf) and therefore inaction related to the building industry - the largest energy consuming sector of business in North America - is not an option. This is the first step in an organic and difficult process for Atlanta, but we have to make positive steps and the ASBO is one.

MARCH 2007
Mayor Shirley Franklin signed the USCM Resolution #50, representing all citizens (and therefore, NPUs) of Atlanta, making a commitment that Fulton County will be more ecologically sensitive to resource management within the building sector and become a leader in this effort.

JUNE 2008
Ed Mazria, of Architecture 2030, published a resource guide to help municipalities meet these goals. (http://www.architecture2030.org/pdfs/2030Challenge_Codes_WP.pdf) See TABLE A, specifically.

JUNE 2008
Through the leadership of Sustainable Atlanta (www.sustainableatlanta.org), using the ARCH2030 resource guide and other research into peer cities who have undertaken a revision to their building codes to become more environmentally responsible, a Lead Partners Team was created to oversee the creation of this revised building code ordinance (ASBO).

2. MOTIVATION

My efforts as a member of the Lead Partners Team have been voluntary for the past 18 months and continue to be pro-bono for all work related to creating this document. This is true, I believe, for all members of this team.

The Lead Partner Team was created as a cross-section of experts from a variety of building industry perspectives. We continue to work towards creating a technically sound document that can be useful to the City of Atlanta and its inhabitants.

This team is responsible for the drafting, vetting, and reviewing the ASBO document and continues its volunteer efforts to address community and industry concerns... even today.

3. INCLUSION

JULY 2008
The first public meeting was held to seek community concern and feedback. Additional public meetings were held in September and October of 2008.

SEPTEMBER 2008
A draft of the document was posted online for feedback.
Additionally, FAQ’s, peer city reviews, and fact sheets were posted online. (See the CURRENT ASBO link for this data on www.SustainableAtlanta.org)

Additional drafts were posted in October and November of 2008 which included revisions based upon this outreach. Redlines of the ASBO are available online to provide transparency in this process.

JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2009
Revised drafts of ASBO were published reflecting feedback from small business interests, 3 charettes, and email reviews ranging from individual private citizens to larger development interest groups.

NPU information sessions:

MARCH – JULY 2009
Members of the Lead Partners Team visited NPUs to provide as much data to the neighborhoods as possible and to solicit feedback.

My own presentations to NPU R and N went really well and were very positive, with my hosts being appreciative for having been informed. The primary concerns of the NPUs we visited dealt with single family homes and smaller commercial interests. As indicated on the cover of the ASBO, these are explicitly excluded from the ordinance. The NPU presentations included two large display boards clarifying the FAQ /Facts and a 5 minute verbal summary of the document intent and scope. We left behind contact information for questions and comments, as well as the sustainable atlanta website address, so that all in attendance could remain up to date.

It is important to note that there should be no negative connotation associated with “for information only” efforts.

As many of you know, NPUs are citizen advisory councils that make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council regarding zoning, land use, and other planning issues. The ASBO is a building code ordinance, not a zoning document, and therefore could have been drafted and adopted without any NPU notification. "For information only" sessions are intended to help disseminate data that, in most cases, would not reach these active citizen groups. We actively sought NPU response and feedback and when received used it as an informative component to the drafting of this ordinance.

Beyond NPU meetings:

• Sustainable Atlanta presented to the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board (APAB) which has representation from every NPU;

• The Sustainable Building Taskforce included the NPU presidents and APAB representatives on their email lists to keep them informed of the process; and

• The taskforce invited these individuals to all public meetings hosted by Sustainable Atlanta and the Department of Planning and Community Development.

JULY 06, 2009
ORDINANCE 09-0-1233

Included in the ordinance are multiple concessions and compromises. These are a reflection of all efforts documented above.

4. LASTLY, MY OPINIONS:

It saddens me to think that anyone would view these steps as unnecessary, non-inclusive, and/or profit driven.

Even more disappointing is to witness a lack of vigorous and vocal support for efforts that will directly benefit the citizens of Atlanta. In this case, efforts that were requested from the highest level of our city government... only to be shelved / dismissed by our past council.

Atlanta is already VERY FAR BEHIND other cities who are taking the lead towards new and more ecologically sensitive industries, infrastructures, and businesses. (see Government Initiatives and Guidelines at this link: http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=76)

It's time to pull off the band-aid so our city can heal from decades of neglect and profiteering.

We need truthful and informed leadership in our neighborhoods and in our government.

Perhaps this new administration and council will take to heart the needs of future generations and perform their elected duties with a distant view as well as a view towards our immediate needs during these difficult times.

It is my sincere hope that this post and the ASBO will assist in that effort... and with the "pertinent and relatable" facts presented herein I hope we can all march to City Hall and demand action together!

WestEndRez
WestEndRez

The ASBO is actually an important first step to incentivize sustainable development in Atlanta. Contrary to previous posts, the ordinance would offer developers fast-track permitting, marketing recognition by the county, and in the future when the city gets its finances in order, perhaps monetary incentives in the form of rebates, credits, and reduced development plan review fees.
The ordinance also goes a long way to push for sustainable development in badly needed and often-forgotten areas like the WestEnd.
The ordinance would do a lot to protect the health and safety of Atlanta residents and should be supported

Pericles
Pericles

Ms. Young, you're woefully off-base regarding the ASBO. You imply that the water conservation provisions would somehow impact or mitigate the effects of the ruling in the Lake Lanier lawsuit. Yet in the final draft of the ASBO, the water conservation measures you tout wouldn't have become mandatory until July 1, 2013 -- one year AFTER the Judge Magnuson's deadline.

You also cite the Forbes.com "most toxic city" article, but did you even bother to read it? Here's a quote from the fifth paragraph:
"While the Atlanta metro area takes top honors for toxicity, don't blame the city alone. The Atlanta metro includes the city of Marietta, the site of chemical plants and metal coaters. The city has toxic release levels higher than those of the principal city of Atlanta, in spite of a population 13% the size of Atlanta's."

The ASBO was little more than a transparent attempt by your lobbying firm, Damespointe, and its cadre of LEED consultants to profit from the passage of a overly bureaucratic and unnecessary ordinance.

JM
JM

I am sad to say often the NPU's are incredibly incompetent. However, I agree with Rick in one other respect: they forgot the real stakeholder, namely the real estate business community which would be so affected and driven further into bankruptcy. Fortunately, the intervention of the business community prevented some incredibly bad policy from becoming law. The ASBO would have destroyed jobs, destroyed the value of real estate, and added an incredibly complex administrative maze to an already incredibly complex process to get a new building built or an existing building renovated. RIP

Rick Hudson
Rick Hudson

What Ms. Young failed to mention is that they forgot several stakeholders during their 18 month process. The NPU's, The Neighborhoods, and the Citizens. We've been told by some of the consultants that "it was too technical for the NPU's and Neighborhoods to understand; and besides it had nothing to do with Zoning so they did not have to go to the NPU's and Neighborhoods". The Consultants did come but with 2 very different ordinances and they were prepared for "information only presentations" and not the thoughtful review and comment that ususally is afforded to us.

We have some very intelligent people in the NPU's and Neighborhoods and taking the time to build consensus is well worth it if it truly is for the improvement of all of Atlanta.

Look what the NPU's, Neighborhoods, and developers have done for sustainable building in 08 without any update. Anything commercial coming out of a certain Historic Neighborhood was required to be LEED or Earthcraft Multi Family. We know how to work in our own communities.

Work with us and educate us on why this is so good and provide us with pertinent and relatable facts and we will go marching to City Hall with you to demand it. Continue to try and cram this down our throats and we will continue to feel put upon and neglected.

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