Election year politics could impact the passage of a proposed sustainable building ordinance in Atlanta.
On July 6, the sustainable building ordinance was submitted to Atlanta’s city council as a way to encourage the development of greener buildings. But over the last five months, the ordinance has been stalled in the Community Development Committee.
The ordinance was held yet again at last week’s council committee meeting. The last opportunity for the bill to pass the committee this year will be Dec. 1, which just so happens to be election day for Atlanta’s run-offs.
The ordinance has to be approved by that committee before it can go to the full council for its Dec. 7 meeting, the last one of the year.
The importance of the green building ordinance is apparent in interviews with the two candidates running for mayor and for the two candidates running to be Atlanta City Council president.
“I’m supportive of the ordinance of where it’s trying to go and what it is trying to accomplish from a public policy perspective,” said Ceasar Mitchell, a city councilman who is running for council president. “What we have been trying to do over the last few months is to let the various stakeholders talk about the various issues. I think we are at a point where we need to make a decision.”
Clair Muller, a city councilwoman who also is in the run-off for City Council president, said she believes the ordinance will come before the full council before the end of the year.
“I’ve attended two presentations,” said Muller, who is not on the committee. “I think it is very well researched and written and has gained a great deal of consensus.”
Two mayoral candidates — City Councilwoman Mary Norwood and former state Sen. Kasim Reed — are well aware of the ordinance.
“I was ready to pass it last week, and I lobbied to do so,” said Norwood, who serves on the committee. “Sustainability has always been near and dear to my heart, long before now.”
Norwood said that because the ordinance’s mandatory provisions are being phased in over a long period of time , the economic impact on developments is minimized. It also will help position Atlanta to take better advantage of federal stimulus dollars. She also said that “we have to design our ordinances so people will build” in Atlanta.
Although the run-off elections will be held the same day as the Community Development Committee meeting, Norwood said she will be there. “I have that obligation,” said Norwood, who hopes the ordinance will be presented and approved up early in the meeting.
Reed, who has said sustainability also is one of his priorities, said he now intends to start focusing on the sustainable building ordinance. Since he is not on the city council, he has not been as involved as Mitchell, Muller and Norwood. City Council President Lisa Borders, who came in third in the mayor’s race, endorsed Reed last week.
“I’m going to spend some time with Lisa Borders to help advise me on the issues involved,” Reed said.
The Sustainable Building ordinance was drafted specifically for Atlanta with three goals in mind — to reduce the city’s heat island effect, to encourage energy efficiency and to promote water conservation.
It sets green building standards for new construction and renovation of commercial buildings and residential structures with more than three floors.
The ordinance provides four different options for builders to meet those standards, and it phases in the mandatory requirement over three years.
But parts of the development community have raised concerns about the ordinance increasing building costs at a time when the industry already is in an economic slump.
“We see our job and our focus is to bring the various parties to the table and build consensus in a collaborative setting,” said Lynnette Young, CEO of Sustainable Atlanta, which has been instrumental in helping draft the ordinance.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has made sustainability a priority of her administration. She has joined other U.S. mayors to sign the Kyoto Protocol agreement for climate change protection. And she has signed on to the Architecture 2030 challenge to commit the city to building only fossil-free fuel buildings in 20 years.
The passage of a sustainable building ordinance would be an important step in that direction. And it is an ordinance Franklin would love to sign before she leaves office in January.
Townsend Bailey, vice president of Sustainable Atlanta, said the ordinance will incorporate green building practices in the city’s existing building code.
“There’s nothing radical,” Bailey said “This ordinance will position Atlanta as an economically and environmentally competitive city where people want to locate and want to live. It’s about quality of life.”
Several cities around the country already have passed green building ordinances.
In fact, Bailey said that the cities of Doraville and Chamblee already have passed their own versions that mandate that new buildings need to be LEED certified. LEED is the nationally-recognized report card that has been established by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Mitchell said the council has taken its time with the ordinance to give the development community an opportunity to air its concerns and to try to address those concerns in the legislation. He does believe the Atlanta City Council will move forward with the ordinance at its upcoming meetings.
“People’s fears are raised when they see a piece of legislation held, but the council really does try to find a balance,” Mitchell said. “The council is supportive of efforts to create a sustainable city. I also think council wants to get something done before the end of the year.”