Creating Green, Affordable Neighborhoods: Get Funded, Get Educated, Get Started

Casey Studhalter
Associate, Neighborhood Development
U.S. Green Building Council

The benefits of green building and smarter neighborhood planning and design should be available to everyone, regardless of household income level. We know that green communities foster good health through walkable streets, transit connectivity and proximity to resources. Green building and infrastructure reduce carbon emissions and conserve energy and resources. Collectively, these green neighborhood features drive community costs down and create cohesive, active settings. Shouldn’t everyone have access to green neighborhoods?

Sunnydale HOPE SF, a 2010 AGN recipient, was the first US project to
achieve certification under LEED ND 2009.
Illustration by Jeffrey Michael George

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Much of the nation’s affordable housing stock is outdated, resource inefficient, poorly connected to transit, jobs or neighborhood amenities, and in some cases harmful to inhabitants. The LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system seeks to change that by serving as a guide for redevelopment of former public housing complexes or development of new mixed-income communities. In addition to prioritizing the selection of infill sites, previously developed sites, and locations with transit access and walkable compact development, the rating system rewards projects for including a certain portion of affordable and workforce housing. But unfortunately, in many cases, nonprofit developers and public housing authorities don’t have the experience, capacity or funding to pursue certification.

The Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program was created in 2010 to help developers of affordable housing projects bridge that gap by providing financial, educational and technical support. Ten grant recipients, announced in November 2010, have been actively working towards pursuing LEED for Neigborhood Development for their mixed-income development projects and several have commenced construction. These really are inspirational projects where the nonprofit developers and their partners are truly making a difference in their communities. One of the projects from the first round of funding, Sunnydale HOPE SF in San Francisco, was the first project in the US to achieve a stage of LEED-ND certification for their plans to revitalize the city’s largest and most dilapidated housing projects. Sunnydale’s redevelopment plan includes on-site replacement of all public housing units to ensure no displacement of the current residents whose average income falls below 20% of the area median income, an entirely new and reconnected street grid and a site-wide green stormwater management system.

Through the generous support of the Bank of America Foundation, USGBC is excited to announce the opening of the 2012 Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program. Building on the success of the first round of projects, USGBC plans to award another 10 grants this November. This is your opportunity get involved.

A review committee of industry leaders will award 10 projects with the grant funding generously donated by Bank of America, which includes:

  • Cash award of $25,000 to be used to pursue LEED for Neighborhood Development certification
  • Fully refunded LEED for Neighborhood Development project registration fee by GBCI

  • Complimentary LEED for Neighborhood Development Reference Guide
  • Registration for an online LEED for Neighborhood Development webinar
  • Registration for a LEED for Neighborhood Development workshop
  • $300 discount on USGBC national membership
  • Access to USGBC technical assistance and monthly conference calls
  • One registration for the National Affordable Green Homes & Sustainable Communities Summit during the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in San Francisco, CA

Are you involved in a project pursuing LEED for Neighborhood Development that incorporates affordable housing? Are you interested in pursuing LEED but would benefit from grant funding? Then please consider applying for the Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program. Applications are due August 10, 2012 by 5 p.m. PT.

Learn more about the Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program »
Dive in to the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system »

Green Development Has A Community Motivated

San Diego‘s Village at Market Creek is a classic example of the type of mixed-use development espoused by the field of New Urbanism, encompassing residential, commercial, and recreational spaces, connected via walkable streets and easy access to public transportation. It’s a combination of features that works to increase quality of life for residents while decreasing their overall carbon footprint, and it’s also the sort of thing that tends to earn green certification through the U.S. Green Building Council‘s LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) program, as this development has at the Silver level.

The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, a non-profit organization, served as the developer on this project, but the plans, processes, and “assets of community change” have been owned and led by the residents of this southeastern San Diego community. The plan is to transform up to 84 contiguous acres of blighted properties into a vibrant cultural “village” that includes different types of housing and retail as well as open spaces oriented around the Euclid transit hub.

The plan also calls for the creation of 1,000 affordable homes, 2,000 jobs and 250 new businesses, 5,500 linear feet of restored wetlands and 1.6 million square feet of new construction.

The Village at Market Creek

image via Village at Market Creek

The effort began in 1997, and since then, teams of more than 5,000 residents have worked in partnership with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation to turn the widespread blight in this “historically under-invested community” into an economically vibrant community that offers the goods, services, homes, and spaces the community had on its wish list. Though it’s not yet complete,

The Village, as a result of its activities, generated $92.7 million in annual economic activity in 2010, recapturing dollars that would otherwise flow out into other areas.

As you might expect, this development has attracted some attention. In 2010, The Village was named as one of only five “Gold” Catalyst Projects by the California Sustainable Strategies Pilot Program and has received area-wide cleanup grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It has taken on the role of a national demonstration project for local involvement in neighborhood revitalization, and currently attracts hundreds of visitors interested in learning more about the community-based approach to sustainable development.


LEED-ND Study Examines Entire Metro Area

I’ve been looking at LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) in some detail lately, as evidenced by posts examining the system’s fees and also my first experience planning the certification process. While I’m starting to get a feel for the system, my efforts pale in comparison to the work of Brendon Slotterback over at NetDensity.net:

Twin Cities LEED-ND Eligibility
Areas Meeting LEED ND Minimum Eligibility Requirements in the Twin Cities

Brendon’s apparently excellent GIS mapping skills allowed him to progressively eliminate areas ineligible for LEED certification due to non-compliance with various Smart Location and Linkages category prerequisites, and the result is the chart above of eligible areas across the entire Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. You can read all of the four part series by clicking the links below or through this summary page on his website.

Part 1: Includes a brief overview of LEED-ND and the HUD decision to begin scoring grant, and then creates a map excluding all areas in the region that do not meet wetland/floodplain avoidance, agricultural conservation, and endangered species habitat protection requirements (i.e. examines compliance with SLLp2-SLLp5).
Part 2: Focuses almost exclusively on the SLLp1, Smart Location and Linkages prerequisite and its myriad requirements.
Part 3: Examines areas that may technically be eligible for certification but have strong market barriers due to poor connectivity or low density in the surrounding areas.
Part 4: Brings it all together and looks forward to zoning and policy recommendations that would help foster greater adoption of these practices in the future.

Does LEED-ND Get It Right?

I found Brendon’s site via commentary from Kaid Benfield on his own blog over at the NRDC. He was particularly interested in the ability for small towns and rural areas to meet the SLL requirements, and judging by this post he feels that the system works.

These posts led to a lively discussion on a local planning list I subscribe to, where one respondent was upset that a local new urbanist community planned by DPZ, Habersham, would not qualify due to the fact that it’s not an infill project surrounded by dense development. It’s an excellent development internally, not far enough away from the existing town to in my opinion be considered contributing to sprawl, but it is located on a greenfield surrounded by river and marsh on one side and not much other than forests on the other. Our conversation happened to align with a visit from Steve Mouzon, author of The Original Green, who summed up the discussion well:

Currently, LEED-ND is based primarily (but not entirely) on the assumption that most meaningful interactions occur outside your neighborhood. So Pienza would fail. As would Key West. As would any number of New Urbanist places, including Habersham… LEED-ND doesn’t “trust” very much that the developer will, over time, be able to capture very much interaction… LEED-ND doesn’t have very good accounting of time at this time.

It’s clear to me that LEED-ND requires not only good development practices but is also fairly strict about where such development occurs. I see this as a positive but am very interested to hear your thoughts. Should Key West, a town that could literally be wiped off the map if sea level rise predictions come true, be a place that LEED-ND should foster? Should LEED-ND be more forgiving if what’s developed is significant enough to create its own town center, or should we only encourage growth of existing town centers? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

Learn more at RealLifeLEED.com!

LEED-ND Study Examines Entire Metro Area

I’ve been looking at LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) in some detail lately, as evidenced by posts examining the system’s fees and also my first experience planning the certification process. While I’m starting to get a feel for the system, my efforts pale in comparison to the work of Brendon Slotterback over at NetDensity.net:

Twin Cities LEED-ND Eligibility

Areas Meeting LEED ND Minimum Eligibility Requirements in the Twin Cities

Brendon’s apparently excellent GIS mapping skills allowed him to progressively eliminate areas ineligible for LEED certification due to non-compliance with various Smart Location and Linkages category prerequisites, and the result is the chart above of eligible areas across the entire Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. You can read all of the four part series by clicking the links below or through this summary page on his website.

  • Part 1: Includes a brief overview of LEED-ND and the HUD decision to begin scoring grant, and then creates a map excluding all areas in the region that do not meet wetland/floodplain avoidance, agricultural conservation, and endangered species habitat protection requirements (i.e. examines compliance with SLLp2-SLLp5).
  • Part 2: Focuses almost exclusively on the SLLp1, Smart Location and Linkages prerequisite and its myriad requirements.
  • Part 3: Examines areas that may technically be eligible for certification but have strong market barriers due to poor connectivity or low density in the surrounding areas.
  • Part 4: Brings it all together and looks forward to zoning and policy recommendations that would help foster greater adoption of these practices in the future.

Does LEED-ND Get It Right?

I found Brendon’s site via commentary from Kaid Benfield on his own blog over at the NRDC. He was particularly interested in the ability for small towns and rural areas to meet the SLL requirements, and judging by this post he feels that the system works.

These posts led to a lively discussion on a local planning list I subscribe to, where one respondent was upset that a local new urbanist community planned by DPZ, Habersham, would not qualify due to the fact that it’s not an infill project surrounded by dense development. It’s an excellent development internally, not far enough away from the existing town to in my opinion be considered contributing to sprawl, but it is located on a greenfield surrounded by river and marsh on one side and not much other than forests on the other. Our conversation happened to align with a visit from Steve Mouzon, author of The Original Green, who summed up the discussion well:

Currently, LEED-ND is based primarily (but not entirely) on the assumption that most meaningful interactions occur outside your neighborhood. So Pienza would fail. As would Key West. As would any number of New Urbanist places, including Habersham… LEED-ND doesn’t “trust” very much that the developer will, over time, be able to capture very much interaction… LEED-ND doesn’t have very good accounting of time at this time.

It’s clear to me that LEED-ND requires not only good development practices but is also fairly strict about where such development occurs. I see this as a positive but am very interested to hear your thoughts. Should Key West, a town that could literally be wiped off the map if sea level rise predictions come true, be a place that LEED-ND should foster? Should LEED-ND be more forgiving if what’s developed is significant enough to create its own town center, or should we only encourage growth of existing town centers? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

A LEED for Neighborhood Development Project Planning Guide

Today I was tasked with determining the implications that pursuing LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) certification would have on current, preliminary plans for a roughly 100 acre mixed use development including a retail center, offices, and a mix of single- and multi-family residential. Though generally aware of LEED-ND this is the first time I’ve tried to apply the rating system to a specific project, and I figured many of you will be in the same boat sooner or later. With that in mind, here’s what has jumped out at me as the major issues we’ll need to discuss with the client. If you have absolutely no idea what LEED-ND is or what it attempts to do, I strongly recommend checking out this short video before continuing.

The Bluth's were never known for their commitment to sustainability
The Bluth’s Development would probably not qualify for LEED-ND

To create this analysis and resulting post I’ve been relying on the rating system document, the LEED-ND Reference Guide, and the nine page LEED-ND Certification FAQ. I would strongly suggest reading the “Introduction” and “Getting Started” sections in the reference guide and the FAQ as they contain a gold mine of administrative issues that you’ll want to know about at some point. I’m hitting the high points in this post, but there’s a great deal more info that you’ll want to at least skim so you don’t run into any nasty surprises. If you’re not aware already, it’s nearly impossible to pursue LEED certification without purchasing the appropriate reference guide for it.

Understanding the Process

Unlike most LEED rating systems, LEED-ND uses a three phase review system, though depending on where you are in the planning stage you may not need all three. Each review follows the same format as the commercial LEED rating systems (i.e. submit review, receive preliminary comments from GBCI, amend as necessary and resubmit, receive final comments from GBCI, and appeal or accept the rating as granted).

Stage 1 – Conditional Approval of a LEED-ND Plan (Optional)

This review is designed to “help the developer build a case for entitlement among land-use planning authorities, as well as attract financing and occupant communities”, and can only be pursued if “no more than 50% of the project’s total new and/or renovated building square footage has land-use entitlements… for the specific types and quantities of… land uses proposed.” According to the rating system language, entitlements are defined as “the existing or granted right to use property for specific types and quantities of residential and nonresidential land uses.” I read this a “zoning is in place”.

Confused? So was I at first, but basically all this is saying is that if zoning is already in place for more than 50% of your total project as it will ultimately be built, you skip Stage 1 and move to Stage 2. Their definition of entitlements is based on planned building area, not land area. So even though I may have 75 acres out of 100 zoned how I want, if over 50% of my building square footage is in those last 25 acres (perhaps the neighborhood core?) then I’m still eligible for Stage 1. If zoning is not in place for 50% of the total square footage of the project, you may pursue this certification, but you’re not required to. The impression I get reading through the guide is that the only people who should pursue a Stage 1 review are those developers who need help convincing local boards or zoning administrators that their plans are indeed sustainable and could benefit from a USGBC seal of approval of said plans.

Stage 2 – Pre-Certified LEED-ND Plan (Optional)

You can’t proceed with Stage 2 until 100% of the entitlements are in place (i.e. finish up your zoning then move on). So now you have that in place and all of your design work is completed, but it’s going to be quite some time before this place is completely built out… This is the time to submit for Stage 2 Pre-certification!

Similar to the goal of Stage 1, the intent of pre-certification is to aid the developer in marketing, except this time to potential tenants and not zoning boards. Since many projects have long timelines for development, it’s likely that more than a few will pursue Stage 2 pre-certification and stop there. One developer who participated in the pilot project system with a 25 year development timeline indicated that this is a likely outcome for them.

Stage 3 – LEED-ND Certified Project

This stage is the real deal, and once you reach it you finally have a certified project and a plaque to put somewhere. One question I have is that based on the information provided in the reference guide and other supporting documents, it’s not clear whether a well prepared Stage 1 or Stage 2 documentation set would look much different than what’s provided for Stage 3. Multiple sections of these documents suggest that more information and guidance on the matter is provided on LEED-Online, but at the moment I don’t have access to that info. I’ve sent inquiries to the USGBC on this matter and will update this post when I hear back.

Now that I’ve likely thoroughly confused you about the different stages, here’s a graphic from the reference guide that should make it much clearer. The introductory sections provide much more guidance and helpful charts regarding site drawings and documentation that is not found in the free rating system document:

LEED Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) Stages ExplainedClick to view full size

Fees

As mentioned in an earlier post, LEED-ND fees aren’t exactly cheap, but when you start to divide the cost over every building it starts to look much more favorable compared to certifying each building independently.

For the 100 acre project I’m examining the total direct certification fees paid to GBCI (i.e. not including consultant costs) for one stage would be $1,500 registration + $18,000 for the first 20 acres + $350 * 80 additional acres = $47,500. That sounds steep, but when you consider that the cachet of LEED will fall upon the 334 buildings (34 commercial + 300 residential) within this area, likely a significant marketing bonus for all properties, that breaks down to only $142/building. If two stages are pursued (in this instance Stage 2 and Stage 3 are most likely), the total fees rise to $85,500 for both, or $255/building.

When I wrote the previous post I was under the impression that a project was forced to seek all three stages of certification at considerable cost, but looking into the matter further it appears that a project may only need to complete one or two stages and can save significantly. I’m not 100% clear on this and have sent a request to the USGBC for clarification and will update this post when I have confirmation. It’s important to note though that at least one building must achieve LEED certification of some form in order to satisfy a prerequisite, and additional points may be earned for additional certifications under the Green Infrastructure and Buildings category.

Who’s on the Team?

Far more than any other LEED rating system, a good civil engineer or formal planner, ideally with a fair amount of GIS mapping experience, is critical to making the LEED-ND certification efforts proceed smoothly. You will be creating a LOT of site and vicinity maps to comply with Smart Location and Linkage and Neighborhood Pattern and Design prerequisites and credits. I admit that a layperson could likely handle most of this, but it will be very time consuming without a working knowledge of GIS software.

One of the Green Infrastructure and Buildings prerequisites requires that all commercial buildings be designed to exceed ASHRAE 90.1-2007 (by 10% for new buildings or 5% for renovations) or smaller structures can meet detailed prescriptive requirements. Residential buildings must comply with Energy Star ratings. All projects must certain plumbing efficiency requirements. For this reason, it’s likely that an MEP engineer will need to be involved in the documentation process as well, but not to the same extent as the single building LEED systems.

A developer who handles most of the design in-house can probably survive certification without needing an additional consultant, but if they don’t have some of the skills mentioned above it will be a very frustrating process. Alternatively, an architecture or planning firm could also provide a great deal of the documentation for a developer. At the end of the day it will come down to who can do the paperwork most efficiently, and in my opinion that is almost always the person handling the design the first place.

What to Look for First

Unlike other LEED systems where the prerequisites can generally be achieved on any site, it’s very likely that it will be impossible to certify greenfield, surburban sites if there’s very little or poorly connected infrastructure. The project I was tasked with examining will very likely not qualify for certification due to the fact that the neighboring sites are not very dense and it’s bordering undeveloped parcels for much of the site boundary. Internally, the developer must be willing to commit to certain density requirements and also pursue a very urban style infrastructure with building frontages bordering streets instead of vast arrays of parking. For your convenience, I’ve briefly summarized the most critical prerequisites below so you can check to see if your plan will qualify. There are other prerequisites to consider, but these are the ones you need to know about before you pay a registration fee… For more detailed descriptions of the credits, download a pdf copy of the rating system itself.

Site Location and Linkages

SLLp1: Smart Location – This is the one that will prohibit greenfield, urban fringe projects from qualifying. The site must be currently served by water and wastewater service or “within a legally publicly planned water and wastewater service”. In addition to that requirement the project must be an infill site (see credit for details, but it’s pretty much what you’d expect), OR at least 25% of the project boundary must be immediately adjacent previously developed property while land within a 1/2 mile radius contain an average of 90 intersections/square mile. Confused? Even the free rating system pdf has good maps clarifying the credit.

SLLp3: Wetland and Water Body Conservation – Want to fill in some wetlands on the site? Not going to happen… It’s going to be very difficult even building within 50 feet of wetlands or 100 feet of water bodies (beyond minor improvements like paths), which is prohibited unless you meet stringent stormwater management and density requirements.

SLLp4: Agricultural Land Conservation – There are significant restrictions to building on land “within a state or locally designated agricultural preservation district”.

SLLp5: Floodplain Avoidance – If your site is within a 100-year floodplain, it better be an infill project or previously developed, otherwise you’re not going to be able to build there at all.

Neighborhood Pattern and Design

NPDp1: Walkable Streets – Technically you don’t need to know this prior to design starting, but the developer should probably be warned as these will significantly shape their project. 90% of all new building facades must directly border “public space, such as a street, park, paseo, or plaza, but not a parking lot, and is connected to sidewalks…” Additionally, sidewalks must be provided on both sides of 90% of internal streets or frontage, and no more than 20% of street frontages can be faced by a garage door. There are also street width to building height ratios that must be followed for at least 15% of the development.

NPDp2: Compact Development – For projects located within walking distance of a transit corridor, you must build to a minimum density of 12 units/acre residential and .80 FAR for commercial spaces. Projects not within walking distance of a transit stop must build to a minimum 7 units/acre residential and .5 FAR for commercial.

NPDp3: Connected and Open Community – Internal streets within a project must average at least 140 intersections/square mile and there must be “at least one through-street and/or nonmotorized right-of-way intersecting or terminating at the project boundary at least 800 feet.” No one way in, one way out developments here!

Green Infrastructure and Buildings

This category has three prerequisites, but they are all to be tackled much later into the design process. Basically you have to have at least one LEED certified building within the LEED-ND project, and all buildings in the development must meet minimum energy and water efficiency requirements.

Use at your own risk!

It’s important to note that this is my first review of these credit requirements, and though I work to ensure this blog is as accurate as possible, I shortened many complex credit requirements down to only hit the big spots. I may have also overlooked small details that would provide exceptions to the statements below. This post is intended to get someone who hasn’t cracked the book up to speed about LEED-ND as quickly as possible, but it’s ultimately up to you to read the reference guide and meet all of the requirements. Please call out any mistakes or differing opinions in the comments and I’ll update the post ASAP.

Learn more at RealLifeLEED.com!