Category Archives: Seattle Department of Planning and Development

Seattle moving towards LEED gold city buildings. Is that a high enough standard?

The city of Seattle is planning to increase its requirement that city owned, financed or operated buildings larger than 5,000 square feet be LEED gold, up from LEED silver. Here’s my question: is it enough?

In 2000, Seattle broke some major ground when it required city buildings be LEED silver. If you go back to 2000, LEED was still really, really new. That’s reflected this  DPD data slide supporting policy changes here. Check it out, in 2003 and 2004 there were more city LEED buildings than those in the private sector. That switches in 2005 and after 2006, LEED in the private sector continues to grow by leaps and bounds each year.

I started this job at the DJC at the start of 2007 and in the time I’ve been here,

West Entry of the LEED gold Woodland Park Zoo, image courtesy Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo
I’ve certainly seen the switch. In early 2007, a story was news if a building met LEED silver or had targeted LEED gold. Then LEED platinum became the hot topic. Now, it’s net-zero energy and Living Buildings. That’s not to say that LEED is a dinosaur and that LEED platinum isn’t a big deal. It’s just that the really cutting edge projects seem to have moved beyond LEED. Silver just isn’t big news anymore.

Now, the city is looking to create a more robust policy, the outlines of which can be seen in that slide linked to above. There will also be a DJC story early next week explaining the likely changes. Generally, the city is going to require LEED gold for buildings where it previously would have required LEED silver. It also expands the program to consider major renovations and tenant improvements, sites and small projects. Sandra Mallory, DPD’s Green Building Team program manager, also said the city wants to pilot a living building and six Sustainable Sites Initiative projects, three of which are already in development. It’s some big changes. But are they big enough?

The question seems simple but also touches on the changing role of city government, especially because green building is so much larger today than it was back in 2000. Back in 2000, Seattle took a strong leadership role in its silver requirement. Making a similar, envelope-pushing switch today would likely require city buildings be net-zero energy or living buildings. Given today’s market, I’m not sure the city could make that change, even if it wanted to. Financially, I don’t know that it would make sense, or that it could even be feasible for all projects. Also, the private sector has already taken the lead in both these areas.

Then again, if Seattle wants to keep saying it is the “greenest city in the country,” something that seems to be getting a bit outdated as green and sustainable elements become mainstream, wouldn’t it have to make a ground-altering change like that? Additionally, most of its buildings in recent years have met LEED gold, though they weren’t required to. According to that slide, it still doesn’t have a LEED platinum project.

What do you think? Should the city have made a stronger stand or is LEED gold fair for now? Also, how do you think the city’s role in supporting green building should change in the future? Eventually, will the city require all its buildings be net-zero or meet living status? It’s a curious question and I’d love to hear your responses.

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Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

If you don’t have a subscription to the DJC or don’t click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month’s excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year’s coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you’ll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called “Watch out for ‘greenwashing’ by service providers.” Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There’s this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There’s this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called “Two Seattle projects set ‘net-zero’ water goals,” which looks at the region’s water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School’s Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there’s this article by Elizabeth Powers at O’Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I’ll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city’s role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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In 2011, Seattle moves towards district energy

This week, we ran this story in the DJC about Yesler Terrace, CollinsWoerman and the effort to start considering resources on the broader scale.

For those of you that don’t live in the area, Yesler Terrace is a 28-acre publicly subsidized housing community owned by the Seattle Housing Authority. It is  in the process of being redeveloped.

Imaging one energy and water system for all this space.
CollinsWoerman is a local architecture and planning firm.

District energy systems are common in Europe, especially Denmark. They allow buildings to connect to each other, increasing efficiency and reducing costs by letting several buildings share energy from a main source, such as steam, geothermal, biomass or waste heat.

But they are often cost prohibitive because streets must be torn up for a network of pipes to be built underground.

Steve Moddemeyer, principle of sustainable development at CollinsWoerman, said according to a CollinsWoerman study for SHA, a district water system could cut water use by half for Yesler Terrace and reduce wastewater flows by 70 percent for the same or less cost as a traditional system. Just imagine if you could do that for an entire city!

The fact that Yesler Terrace is considering a water and energy district is really exciting. But what’s more interesting is what it says about Seattle. District energy has long been a buzz-term in the city’s green community. It seems like we might finally be moving towards getting momentum on new projects.

The city of Seattle hired AEI and Cowi to study district energy opportunities for the city. They are looking at where these systems would be feasible and will identify the top three places. Moddemeyer has seen such interest in district energy and water, he said Yesler Terrace might not be the first project to employ the system. If private developers move forward, he said district systems could be the norm within five years. (Can you even imagine that scenario…?!)

Separately, the city is also working with Trent Berry, a partner with Vancouver, B.C.’s Compass Resource Management. Berry is also providing expertise on district energy systems.

The city of Bothell is also looking at installing a district energy system.

The new projects point in the direction Seattle is heading. But we are also lucky to have Seattle Steam here. Seattle Steam, a district heat provider for 200 downtown buildings, has been around for over 100 years. I’m sure there’s a lot of experience they can add to this discussion.

It seems like Seattle has an opportunity here to be a real leader.

Moddemeyer said the biggest obstacle to progress is our faith in the current system. Projects like King County’s $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant put all our water treatment eggs in one basket, betting that water will continue to be treated the way it is in years to come.

What do you think?

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Seattle’s Office of Sustainability loses Amanda Eichel to New York City and hires Joshua Curtis formerly of Great City

There are a couple newsworthy items related to the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. First, it is losing Amanda Eichel, senior climate protection advisor, to the New York City office of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Second, it recently hired Joshua Curtis, formerly executive director of urban advocacy group Great City. Great City was founded by Mayor Mike McGinn, previous to his political role. Curtis’ title is community power works non-residential grant manager. He was brought on to manage a portion of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, funded by the federal stimulus. The role is funded by the grant.

Jill Simmons, acting director of the OSE, said she is reassessing the role Eichel played. Someone else will likely be hired to fill her post.

It’s interesting that Eichel is leaving to work with Bloomberg’s office, which seems to be snatching up

Eichel heads to New York City
talented Pacific Northwest players. Bloomberg also recently hired David Bragdon, former president of Portland’s Metro Council, as head of environmental policy. There’s an article here about what the switch-up means for New York.

It’s also interesting that OSE is hiring in today’s tumultuous market when so many other city employees risk losing their jobs. In the Department of Planning and Development for example, the city is planning to lay off up to 40 employees in October. The city has had multiple rounds of layoffs since the start of the recession.

Simmons said OSE considered people from other departments for Curtis’ post but he was the best fit. She said the office recently brought someone into the department who otherwise would have been laid off. There is no word yet whether the office will face any layoffs in the coming year as the city’s budget has not been released.

McGinn founded Great City but resigned his post to run for mayor. In May of 2009, Curtis succeeded McGinn. At the end of June, Great City went all-volunteer and Brice Maryman seems to have taken over general duties. Curtis was hired by OSE at the beginning of August.

Simmons wanted to make it clear that the city didn’t hire Curtis because of his past involvement with McGinn’s project. In an e-mail, she said Curtis was unequivocally not hired because of his connection to Great City, and the mayor:

“OSE conducted a competitive hiring process in June and July to fill the EECBG Grant Program’s Nonresidential Sector Manager position. We received nearly 30 applications, and interviewed a number of strong candidates. Joshua was the best of these; he is exceptionally well-qualified to ensure the city successfully implements the ambitious grant program. OSE lost one great talent with Amanda’s departure, but thankfully gained another with Joshua’s hire.”

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To support green buildings should codes stay the same, be reworked or be reinvented?

On Thursday, the DJC published an article I wrote on a new report that says codes are getting in the way of cutting edge green buildings. This, in itself, is really nothing new.  Last August, I wrote this article about the city’s Priority Green program. In it, DPD’s Peter Dobrovolny (whose last name is almost as difficult as mine!) said many projects consider innovative ideas but drop them when they realize how much extra time it will take under city code. However, having the problems and possible solutions written down in an actual report – well that is new.

However, the report. Is. Huge. If you dare to read it, click here . It manages to be very

The Rubik's Cube of codes
comprehensive and vague at the same time. It is comprehensive in that it studies code barriers across the country, identifies problems and makes recommendations. But because it is dealing with national issues, some of the solutions are vague in their range. For example, one solution is to “identify and address regulatory impediments to green building and development” while another is to “create incentives matched with desired goals.”

I spoke with one of the study’s primary authors, David Eisenberg of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology, this week. Essentially, he said codes are built incorrectly in that they are hundreds of ad hoc responses to problems. Codes, he said, should instead be built comprehensively to support a specific kind of development or project. Basically, he said the entire system needs to be rebuilt.


In Seattle, it can take months or years for changes (especially large ones) to occurr. Can you imagine what it would take to wipe out all the city departments responsible for allowing development to get built… and then to rework the system from scratch? 

Eisenberg said he realizes that what he’s asking might be impossible. But even if it is impossible, by voicing the idea, he hopes to get people talking about it. Everyone – he said – whether it’s greenies or permitting people or anyone really – wants healthy buildings. And our current code system does not encourage healthy buildings because it pawns risks relating to climate change and environmental degradation off on future generations.

What do you think about all of this, dear readers? Is there any possibility that our overall codes could be reworked and if so, what would you want them to encourage? Here in Seattle (where we are pretty progressive in environmental issues, at least compared with some parts of the country) do we even need to be considering reworking the system or do we need to tweak it? If you could totally rework one code or issue, what would it be?

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