Boston is taking steps to become the nation’s largest “green” city with regards to zoning requirements on new projects.
The Boston Zoning Commission voted in January to approve Article 37, a set of stricter building guidelines that would require green building in the city. Article 37 is an amendment to the city’s Article 80, a design review process for construction projects on sites that exceed 50,000 square feet.
According to the amendment, the definition of green buildings is “structures and their surrounding landscapes designed, constructed and maintained to decrease energy and water costs, to improve the efficiency and longevity of the building systems, and to reduce the burdens imposed on the environment and public health.”
Since January, any project submitted to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) larger than 50,000 square feet will be required to undergo a green review that analyzes the project’s environmental sustainability. Any city-supported building or large-scale project is required to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifiable in its appropriate LEED distinction before being approved.
There are a number of different LEED categories, including new construction or interior design. Each has its own qualifications.
“I think it’s a great step,” said Noah Maslan, who handles community development corporation Urban Edge’s sustainable development. “The City of Boston is taking the lead as one of the few [green] cities and states in the country.”
LEED standards and the Green Building Rating system are nationally accepted standards for green buildings developed by the nonprofit United States Green Building Council (USGBC).
Proposed projects that trigger Article 37 in Boston are not required to go through the USGBC certification process, a potentially expensive and long ordeal. Rather, proposals must be equivalent to the level of LEED qualifications for a project that would be submitted for certification.
“This is elevating Boston to a whole other level,” said Maslan. “This is the way the industry is going. The sooner developers take this approach to real estate the better.”
There are 69 possible points to earn in the LEED rating system. Prerequisites include things like indoor air quality, tobacco smoke control, waste management, water efficiency and low-emitting materials. In order to be LEED certifiable a project must earn at least 26 points.
The City of Boston has identified four distinctions officials think are important to the city, in addition to USGBC standards. Potential developers can replace one of the 26 requirements with specific qualifications geared to the modern grid, historic preservation, groundwater recharge and modern mobility.
To qualify for the modern grid point, the project must include an on-site combined electrical power and heat generation system that provides 10 percent or more of total building energy use.
Historic preservation refers to maintaining Boston’s historic assets. To receive a point, the project must be in a historic district or listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the State Register of Historic Places or the Inventory of Historic and Archaeological Assets of the Commonwealth.
Proposed projects would also need to collect water on the property at a more efficient rate than before. To be awarded a point for groundwater recharge, proposed projects must meet water collection and absorption rates beyond one inch (1.5 inches if the proposed project is in an Article 32 Groundwater Conservation Overlay District).
Water collection is important because buildings are not as effective a sponge as natural land. Therefore, the falling rainwater cannot be absorbed as it would naturally in the environment. Poor collection capabilities could contribute to congested draining and floods.
Modern mobility puts emphasis on large projects to provide things like subsidized T passes for staff and a shuttle to the closest T stations.
“I think the City did it right,” said Maslan. “It is so expensive to go through the certification process. I think it would be inappropriate to impose that [on developers].”