Ithaca’s development boom has so far been mostly free of sustainability requirements, relying on the good will of developers – or the promise of tax abatements – to incorporate green goals into new construction.

But that may change soon as the city seems poised to introduce new construction rules that could dramatically impact sustainable development, potentially without driving up the price of economic development to unreachable levels. This Green Building Policy (GBP) will be formally introduced next month.

Two options were put forth earlier this month to the Planning and Economic Development Committee to mull over, an “easy path” and the “whole building path.” The easy path is a pick-and-choose system, with a list of criteria that correspond to a certain number of points: once the project has reached a certain set amount of points, it can be approved. The points list has not yet been finalized, but as it was presented last week would include traits including building shape, home size, low-flow shower heads, high-efficiency lighting, etc.

The whole building path adheres closer to established national guidelines like LEED certifications or Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index scores. Developers can choose which path to take, though the easy path has been designed to ensure relatively achievable thresholds. The whole building path was established primarily for developers with design constraints that may force them off the easy path.

The team lists the policy’s anticipated results as a reduction of carbon emissions to levels 40-50 percent under the NYS Energy Code for new construction, 70 percent better than existing building stock, lower or similar construction costs and a flexible enough policy that it can be continually adjusted as carbon emissions goals change over time.

The program may not be 100% mandatory, as Butler reports:

Another consideration for the GBP is its implementation: finding the perfect equilibrium between mandatory compliance and softer incentivization tactics. It appears the group has settled on a balance, acknowledging their goals can not be met simply be encouraging action with positive factors like tax incentives or public recognition of successful projects. There must be some mandatory aspects, possibly in the form of code requirements or ordinances to strengthen the motivation for compliance.

As mentioned above, certain developers may not be able to make the concessions necessary for the easy path, and would then have to meet the whole building path standards. That path, he said, probably would lead to higher construction costs, though it might end up that larger entities are the only developers to use that path anyway, places like Cornell University which have plenty of money to spend on energy efficiency and also a specific aesthetic that may not yield itself to the easy path design.

Follow Matt Butler on Twitter @AllegedButler

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