The morning of June 22, I boarded an early morning flight to Kansas City, Missouri, to join a group of other volunteers who were giving up their weekends to create technical resources that will accelerate the construction of net zero energy buildings. This is a great part of my job, but the timing of the trip wasn’t ideal—I’d have much rather spent part of that Saturday watching the council of the Virginia city where my family and I live take a huge step toward a low-carbon future.
The docket item that interested me that day was the adoption of the City of Alexandria’s 2019 Green Building Policy—the culmination of a remarkable effort led by city staff and involving volunteer commissions, stakeholders from across the industry, consultants, private citizens and elected officials in bringing renewed focus and urgency to a decade-old policy.
I was lucky to have a front row seat to the development of the city’s new green building policy. I am a volunteer member of the city’s Environmental Policy Commission, and I was asked to represent EPC on the task force the city created to revise the green building policy. The Green Building Task Force proposed an update to the city’s policy that is a smart mix of pragmatism and inspiration—and we did it with one hand tied behind our backs.
Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state, which means that the city is only allowed to create or adopt new laws when the Virginia General Assembly has clearly granted authority to do so. That body hasn’t yet authorized local jurisdictions to require private development to build green, so Alexandria’s policy uses existing requirements (development site plans and development special use permits) with private development to deliver LEED Silver certification and the achievement of a collection of regionally important credits.
This “directed use” structure allows developers the flexibility to prioritize various strategies to achieve LEED Silver and ensure that development in the city addresses existing challenges. In addition, enhancing checkpoints during the site plan and special use permit processes will help the city ensure that projects are on track to comply.
While private development is held to a standard that strikes a balance between practicality and urgency, the City Council committed publicly owned buildings and schools to a leadership standard that I hope comes to reset the bar for what constitutes an acceptable level of performance for buildings in Alexandria in the near future.
The policy recommendation approved by City Council commits publicly funded projects to achieving LEED Gold certification, complying with 100% of the city’s stormwater treatment requirements using green infrastructure, reaching a set of regionally important LEED credits and attaining net zero energy performance.
The leadership the City of Alexandria has shown here makes me proud to call it home. We still have a long way to go, but the commitments our elected officials have made on our behalf jump-start our community on the journey still ahead.