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New green building standards in limbo at municipal hall

Council calls for green building standards at last meeting as the Whistler Green program sits with staff

A developer, who handed in "green" building standards to the municipality six months ago, is frustrated that council has yet to receive them from staff.

"I’m disappointed," said David Ehrhardt, a principal in the Nita Lake Lodge Development.

"It was the goal of Nita Lake to set itself apart as doing something extra and something special, moving the process to another level. And that was the reason that we originally proposed to do this."

The new environmental building standards, called Whistler Green, were designed specifically for the 14 single family home residential development on the west side of Nita Lake. The standards were part of the extensive public benefits package offered by the Nita Lake Lodge Development Corporation.

Though Whistler Green would be applied to the small residential subdivision, the ultimate goal was they could be adopted as resort-wide building standards.

"We’re talking about real implications," said Ehrhardt. "They’re just plain good building practices."

Green building standards are something council has been calling on for quite some time. At their last meeting, councillors considered delaying an Intrawest condo-hotel development in Creekside without proof the company has applied its own green standards to the development.

Club Intrawest President Jim Gibbons confirmed this week that their development on London Lane has been designed under the parameters of EcoVision, the corporate green building standards created specifically by Intrawest for their own projects.

Councillor Marianne Wade said it was a concern that Whistler Green has been at a staff level for such a long time without council having a chance to review it.

"(Staff) need to come forward and we need to adopt them and get on with it," she said simply. We need to get our house in order.

"We know that these developments are coming forward so we need to bring the policy forward so that it’s the overriding (standard) and everybody’s aware of that," she said.

Bob MacPherson, general manager of planning and development at the municipality, was one of the staff members involved in developing Whistler Green, in partnership with Nita Lake.

He said staff wanted to take a pragmatic approach and come back to council after the Whistler Green standards had been applied to the first single family homes in the Nita Lake subdivision.

"We’d hoped that there’d be some single family construction there through this year where we could test the standards and then be back to council with a little more information on what works and what doesn’t," he said.

Construction of the homes has not begun. In addition, council was not informed of staff’s intentions. However, MacPherson recognizes that there is a push to get standards developed.

"There really seems to be an appetite over the idea of building green, on council, in the community and really worldwide now," he added.

Only one building in Whistler has a certified green building rating from LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), perhaps the most widely recognized set of green standards. The Spring Creek Fire Hall was just recently awarded a silver LEED rating. The new Whistler Public Library, which is now in the design stage, will also be built to LEED standards.

The local building industry has also jumped on board the green building program, with homebuilder Rod Nadeau creating an Envirohome in Nordic Estates, using a different set of green standards known as R2000.

Whistler Green is a little different. It was designed to take components of LEED, which has a commercial and industrial focus, and R2000, which has an energy focus, and meld them together into one comprehensive set of standards.

"It’s a tool that local builders can take and apply directly to their work," said Wendy Horan, the waste reduction co-ordinator with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District who was involved in developing Whistler Green specifically for the waste management and waste reduction components.

"LEED has some shortfalls, R2000 has some shortfalls, and this (Whistler Green) is sort of bridging the gap between the two.

"Our department, being waste reduction focused, we saw lots of opportunity to build upon what R2000 already has and what LEED applies to commercial buildings, and incorporate it directly into a document that can be used to create a residential green building."

The Whistler Green program is divided into seven subject groups, listing both required and voluntary green criteria. The categories for achieving a green home are: site and landscape, energy, water, indoor environment, materials, waste and owner education.

Horan, who was focused on the waste category, gave input not only managing waste during the construction process, but also dealing with waste and recycling once the home is built.

"We see an enormous amount of construction material that’s fully reusable going into the landfills still, even though the tools are right there," she said. "So the pilot project (at Nita Lake)… would (be) great for showing local contractors that it is possible and it’s a good idea.

"If the construction community warms up to it, it’ll give us the ability to bring in more programs… like a construction demolition re-use it yard. If the community wants it and is going to use it, we can do that very easily."

Councillor Ken Melamed, one of the biggest proponents for green building standards on council, has not seen a copy of Whistler Green but he was hopeful that the standards would be substantial.

"Obviously the upshot is that we begin applying these standards to all construction in Whistler," he said.

"My greatest fear is that the standards aren’t meaningful."

That’s why at the last council meeting he called for a third party review of the EcoVision standards used by Intrawest for the Hillside Lodge development. There has to be a way to measure the green standards in EcoVision against other proven green building standards, he said.

He sees Whistler Green, if the standards are good enough, as a way of consolidating the different green building programs into one overall program for Whistler.

Like LEED, Whistler Green has four certification levels based on the number of criteria fulfilled in the program. The Nita Lake developers expect homebuilders will want to build to the highest green standards in their subdivision because that’s what the anticipated homebuyers market will be looking for. In addition, the Nita Lake homes will give builders the chance to gain experience and familiarity with the program, which will be an added advantage if the municipality makes the program mandatory.

The pilot project will be voluntary. The first three homes at Nita Lake will go through the program and then it will be reassessed and revised.

In the meantime, some councillors are keen to review Whistler Green and give Nita Lake developers their due credit. Wade said: "Nita Lake should be acknowledged for living up to their obligation."