Pittsburgh Approves Green Density Bonuses, Will Consider LEED Mandate for Public and TIF Projects

Two green building bills in Pittsburgh- one approved and one pending- illustrate green building legislation at its finest and, perhaps, at its worst.

On Monday, Pittsburgh’s City Council approved a new green building incentive, and entertained a second which it will vote on sometime next year. The first, and less controversial bill, will allow LEED-certified buildings to rise 20 percent higher and include 20 percent more floor area than other buildings in their zoning district. For example, the 55-foot ceiling in many city areas would translate into an additional 11 feet- or an entire extra floor of office space. The incentive won’t apply to residential buildings, and developers must participate in a public hearing and then receive approval from the City Planning Commission before proceeding. The city itself will receive a lien on any buildings that seek the density bonus to ensure that the developer achieves certification.

The second bill, which was also introduced by Councilman William Peduto, would require that all new or substantially renovated public buildings greater than 5,000 square feet or with a project cost of $2 million achieve a LEED Silver rating. Moreover, private projects funded through Pittsburgh’s TIF program would also need to achieve Silver. (TIF, or tax increment financing, is where government borrows funds to finance development and then pays the debt down from the taxes that are thereby generated.)

TIF programs are not without criticism, nor are LEED legislative schemes that are tied to private development. Todd Reidbord, the developer of Bakery Square, a $113 million project that’s looking for a $10 million TIF subsidy from Pittsburgh, as well as a pursuing a LEED Gold rating, told the Post-Gazette that green building incentives are a “decent idea,” but that he’s “not 100 percent convinced that public financing should be tied to a private rating organization.” This is the first time we’ve seen this particular type of regulation questioned, and it’s significant that a private developer is voicing his concerns over third-party verification. The public hearings that this second bill will generate could be an interesting green building battleground in the coming months which we’ll certainly be staying on top of.

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