Environment the focus of new buildings | VailDaily.com

Environment the focus of new buildings

Dennis Webb
Vail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Terry Claassen is interested in putting some beetle-killed trees to good use in his Roaring Fork Lodge proposal in Glenwood Springs, and maybe incorporating some environmentally friendly bamboo into the project as well.

Will Humphrey envisions thousands of trees being planted in some wildlife refuge to offset the carbon production of nearly 200 homes his company is proposing for the Reserve at Elk Meadows development up Four Mile Road just outside of town.

Such ideas may be helping usher in a new era of development in Garfield County and western Colorado. Developers are touting green initiatives as major components of both projects.

Local government planners say they wouldn’t be surprised to see more such initiatives for both their environmental and marketing appeal. In the meantime, officials in Glenwood Springs are beginning to discuss whether developments should be encouraged or even required to take more steps to be green.

Some developers are starting to lead by example.

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“As these projects come through, they tend to set the bar a little higher each time, which is very nice,” said Fred Jarman, planning director for Garfield County.

The Reserve at Elk Meadows’ goal of being carbon-neutral may be raising the bar more than a little.

“I think it is a pretty admirable goal. In Colorado there haven’t been very many precedents,” said Ashley Muse, a sustainable design consultant for Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit based in Old Snowmass that promotes efficient use of resources.

Andrew McGregor, community development director for Glenwood Springs, praised the carbon-neutral proposal.

“It’s certainly pretty ambitious to try to offset the entire carbon footprint of a brand-new, 190-home subdivision,” he said.

Claassen said taking care of the local environment is an important part of his project. While market considerations also are behind green development and building initiatives, they are in response to demand from people with an environmental mindset.

“I think as it becomes more popular and more at the forefront in general, there’s growing sentiment among consumers who want to use properties who practice conservation and energy efficiency and (use of) organic materials,” Claassen said. “My wife’s one of them, and her mom, and we’re raising our kids that way.”

Humphrey is senior vice president of Westminster Swanson Land Partners in Illinois, and previously that state’s director of the nonprofit Conservation Fund. Westminster Swanson is proposing to pay the Conservation Fund to plant trees off site to make up for the carbon impacts of the Elk Meadows project. The Conservation Fund typically uses contributions to plant trees in wildlife refuges.

“It’s not cheap but to us it’s worth the cost of trying to do something innovative and creative,” he said.

With market demand growing for green projects, the question for government officials is whether they should further encourage them, or even take some steps to require them.

“I think a lot of people are talking about the value of green buildings,” McGregor said. “The (Glenwood Springs) planning commission is looking at ways to encourage or incentivize greener buildings as something to strive for ” if not necessarily to require then certainly to encourage and promote their use.”

He said it’s possible that developers could be offered incentives such as being allowed to increase building area or height in exchange for creating a green-certified building.

He said he thinks Aspen and Pitkin County are much farther along in having provisions address green construction, particularly in the area of energy conservation.

Claassen said he’d prefer to see government incentives such as tax credits rather than requirements when it comes to green construction. He thinks governments should consider the transportation side of development as well.

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