In a groundbreaking move, a significant ski resort and a former training ground for disabled workers are among the diverse projects vying for certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) pioneering Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhoods (LEED-ND) program. With up to 120 pilot projects under evaluation nationwide, this program, a collaboration with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the National Resources Defense Council, marks a pivotal shift for the USGBC. Unlike traditional LEED certifications for individual buildings, LEED-ND places a primary emphasis on sustainable land use and transportation, introducing a new era of conscientious urban planning.
Eliot Allen, a principal with Criterion Planners/Engineers, and the primary certification reviewer for the new neighborhood category, highlights the distinctive feature of LEED-ND: its focus on smart growth. “In order to score points, the neighborhood has to be situated in a place that makes sense from a transportation standpoint,” Allen asserts, addressing a crucial concern about previous LEED certifications.
LEED-ND, designed as a market transformation tool, extends its reach to both planned and existing neighborhoods, prioritizing high-density mixed-use communities that reduce automobile dependency. While recognizing LEED-certified buildings, the program allocates most points to location and transportation features such as walkable streets, bicycle paths, proximity of housing, schools, and jobs, affordable housing, and conservation of farmland and open space.
Vail Resorts Inc.’s Ever Vail development, a $1 billion, 9.5-acre resort, stands as a prominent contender seeking LEED-ND certification. CEO Rob Katz emphasizes the desire for an overarching sustainable concept tying together their practices. Katz dispels the misconception that green building is limited to unconventional materials, stating, “It’s very exciting to be part of a trend where green means high quality.”
Another LEED-ND hopeful is the Pringle Creek development in Salem, Ore., a 32-acre project situated on the former Fairview Training Center site. Recognized with the National Association of Home Builders Land Development of the Year award, Pringle Creek incorporates net-zero-energy homes, a community orchard, biodiesel co-op, and green streets for stormwater management, showcasing a holistic approach to sustainability.
Despite LEED-ND’s promise, challenges emerge, particularly in the Smart Locations and Linkages section, where meeting density requirements poses a significant hurdle. However, proponents argue that the benefits of expedited permitting and fiscal advantages will outweigh these challenges, with LEED-ND potentially being easier and cheaper to achieve than its counterparts.
As developers navigate the certification process, the trend toward green communities gaining a premium price and faster sales becomes evident. LEED-ND’s emphasis on sustainable site selection and community-focused development aligns with the growing demand for eco-conscious living.
In the pursuit of sustainable urban planning, LEED-ND emerges as a beacon, urging developers to reevaluate their projects through an environmentally conscious lens. The LEED-ND certification not only holds the promise of faster build-outs and premium prices but also sets the stage for meaningful discussions about the future of land use and development.
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