"Green" buildings - those designed to consume fewer natural resources - have been sold largely on the basis of their environmental benefits. But they also can save money for taxpayers, developers and the business community, and it is good the city of Tampa is bringing these broader benefits to the fore. The city should pick up the pace and aggressively pursue what is working in other cities.
The ordinance City Council member John Dingfelder proposed in January is a solid framework for moving forward. It offers developers incentives for meeting certain efficiency standards. He would fast-track building permits, refund a portion of the permit and utility hookup fees, limit the area of turf in landscaping and lower the city's gasoline consumption through the purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Dingfelder's strategy is promising because it is comprehensive. It forces the city to set an example by adopting "green" practices itself and even offers individual homeowners a way to reduce their annual assessments.
Mayor Pam Iorio, who is working on her own plan, has embraced many of these ideas. But she is cool to rebating fees and wants to propose an ordinance over time, up to 2010. Two years is too long to wait. While the administration says it could roll out more efficient landscaping standards in the next several months, the mayor and the council already seem close on the larger outlines of any plan. They both would give developers some incentives - allowing for more dense development in the urbanized cores is the right start.
While rebating utility hookup fees sounds excessive, Dingfelder's other proposals seem reasonable, such as waiving some permit and stormwater fees for those who make their properties more efficient. His goal to cut fuel consumption may have nothing to do with developing a "green" building code, but it certainly falls within the two sides' goal to pursue "sustainable growth management" practices.
Both sides deserve credit. Dingfelder has put something good on the table, and the administration has committed the city like never before. Rather than moralize, the city is selling the big picture - "green" designs save money. Even with minimal increases in up-front construction costs, resource-efficient buildings, which use less land, energy, water and materials, are cheaper to operate in the long run. The mayor and council should keep working together on an issue that needs a lot more attention and sensible leadership.