State law backed by building industry insiders and environmental advocates alike, currently changing the face of green construction across the country, has taken hold on the East End.
As a result, a growing number of projects on the South Fork have gone the route of being built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, with municipalities chipping in big tax incentives for the efforts.
The New York State Legislature passed LEED legislation in 2012, but since the state bill leaves the discount rate and compensation in the lap of local governments, it is up to municipalities to pass an identical law, and foot the bill.
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., sponsor of the legislation on the state level, has played a key role in making the transition to the local level happen, with the recent adoption of the bill to Southampton Town, Southampton Village and Sag Harbor Village bylaws. The Suffolk County Legislature has also approved LEED-certification measures.
Perhaps more important, there is a new implementation of the law looming for the Town of East Hampton, according to Assemblyman Thiele, who predicts the new Town Board will do so this month.
Since 2010, when the program began nationally, an analysis of the LEED database shows 42 projects being certified from Riverhead to Montauk.
LEED certification is a program designed and run by the United States Green Building Council, a coalition of developers, from architects to general contractors, that specialize in sustainable building. The council not only trains and certifies companies as LEED specialists, but certifies projects as LEED compliant, gives them an efficiency rating, and allows the eco-conscious property owner to reap a substantial financial reward.
Energy efficiency is one of the goals of LEED certification, but the standard also takes into account the quality of life of the occupant, sustainability and recyclability of the building materials used, and the overall footprint of the structure on the community. Points, which are later tallied up to find a project’s overall LEED score, are doled out for checkpoint items such as natural light and air quality, carbon-footprint reducing utilities and materials, and even for hiring a LEED-certified architect.
Based on the number of points a building receives, it is awarded a metallic-based level: a silver designation for 50 to 59 points, a gold for 60 to 79 points and platinum for any project over 80 points.
Based on the metallic LEED certification level, the property is exempt from taxes in given taxing districts that choose to adopt the legislation. There is a sliding scale, but all certifications will grant the property owner full tax exemption for at least three years. Silver projects will be 80-percent tax exempt in year four, losing 20 percent each year after that. The 20 percent decreases begin in year five for gold projects and year seven for platinum projects.
The first notable home on the East End to get certified, and beyond, was the Dubin family residence in North Sea. Losing their home to a fire in 2009, the family built a 4,800-square-foot net-zero energy carbon neutral home to obtain LEED platinum status in August 2010—before the tax breaks were in play.
The Dubin residence was hence dubbed “the HGA House,” as it was built in concert with the Hamptons Green Alliance, which was co-founded by Frank Dalene, the president of Telemark, the project’s general contractor. Mr. Dalene is also the chairman of the East End committee of the Long Island United States Green Building Council chapter.
On a larger scale, the Hampton Bays Middle School, which opened in 2011, was the first public school in the state to qualify for LEED certification. The building scored a silver designation.
Other examples of LEED-certiified construction on the East End include the Stony Brook Southampton Library, built in 2010 for LEED gold certification, as well as the college’s recently completed Marine Science Center, also certified gold; the Westhampton Beach Library and Village Hall, completed in 2010 and 2009 respectively, each for gold certification; and the Sagaponack Modern Barn on Wainscott Harbor Road, built in 2013 for LEED platinum certification. Looking ahead, the Watchcase Factory luxury condos in Sag Harbor, currently under construction, are aiming for LEED certification.
Despite the progress, and multiple versions of the certification standards, LEED has been dogged by criticism for being too rigid.
In August, when the Sag Harbor Village Board sought to implement the new law, village building inspector Timothy Platt wrote in protest to the members, asking them to instead consider a more localized approach to construction incentives.
“While I laud the effort to promote environmentally aware construction, I question whether the LEED program tax incentive is the most effective use of taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Platt wrote to the board, which later unanimously approved the law. He ended his letter by saying, “I recommend that if there exists among the [board] a desire to incentivize constituents to make a positive impact on the environment, there are more direct avenues that will have a quantitative impact on our local environment.”
Mr. Platt went on to list renovations that should be incentivized unique to Sag Harbor Village, such as a stormwater retention system, an upgraded septic system, solar energy equipment and the installation or increase of wetland buffers. Hearing those and similar concerns, the United States Green Building Council is set to launch LEED v4, the next version of the rating system, which will give the rating system a less rigid structure, allowing for prioritization of green building aspects unique to a given geography.
The way the state and local laws have been established allow for the automatic implementation of the new system as well as allowing other green building measuring-stick programs to be considered for tax breaks.
LEED certified landscape architect Tim Rumph, founder and president of Southampton Village based Araiys Design Landscape Architecture, who has worked on many LEED projects in the area and sings its praises, acknowledges that certain aspects of the process are better suited for other areas of the country.
The architect suggested that those interested in eco-friendly building still eligible for tax breaks should consider the Sustainable Sites Initiative, an interdisciplinary partnership between the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. The design template takes into account hydrology, drainage, and use of plant life, he said.
“SITES is taking what LEED has introduced, piggybacked on the success and taken things a step further,” he said. “You don’t just need LEED, you can supplement it.”