Watchcase Condo Developers Forgo LEED Certification

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Despite recently adopted tax incentives for environmentally friendly building, the developers of a major condominium project in Sag Harbor Village, once slated for a “green” seal of approval, have confirmed that the move is too little too late, and they will forgo LEED certification.

When the owners of the old Bulova Watchcase Factory property, Manhattan development firm Cape Advisors, originally designed the condo complex now under construction, they envisioned a building they could tout as being on the cutting edge of “green building,” a movement toward environmentally sensitive new construction. They planned on following the steps required to be certified as displaying Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) qualities.

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.

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 LEED certification level, a property is exempt from taxes in certain taxing districts that choose to adopt the legislation—including Sag Harbor Village. 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.

But after years of stopping and starting, David Kronman of Cape Advisors said on Monday that the $20 million property will not be LEED certified, despite being listed on the USGBC’s website as being in pursuit.

“We won’t be going through the certification process anymore,” Mr. Kronman said. “We will be pursuing many of the same environmentally friendly features, but when we reconfigured the project, there wasn’t money in the budget for some of the administrative costs of implementing LEED.”

Mr. Kronman said the project will still utilize state-of-the-art technology, such as new solar panel-covered rooftops, to achieve those goals, but that there was no benefit to going through the certification process if they could build green on their own.

“At the time we closed our construction loan and pulled our building permit, the incentives weren’t available,” he said. “If there were incentives available at the time that could offset the costs, it’s something we would have considered.”

And even if the company decided the new village law, which would cap the potential property tax savings at $1 million a year for 10 years, would make up the cost of the certification, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., sponsor of the law on the state level and Sag Harbor Village’s attorney, said this week that since the project predates the law, it wouldn’t even be eligible.

“There is no relationship between the local law and Bulova,” Mr. Thiele said. “The effective date of the law is last September. The building permits and construction came way before the law, and the law is prospective. So the project is ineligible.”

So for both Cape Advisors and the village, it is an opportunity lost. But if recent history of large-scale projects holds, the village can expect to see many green building projects in the pipeline for the economic benefit of the developers alone, regardless of the positive environmental impact.

“LEED is something that when you ask a person on the street about it, they know what you are talking about. It is really taking hold in the building community and it is making a difference,” Mr. Thiele said. “With the new project proposals we hear at the local level in Sag Harbor every week, we’re bound to get some LEED projects going here.”

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