Sustainability and residential development

Statement on USDO and Sustainable Residential Development

Sustainability Advisory Committee and Residential Development

    When I began to hear and read about planned residential developments in Albany and the concerns of residents about density, incompatibility with existing neighborhoods and potential overloading of antiquated water/sewer systems, streets and aesthetics, I immediately thought about sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.  I have only lived in the city for 3 years but moved from a city where I was involved in sustainability issues.  The developments in question purportedly meet the 2017 Unified Sustainable Development Ordinance (City Code Chapter 375)  (USDO) contains incentives for builders of affordable housing units but these incentives compete with other "sustainability" incentives such as designated green energy (LEED) and storm-water control (green and blue roofs). My question is why are the sustainability requirements are allowed to compete with one another.

  • The code allows a builder to choose among the sustainability and affordability incentives in order to gain exemptions to the basic regulations such as parking, building height and green space.  If all of the code regulations and incentives, including creation of affordable housing, are beneficial to the city, why aren’t they all required in the code as are fire and other building codes?  
  • Why should developers be encouraged to trade-off energy efficiency, storm-water management and affordable housing based on the developer's economic priorities rather than the city's long term benefits? 
  • It appears that the zoning code fails to complement the goals of our Climate Smart City and the new Climate Leadership and  Community Protection Act by allowing construction of buildings that are inefficient, dependent on fossil fuel heating and cooling systems, adding to our greenhouse gas emissions and unaffordable for working families of modest means. 

Three council members have introduced a proposal to require a full SEQRA Environmental Impact Study for large, new developments.  This proposal was tabled at the Council Planning Committee on July 26 and the next committee meeting is on August 28th.

     The recent passage of the Climate Leadership and  Community Protection Act 

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s6599 establishes stricter greenhouse gas emission goals.  This will require new building codes and other local laws to accomplish those goals.  Shouldn’t the city change the Code before rushing to permit major new construction?  Shouldn’t we require net zero buildings with heat pumps, geothermal and other technologies that would reduce emissions and be more economical for tenants over time? Some cities, including Berkeley , CA are prohibiting the use of fossil fuels in all new construction.   

I encourage the Sustainability Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the Council and to the Mayor regarding the need for sustainability to be given a larger role in real estate development and to emphasize sustainability in the city’s Unified Sustainable Development Ordinance. 

Mary Beilby


climate forward development letter

Climate Forward Development

TO: Albany City Council Persons and Officials and Albany Sustainability Advisory Committee

FROM: Mary Beilby, 9 Davis Ct. Albany, NY 12208

RE: Questions Relating to Development and Sustainability of Albany

Given citizen concerns and new climate legislation relating to the effect of real estate developments being planned under the 2015-17 Zoning Code, I suggest the following course of action:

  • Declare a moratorium on new development until government officials review the zoning laws, building codes and tax incentives for development and determine that they are benefiting the city and its residents, not just real estate developers and predictions that city tax collections will increase. 
  • This is a critical time to make the city more sustainable and livable for future generations.  Albany has an aging housing stock that needs to be replaced or renovated, limited vacant space available for development and an aging infrastructure needing major upgrades. Let’s be sure that new development moves us toward sustainability.
  • The recent passage of the Climate Leadership and  Community Protection Act. https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s6599 establishes stricter greenhouse gas emission goals for the foreseeable future.  This will require building codes and other local laws that move in that direction.  Why not change these laws before rushing to permit new construction without heat pumps, geothermal and other technologies that would reduce emissions and be more economical for tenants over time?
  • Assure that the city has an adequate supply of safe, affordable housing units for workers wanting or needing to live in the city. Why are we permitting thousands of new apartments that are unaffordable to a large portion of the current Albany labor-force while there is a shortage of safe, affordable housing? Albany need not follow the pattern of numerous cities and allow housing prices to exclude the very people who work here and want to live in the city.
  • Assure that the city’s infrastructure is adequate to meet the demands placed upon it.  Setbacks must allow for future expansion of roads, sidewalks, bike lanes and bus stops. The on-going hospital traffic study counted thousands of cars hourly in and out of the city on New Scotland and adjacent streets during busy periods.  The traffic study finds few acceptable ways to solve this other than to reduce traffic speeds and parking.  Road widening and new highway exits and entrances were deemed too expensive or unsafe for pedestrians or bikes. 




Problems with the revised Zoning/Building Code

  • The updated zoning code, Unified Sustainable Development Ordinance (City Code Chapter 375)  (USDO) contains incentives for builders of affordable housing units but these incentives compete with other "sustainability" incentives such as designated green energy (LEED) and storm-water control (green and blue roofs).
  • The code allows a builder to choose among the sustainability and affordability incentives in order to gain exemptions to the basic regulations such as parking, building height and green space.  If all of the code regulations and incentives, including creation of affordable housing, are beneficial to the city, why aren’t they all required in the code as are fire and other building codes?  
  • Why allow developers to trade off energy efficiency, storm-water management and affordable housing based on the developer's economic priorities rather than the city's long term benefits. 
  • It appears that the zoning code fails to complement the goals of our Climate Smart City and the new Climate Leadership and  Community Protection Act by allowing construction of buildings that are inefficient, dependent on fossil fuel heating and cooling systems, adding to our greenhouse gas emissions and unaffordable for working families of modest means. 

References:

Albany Unified Sustainable Development Ordinance (City Code Chapter 375)  (USDO)

(iii) AFFORDABLE HOUSING New residential or mixed-use development or redevelopment of a site in which at least 20 percent of all new dwelling units are rent or deed restricted so that they are affordable to households earning no more than 80 percent of the area median household income for the City of Albany shall receive the following benefits: A. The minimum number of off-street parking required by Section 375-4(E) shall be reduced by 20 percent. B. The project may increase the maximum height of any primary building (or part of a primary building) located more than 100 feet from a Residential zoning district other than the R-M district, by one story. 

(b) AFFORDABLE HOUSING REQUIREMENTS After December 1, 2017, each new residential or mixed-use development or redevelopment containing 50 or more new dwelling units shall sell or rent at least five percent of its new dwelling units at sales or prices affordable to persons earning no more than 100 percent of the area median household income for the City of Albany, as Section 375-4: Development Standards Section 375-4(A): Dimensional Standards Section 375-4(A)(5): Encroachments and Exceptions City of Albany, New York Unified Sustainable Development Ordinance April 2017 129 determined by affordability methods used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.    

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At the COP23 Climate negotiations in Bonn, C40 and McKinsey, published a new report, ‘Focused Acceleration’, which will enable mayors to assess the ambition of their own climate plans against the modelled analysis produced by McKinsey and Arup. The analysis showed that if resources were concentrated on a small number of key policies and actions across the majority of cities, then C40 members can demonstrate that it is possible to cut emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement targets.

Cities can reduce their carbon footprints and meet other liveability goals by emphasizing certain development themes: 

  1. Transportation:
  2. Decarbonizing the electricity grid:  New construction offers the opportunity to take advantage of renewable sources such as geothermal, solar and wind onsite or remotely to provide heating, cooling and electricity to buildings. Surely, the development agencies that hand out tax and other incentives can demand that developers provide value to the community and to the residents in the form of lower emissions and cheaper utility rates.
  3. Optimizing energy efficiency in buildings: Heating and cooling account for 35 to 60 percent of total energy demand and, on average, produce nearly 40 percent of emissions. Raising building standards for new construction, retrofitting building envelopes, upgrading HVAC and water-heating technology, and implementing lighting, appliance, and automation improvements. While cities generally have more influence over this area than they do many others, progress will still require city leaders to work closely with building owners, both residential and commercial; real-estate developers; and building occupants. This action area is particularly important: since building stock tends to turn over only every 30 to 50 years, getting it wrong will lock in emissions, and potential costs, for decades. In contrast, getting it right will reduce energy costs—as well as provide more resilient, comfortable spaces to live, work, and play—for city residents through 2050 and beyond. Focused acceleration in this action area can close 20 to 55 percent of the gap between current emissions trends and 2030 abatement targets, depending on the local climate and population growth of the city, at an average cost of $20 to $100 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent.

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Ithaca NY documents relating to sustainable development

  1. Green Building Policy Report https://docs.google.com/a/streamcolab.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=c3RyZWFtY29sYWIuY29tfGl0aGFjYS1ncmVlbi1idWlsZGluZy1wb2xpY3l8Z3g6NWVjMzQ4ODc3OWM2MDVkNQ
  2. Energy Roadmap  http://tompkinscountyny.gov/files2/planning/energyclimate/documents/Energy%20Roadmap%203-25-16.pdf