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City leaders to overhaul Denver's green roof initiative

Posted: 7:07 PM, May 07, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-09 22:00:55Z

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DENVER -- No one expected Denver's green roof initiative to pass, and now city leaders are scrambling to make it a more viable and enforceable ordinance.

Last November, Denver voters passed Initiative 300, more commonly known as the Green Roof Initiative . Starting January 1, 2018, any construction of buildings over 25,000-square feet must include a green roof, solar panel installation or a combination of both.

The whole idea is to use green space and solar energy to improve air quality, reduce temperatures, and mitigate other environmental implications of Denver's growing ozone levels and population.

"The word green roof just sounds so great that people wanted to do that," said Denver councilwoman Mary Beth Susman. "There are a few things we need to tweak in order to make this a real viable operation."

While the current rules are in place, Susman serves on the Denver task force overhauling the ordinance with input from the proponents behind it.

She explained while the intentions of the ordinance were good, the implementation is much more complex.

Unlike marijuana, Denver is not the first city to do green roofs, but is the first city to require it for existing buildings.

"It's the most complicated part of this because if you go to fix your roof this ordinance is going to apply and we worry that it will mean people won't be fixing their roofs," she said.

The latest recommendations from the task force were presented to a council committee Monday. The main changes focus on alternatives. If green roofs or solar panels aren't feasible, builders would be able to pay to fund off-site green space or have more energy efficient buildings.

Under the current rules, Susman explained it's green roofs and solar panels or nothing.

"It would cost $137,000 more for a building of 25,000-square feet to comply," Susman said.

Other views

Denver developer Kyle Zeppelin supports the idea and is way ahead of the green roof rush.

"People like spaces that open up to green space," he said.

Zeppelin is already installing a green roof at his latest office development, The Flight, in Denver's River North District which is 90 percent full. Zeppelin Station in RiNo also has a green roof installed.

Zeppelin said he believes the long-term benefits outweigh the upfront costs and sees green roofs as a part of Denver's environmental solution.

"Buildings are one of the leading contributors to global warming emissions; to be a real part of the solution we really have to start making moves," he said.

Other developers like Denver developer and architect David Berton, with Real Architecture, aren't sold on Denver's green roof future.

"Everyone is kind of scratching their head and trying to figure out how to comply with the ordinance right now," said Berton.

Berton is concerned about increased construction and maintenance costs, which he said will likely end up being passed on to renters and buyers.

"With today's expensive rents and expensive sale prices, this is not a great thing for Denver," he said.

What's next?

The future of Denver's green roofs is up to city council. They have the power to alter a voter approved ordinance six months after it takes effect and Susman said they plan to do so.

"We are trying to find a way where we can help reduce that cost," she said.

City council is holding two public sessions over the next few weeks to get community input on the proposed changes, and hopes to vote on a final version in July or August.