Tag Archives: King County

King County develops new, green ‘EcoCribz’ video series

Yesterday, King County launched a video series called ‘EcoCribz.’ The series follows one family as they green-remodel their house and aims to teach viewers – you and I – valuable lessons while aiming us towards other green remodeling resources.

The first video, available here, profiles the Bangs family and their Issaquah home. It’s a fun tour that documents the family’s goal to create a more energy efficient home with better air quality.

Patti Southard, project manager for King County’s GreenTools Program and host of the series, said King County wanted to show people that green home remodeling creates healthy, comfortable spaces that can save money, increase home value and help protect the environment. The county also created helpful remodel tips for renters who are looking at paint and interior options like area rugs and eco-friendly bedding.

The series also illustrates how homeowners can use the county’s Eco-Cool Remodel Tool, another useful resource. Basically, it’s trying to get you to think about your choices before you remodel or build to create a greener space.

Water infrastructure: the problem no one wants to (openly) talk about

This week, the DJC published my story on the Bullitt Foundation’s desire to go off the water grid and the underlying politics of the decision. I’ve written about this topic before in this March 17 post “Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically will it be able to?” Basically, the problem centers around the idea that Bullitt wants to capture and treat all its own water. That means it wants to do the impossible: drink the water that falls on its site and treat the toilet waste the occupants produce. I say impossible because the barriers seem endless. (Clarification: I do not actually think it is impossible. As a journalist I don’t take sides and have no opinion on the topic. But if you were to look at the issue before Bullitt started talking with agencies, it was an impossibility. That’s the point of the Living Building Challenge… to break down barriers).

The barrier I discussed in the story is King County’s capacity fee. According to an internal county document, a different project (part of Amazon’s new headquarters in South Lake Union) wanted to go partially off the water grid and requested a waiver of the capacity fee. The waiver would have resulted in a loss of over $700,000 for the county in 2008, the document says. Because the building would still be hooking into King County’s water system for some services, the county declined the waiver. Even though a building may be water independent, it still needs to be connected to the county system in case of emergency. This means it needs to be able to function at any given moment.

Developers and green enthusiasts say the fee should be waived because it encourages innovation, and developers won’t pursue these projects otherwise. The county says it’s a social equity issue: by waiving the fee, other less fortunate individuals will end up paying for infrastructure and the county has already counted on new development to support that work. Specifically, the county is in the middle of building the $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant.

I’m really interested in this dilemma, especially the validity of the social justice claim. I had a brief conversation via Twitter this week with @bruteforceblog (whose very interesting blog is here: http://bruteforcecollaborative.wordpress.com/). Bruteforce said if this were a rural site he’d be all for cutting the capacity fee but in a city, the less affluent will be burdened by the cost. He suggested priority permitting as an incentive. However the city already provides priority permitting for super green projects and in this economy, the quickened pace doesn’t equal the amount of savings it once did. I asked him what other ideas he might suggest. Bruteforce said perhaps a FAR or height incentive could be the answer, adding that no matter the incentive, developers will always argue it isn’t enough. However, a commenter on our DJC story, Kent Andersson had another opinion: “It’s not about punishing the poor. It’s about everyone paying the true costs of the services they use. We should allow the exemption to spur the future, however if they need to discharge, then they should pay a higher rate.”

Regarding the capacity fee, the county is currently considering three pretty black and white options, again, according to the internal county documents: waive the fee for projects that go off the water grid, partially waive it or do nothing and keep the structure as it is.

But there’s another option. Why not let innovative projects go off the grid and then charge them crazy insane fees if and when they do use the system? Just a thought.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think the county is right on with its social justice reasoning or is that an excuse? What incentives do you think should be offered to developers, if any should be offered at all to get them moving in this direction? Or maybe we all should pay the “true costs” of water and agree to much higher water rates? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Next week is going to be crazy with loads of green events!

Next week, there is an insane amount of green building events. Having so much in one week makes it really tough to decide what to attend. I have an idea of where I’ll be, what about you?

Here are the green events I know about. I’m sure there are a number of others that are just not on my radar. If you know of any others in the Seattle area, feel free to post them in the comments below.

  • Cascadia’s Living Future Unconference will run from May 5 to 7 at The Westin Seattle. This is the fourth Living Future and the first time it will have made its circular round back to the same city (it began in Seattle in 2007, then was in Vancouver, B.C. in 2008, then was in Portland in 2009. I’ve been to each conference and would highly recommend it). The conference costs $695 for Cascadia members and $760 for general registration. Speakers include James Howard Kunstler, Jason McLennan, Pliny Fisk, John Francis and Bill Reed.
  • AIA Seattle’s What Makes It Green? Judging will be held next week, in conjunction with Living Future. The event costs $5 for members of AIA and other organizations and $20 for non-members. Judges include Bob Berkebile of BNIM, Donald Horn of the General Service Administration’s Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings, Claire Johnson of Atelier Ten and Alex Steffen of Worldchanging. The talk will be moderated by Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen. The event runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday.
  • Also connected with Living Future is King County’s GreeenTools Government Confluence. This conference focuses on sustainability at the government level but has a stellar line up  of speakers. Speakers include Bill Reed of the Integrative Design Collaborative, Lucia Athens of CollinsWoerman and Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. There are a number of registration opportunities and fees that vary, based on whether you are a King County employee or not and whether you are attending Living Future. Click on the link above for more info
  • On May 5, the Washington Foundation for the Environment is holding a talk on the region’s environmental protections. The talk beings at 7 p.m. and will be at the K&L Gates Offices at 925 Fourth Avenue on the 29th floor. Speakers include Washington State Department of Ecology director Ted Sturdevant and Environmental Protection Agency Region X director Dennis McLerran. The two will discuss their plans to protect the region’s waters, air and land. The event is free but RSVPS are required. RSVP to info@wffe.org.
  • Next week is also Seattle Sweden Week. There is a conference called Business Focus-Edays, which focuses on clean technology, sustainable development and global health. There are a number of interesting sessions. For more on the conference, go here.  As part of Seattle Sweden Week, there will also be a talk at the University of Washington on May 5 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Parrington Hall. The talk is called Narratives on Sustainability: Gustav Froding, Thomas Transtromer and others. More info on that here.

Did we learn anything from ‘snowpocalypse?’

Now that the very last remnants of ‘snowpocalypse’ are gone, I thought it would be a good time for the DJC Green Building Blog to ask “just what did we learn?”

(For those of you not in the Seattle area, a thick blanket of snow carpeted the Pacific Northwest for most of the past week and a half. In Seattle, this amounts to a once-every-15-years-event).

As a city there weren’t many surprises: we learned Seattle doesn’t really know how to deal with snow and local drivers understand how it works even less.

But as individuals did we connect to our immediate environments a little bit more? I did. I live in a very walkable neighborhood with a market, restaurants and a coffee shop all across the street. A little further away there’s a retail district and a movie theatre. I walk to these places constantly and use them frequently.

But here’s the thing: beind snowed in forced me to think about my local amenities differently. No longer did I have the choice to drive to the movie theatre. If I wanted to go, I had to walk. And if I wanted other entertainment not across the street, well I had to reconsider just how much I wanted that too. Was I willing to walk for it?

Cutting out the choices shifted my perspective. If city planners ever hope to make the car a defunct item, that’s the kind of space they’re going to need to create.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was thinking differently: all of my local restaurants were packed whenever I passed by them (even sushi.) People I know who never take the bus were doing it. Or walking to places they had never considered walking to.

The Seattle Times  reported on local retailers seeing big foot trafffic. Looking back on the week and a half, it was annoying, yes. But having Mother Nature limit my choices for me was also kind of nice.

Green building is about creating a structure that gives back to its community a little bit more than the standard product. But a green building in the middle of nowhere only does so much good. Sustainable living, on the other hand, is about creating a community that doesn’t just take but gives back. In a way, the snow made me give back more to my community because it forced me to interract even more with it.

There’s a kind of momentum there, if a city could only capture it. But how is it possible to capture a forced locality, if you will, and turn it into better urban planning? It seems like there’s a great opportunity there, if only someone would step up and find a way to take it.

Is green building an urban thing?

This week, I wrote an article in the DJC that looked at green building programs outside of Seattle.

The story quoted King County GreenTools, a program that supports green building in the county, as saying every suburban city is interested in green building but to different levels. So far, it said there are only two suburban jurisdictions, Kirkland and Redmond, which have started green building programs. (I have since learned via a representative of the city of Issaquah that that city also has an official green building program. Issaquah has supported green building practices for over eight years.)

Even in the DJC offices, the story struck home on two very different levels. One of my colleagues, let’s call them Randall Potersdam, was surprised that Redmond’s green building program had been around less than a year. Having spent a lot of time on the Eastside, this person thought there would have been a green building program in Redmond ages ago.

Another colleague, let’s call them Tallulah Jillian, was surprised by the extent of cities that were interested and actually working on aspects of green building. When you think of green building, Tallulah said, you usually think of it as an urban thing… but if 39 cities in King County are interested in it, it might not be such an urban thing after all.

How about it, is green building an urban thing?

If so, there are a lot of reasons why it could be more prevalent in big cities. Big cities have more money and more staff members through which to spread the work of developing green building programs and policy. They also tend to own utilities, which can be a source of funding or product or project investigation.

But smaller cities, that have buy in from residents, can make things happen without the bureaucracy of large city government. For example, Kirkland, Issaquah and Redmond have no problem calling expedited permitting “expedited”. Seattle calls a similar, newly launched program “facilitated” because it doesn’t want to guarantee the project’s permitting will actually take less time.

So what do you think? Is green building an urban thing or not? Do you think building green is easier or more difficult in urban or suburban cities?

Tune in for my next post for a breakdown of where LEED buildings actually are spread across the state. You might be surprised.