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Atlanta Restauranteurs Resisting Push for Green Building Legislation

Recent efforts by Atlanta’s restaurant industry to resist proposed green building legislation implicate the conclusions of NIBS’ report about state- and local-level green building policy which we noted last month here at GRELJ. The Atlanta Sustainable Building Draft Ordinance would require the city’s commercial buildings and residential dwellings three stories or higher to comply with either LEED or specifications drafted by the Sustainable Atlanta committee. What’s particularly interesting about the pushback is the extent to which it reflects the conclusions in the NIBS report; for example, Keisha Carter, director of public affairs of the Georgia Restaurant Association, stated in a recent piece in Nation’s Restaurant News that “[t]here needs to be more due diligence on this before the city council can even consider passing it. There is a lot of political play going on with this thing, but we’re trying to stay on top of it and be heard. There is major concern that it will pass, but the members of the city council must come to realize it’s not in any shape to be passed just yet.”

This comment reminded me of language in the NIBS report which noted that “[a]t an increasing rate, state and local governments and their code/regulatory agencies are adopting building rating/certification systems, intended as voluntary systems, to be their code or regulatory requirements, often without fully understanding their benefits, tradeoffs, and costs.” While the Atlanta restaurant industry seems more concerned with what it perceives to be a green building cost premium, the fact that its opposition is also grounded in the lack of sufficient input from stakeholders also echoes many of the policy issues we’ve raised here at GRELJ over the past year, particularly with respect to the rush to mandate green building requirements.

In that vein, it’s also interesting that although Atlanta’s Bureau of Buildings will enforce the ordinance, the city council has yet to determine what types of fines or other enforcement mechanisms would be imposed on buildings that fail to comply. “This is still a work in progress,” a spokesman observed, and the restaurant industry is pointing to this specific comment as one of the bases for arguing that the ordinance needs more work before the city council even considers passing it. Again, this echoes the types of observations noted in the NIBS report. While these types of details are being worked out, the restaurant industry is instead advocating for additional financial incentives (such as tax credits and building permit fee reductions); this also reflects the conclusions of the NAIOP report issued earlier this year, which called for financial incentives rather than mandates to bridge landlords’ payback period gap for most types of energy efficiency improvements.

On another note, the ordinance may present some novel green leasing implications which the restaurant industry has picked up on. Although building owners will bear the responsibility under the text of the ordinance for ensuring that the required standards are satisfied, the restaurant industry is warning restauranteurs who do not own the premises out of which they are operating to review their lease documents and confirm that they will not be responsible for executing the legislation’s required retrofits. It is not difficult to imagine the scenario where a lease includes a clause obligating the tenant to comply with all applicable codes and regulations, and the landlord pinning responsibility for any such retrofits on that tenant in the absence of affirmative language to the contrary.

Just a quick editorial note- this article will be the only new post here at GRELJ for the rest of the month as I am getting married this Saturday and then off on the honeymoon. Thanks to everyone for your support and comments since we launched this site almost a year ago (and patience over the past couple of weeks while the pace of our posts has slowed in advance of the wedding). See you on the other side!

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One Response to Atlanta Restauranteurs Resisting Push for Green Building Legislation

  1. Rich Cartlidge November 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    Very interesting! I think that a similar parallel can be drawn to what has occurred in Baltimore where the city passed a green building ordinance with city guidelines to follow. My concern is that we will see a backlash against green building if state and local governments continue to pass mandates without a clear understanding of the issues. While I am a stout supporter of sustainable building I am concerned that the state and local mandates are passed without understanding exactly what is required to comply with the mandate and what its impact will be on the building trade. The Palm Coast here in Florida recently passed legislation which allowed for the fast tracking of permits and one free inspection by city inspectors. Suprisingly, the building trade was against unlimited free inspections as they felt it would hurth their already suffering bottom lines. What is the city of Atlanta doing to address the needs of the building trades?

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