Springfield News-Leader: Quicker Reviews by Greene County Could Boost Green Building

Didi Tang
Despite their complexity, green projects may soon be able to move through the county’s review process as fast as other projects.
“Greene County wants to be on board to promote green buildings,” County Administrator Tim Smith said. “We’re simply facilitating those who want to do it.”

Smith has suggested the county identify qualified green projects — those seeking to use energy more efficiently and implement better environmental practices by certain standards — and process their applications promptly.If approved by county commissioners, the proposal could help expedite the review process by weeks, if not months, for green projects.

That would nudge more developers and builders to take on green projects, said Matt O’Reilly, a leading member of the Ozarks Green Building Coalition.
“We’re trying to do a good thing and we should not be running uphill to do a good thing,” said O’Reilly, who developed Green Circle, a shopping mall that has incorporated various energy efficient and environmentally friendly features.
Matt Morrow, executive director of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Springfield, said builders and developers would support the county proposal as long as it’s not done on the backs of non-green projects.
“It’s a really good idea that we can save some time on a project that exceeds the regulatory standards by flagging them,” Morrow said. “But builders and developers don’t want this to be a slow track for things that are not green.”
O’Reilly said it is fair for builders and developers of green projects to get preferential treatment because they “go above and beyond the codes.”
“We’re trying to be responsible,” O’Reilly said. “We’re not trying to make as much money as possible.”
Smith said builders or developers needn’t worry about delays — not when the construction market is dull.
“Everything is on the fast track because we don’t have anything to review,” Smith said. “We welcome any project, green or not.”
Changing the system
The proposal, Smith said, is intended to goad the bureaucracy to become more friendly to green projects.
“The system is resistant to change,” the county administrator said. “What we’re saying is … we’re going to be more positive.”
Current government codes allow for construction of green buildings.
But green projects can trigger more questions in a review process because they often deploy unconventional design and building methods, O’Reilly said.
When trying to clear the regulatory hurdle for the Green Circle project, O’Reilly said he had to shuffle among several municipal departments, submitting additional information to justify his plans.
For example, the design of his stormwater system has unusual features such as rooftop green space and water-absorbing parking surface, prompting the city to ask more questions, O’Reilly said.
With each round of questions, O’Reilly said his files went back to the bottom of the stack for review, and the review process got drawn out.
He estimated he spent about two extra months for the final nod.
A fast-track approach, as proposed by the county, would save much time and money for green project developers, O’Reilly said.
Springfield officials say they have no immediate plans to give green projects any priority in reviewing –but they want to expedite the review process for all applications.
At the county courthouse, Smith said it is the gesture that matters.
“The most important message is that we will move your projects,” Smith said.
The county administrator has suggested the county offer a 25 percent rebate in permit fees to qualified green projects, or those that are certified by either the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program or the National Association of Home Builders.
The rebate, however, is not feasible now because of a tight budget, but it remains a possibility in the future, Smith said.
O’Reilly said the rebate could be another incentive for builders and developers to go green.

With more green projects, the county also benefits because green projects are less demanding on its infrastructure, O’Reilly said.