Fresno green building program runs out of steam

The La Quarencia project in north Fresno received a “Fresno Green” certification for energy efficiency and green building practices. A resident said his energy bill is about $300 a year.The La Quarencia project in north Fresno received a “Fresno Green” certification for energy efficiency and green building practices. A resident said his energy bill is about $300 a year.In Fresno, there are more reasons to build green than just the good feeling of being more energy efficient and using recycled materials.

A local program put in place five years ago also offers developers a reduction on planning fees, expedited permit processing and a break on project components that don’t quite meet development standards.

But lately, the Fresno Green Building Incentive Program has lost the steam that once had the city’s Development and Resource Management Department shepherding building projects that conserve energy and water while paying the same respect to air quality, pedestrian access and public art.

Since its November 2007 rollout, the program’s “Green Team” has reviewed a total of 21 different building projects. It has certified eight of those projects, awarding some a 25-percent reduction in many planning fees, and in some cases, a 20-percent minor deviation from development standards such as building height or lot dimensions.

According to the Green Team’s Chair Karana Hattersley-Drayton, however, no new applications have been submitted or evaluated in close to a year while references to the program aren’t even included in the city’s recently released 2025 General Plan and other documents pertaining to conservation.

“The whole building industry has been slower and a lot of the (original program creators) aren’t even with the city anymore,” she said.

Aside from a lag in construction, Hattersley-Drayton herself admitted that there have been some questions as to whether the Fresno Green program is even needed anymore.

For one thing, she said, California has stepped up its mandatory standards on green building, leaving many local initiatives either obsolete or struggling to keep up.

Some builders, such as Granville Homes, have even made sustainable construction a personal mission, she said, adding cool roofs, tankless water heaters, low-E vinyl windows and other efficient features on all its new homes as part of its Eco-Smart program. 

As well, the minor deviations allowed by the program might not be consistent with changes currently being made to the city’s development codes, such as the ones affecting downtown, she said.

In spite of the setbacks, Hattersley-Drayton and the Green Team — consisting of two city planners and a few representing the architecture and housing trades — stand ready to assemble over new applications to see what qualifies for certification.

“It’s kind of a love and not really my job,” she said. “It’s all done by staff cutting out time from our schedules.”

Much like the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Build It Green’s GreenPoint rating system, the program relies on a point-based checklist of optional criteria in order to assess a project’s green status.

In fact, projects that satisfy the requirements of LEED or GreenPoint systems are automatically given the Fresno Green label.

But unlike the nation-wide programs before it, Hattersley-Drayton said Fresno Green incorporates the additional amenities of public art and pedestrian access and does away with the cost and rigmarole of other certifications.

“The point was to make it accessible,” she said. “Instead of having pages and pages of applications and guidelines, it’s two pages.”

One of the first projects to be branded Fresno Green was the Unitarian Universalist Church near Alluvial and Chestnut avenues, built in 2007.

The building, also LEED-certified, is complete with a light scoop that takes advantage of natural light, recycled flooring made from sawdust and linseed oil and urinals made of recycled soda bottles along with outside plants that don't need much water.

The facility is also powered, in part, by a 35-kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy system that reduces the church’s electricity costs by about $15,500 every year.

Through its certification by the Fresno Green program, the church also received an $8,000 rebate in planning fees.

On the property just west of the church sits another Fresno Green project that made its efficient design known to Fresno residents when it first opened in 2008.

Dubbed the Fresno cohousing project, La Quarencia boasts 28 condominium units equipped with solar panels, Energy Star appliances, low-water-use fixtures, ample natural light and active/passive cooling/heating techniques that reduce monthly utility bills. 

“I live in a three-bedroom unit and the electric bill is less than $300 a year,” said George Burman, a retired electrical engineer who also helped plan the development. “Part of that comes from solar and a big part comes from the fact that design of the build is for energy efficiency.”

The community-oriented condos were also built within walking distance of schools, parks, shopping, restaurants and bicycle paths to reduce dependence on automobiles and increase opportunities for exercise.

Other local projects receiving the Fresno Green certification include the Dickey Youth Center in downtown Fresno, the Park Grove Commons apartment complex on Clinton Avenue, the Juvenile Justice Campus in south of Fresno and the home of Mary Riojas, featured in 2008 on the hit TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The home, built by DeYoung Properties, received a deviation for being built too close to the street thanks to the Fresno Green program.