Officials: More Energy Efficiency

Leaders discuss design policy that would give extra points to
energy-conscious buildings
Gilroy – The city’s first solar powered houses went on the market in recent months, and city leaders are eager to let developers know they want more of the same.

Council members and planning commissioners are now discussing an Energy-Efficient Building Design Policy that would change the way developers edge out competition for building permits.

Housing with solar panels, recycled materials and water-efficient landscaping are among those that will earn extra points under proposed changes to the grading system for development proposals. The competition governed by the Residential Development Ordinance – commonly known as the RDO competition – involves a 200-point grading scale. City staff and officials use the grading system to decide which projects should get building permits, and how soon they should be built.

Developer James Suner, who is responsible for a dozen small projects in Gilroy, will go before planning commissioners Thursday night with a solar-powered housing project on Kern Avenue. In addition to solar panels, the dozen homes include special glass that reflects heat in the summer and helps retain it during winter.

“There are two sides in the energy equation,” Suner said. “One is how much you generate and the other is how much you use. Right now (solar energy) is marginally efficient, but as energy prices go up it becomes more efficient.”

Suner said that recent changes in state law have made it far less risky for developers to invest in solar power in particular.

Unlike Suner, not all developers are ahead of the curve. But Mayor Al Pinheiro does not believe the new energy-efficient building policy will favor out-of-towners already accustomed to such technologies.

“I think builders are like anyone else that’s in business,” he said. “They must change with the times, with new requirements, and they must adapt. Even though there might be builders in our community that never had a thought about doing this kind of thing, they know they’ll have to adjust to our vision.”

The energy efficient building policy is one piece of a major overhaul of the RDO point system. City leaders are also considering changes that would reward affordable housing projects and development proposals that help finance big ticket public projects such as sidewalk repairs or downtown paseos.

Qualifications

Under proposed changes to the city’s building permit competition, housing proposals will get extra points if they integrate energy-efficient designs. The following sampling shows how a project could qualify:

– Use at least 25 percent recycled content in building materials

– Use water-efficient landscaping and low-flow plumbing beyond city requirements

– Have a transit-oriented design

– Use solar power

– Recycle at least 50 percent of construction waste

– Other innovative, energy-efficient techniques

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