WOODLAWN — What was supposed to be a informational meeting turned combative when Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ald. Natashia Holmes (7th) hosted a chance for residents to hear about a new sustainability ordinance being considered by the City Council.
Karen Weigart, chief sustainability officer for the city, explained to a crowd of Woodlawn, Hyde Park and South Shore residents at Hyde Park Career Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., how new reporting standards on energy usage would affect their homes.
“There are no mandates to make improvements,” Weigart said of an ordinance introduced in June that would require the owner of any non-industrial building of more than 50,000 square feet to provide a description of their property and energy usage to the city.
The ordinance introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel would affect about 3,500 residential and commercial properties in the city — about 1 percent of all buildings in the city, Weigart said.
The ordinance would require building owners to report their energy usage and then have it verified by an expert.
“I don’t understand why I need another expert to come out and describe my building that’s already been described,” said Jeanne Bloom of South Shore, citing other city requirements for facade inspections and a fire sprinkler check on high-rise buildings.
Weigart said many buildings already have an architect, engineer or other employee who can provide the verification and the cost would be minimal. She said her department estimated the cost to be between $750 and $2,500 based on a survey of five firms currently providing energy usage analyses.
“I suspect if this ordinance were it to go forward and enter the market, I expect the prices would go down,” Weigart said, which elicited laughter from the audience of about 75 people.
The ordinance was delayed by alderman representing lakeshore communities when it came up for a vote in July and will come back before the City Council in September.
“There are not enough alderman on the lakefront to vote this down, and it is likely we will be defeated,” Hairston said.
She said the ordinance was moving through council “at the speed of a freight train.”
“At the end of the day, this is something we all want to see done, but not today,” Holmes said.
Lakefront residents at the meeting seemed largely opposed to the measure because the ordinance did not collect much new information, but aggregated existing data that many feared would later be used to impose fines on inefficient buildings.
Weigart acknowledged that much of the data collected by the ordinance already existed but was unavailable to the city. After the meeting she said the city could not collect data from utility companies on individual buildings because of state privacy laws, and building reports were scattered among individual property holders.
“The Department of Buildings doesn’t have as much information about your buildings as you do,” Weigart said responding to questions about why the onus was placed on owners.
The ordinance would make public energy use data at a individual buildings one year after it was submitted to the city, which also riled many residents, who said it violated their privacy.
Weigart said the information would encourage building owners to decrease their energy use and would provide better information for those in the market for property.
She repeatedly said there would be no mandates on any building to change its energy usage, but many in the audience heard a silent “yet” at the end of Weigart’s comments.