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Eco-Friendly LEED-Certified Apartments Set to Sprout Across City

By Amy Zimmer | August 7, 2013 7:38am
 Some 230 residential projects in the works are hoping for the green LEED-certification designation.
LEED certified buildings
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MANHATTAN — It took only 15 minutes for Steven Goldstein to spend almost $150,000.

He walked into Chelsea Green’s sales office in May 2012, looked at the renderings for an eco-friendly boutique condo and plunked down 15 percent for a one-bedroom, priced just under $1 million.

The promise of rooftop solar panels and sleek interiors with sustainable materials appealed to him, but what really sold Goldstein — who previously battled over cigarette smoke wafting in from a neighbor — was the high-tech heating and cooling system that would deliver filtered air year long.

The 51-unit sold-out building at 151 W. 21st St., slated to open in January, expects to score enough eco-points to qualify for LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — Gold, a designation that has come to signal a green stamp of approval. 

It is one of nearly 230 residential projects planned across the city — some of which haven't broken ground yet — registered for consideration by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program, which measures buildings’ environmental impacts based on various categories, from water conservation and construction materials to proximity to public transportation or having bike racks.

Since the program started more than 10 years ago, the city has seen roughly 60 residential buildings win LEED certification, according to the USGBC.  As construction starts up again, that number is set to explode soon, on both ends of the real estate spectrum: in the luxury market and for affordable housing, according to a list of registered projects obtained by DNAinfo.

“I like that they’re trying to reduce the carbon footprint,” said Goldstein, who already lives in Chelsea and works for a San Francisco-based biotech company that is so environmentally conscious it banned bottled water at meetings. 

“I’m green, but I’m not that green. But I think it’s important we take more responsibility about shaping our future.”

The city’s first residential high-rise to achieve LEED certification was the Solaire, a luxury rental in Battery Park City built in 2003 with photovoltaic cells converting sunlight to electricity and a central water filtration system.  More recent LEED projects include Via Verde/the Green Way, a city-funded affordable complex in the South Bronx, which boasts of a rainwater reclamation system to keep its rooftop gardens abloom.

Of the buildings that have registered for future LEED certification, roughly 70 are in Manhattan, more than 40 are in Brooklyn; nine are in the Bronx; three in Staten Island, and one is in Long Island City, Queens. Nearly 20 projects are being developed by nonprofits or local government. (Roughly 100 properties did not disclose their addresses.)

“High-end buyers are seeking sustainable features, from good indoor air quality to energy and water efficiency,” said Tiffany Broyles Yost, director of programs at the USGBC of New York.

 Some 230 residential projects in the works are hoping for the green LEED-certification designation.
A glimpse of LEED certified buildings
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“I don’t know if it’s increasing prices, but I think it’s increasing the speed of selling. Properties tend to sell faster with these features.”

Affordable housing projects also benefit when buildings perform better, she said. “Improved water and efficiency means lower utility bills, which translates directly into fewer foreclosures.”

While there are other “green” certification programs, like Energy Star, focusing on energy efficiency, and the Passive House Institute’s program focusing on building insulation, LEED has become a coveted brand name.

But it has faced some backlash as being more a gimmick than a serious effort at combating climate change. Bryant Park's Bank of America office tower, for instance, won LEED Platinum certification when it opened two years ago, but its occupants use twice as much energy per square foot than the 80-year-old Empire State Building, according to a recent New Republic article.

Still, the LEED program has helped transform the market and construction practices, Yost said.  Things once considered fringe green practices like recycling construction waste, using low VOC paint and other non-toxic interior materials, are now commonplace, she noted, as the program gears up for a new iteration approved last month with provisions improving energy efficiency and disclosure on materials a building uses.

“If you want to be — and consider yourself to be — the most innovative developer, sustainability is hand in hand with that,” said Charlotte Matthews, vice president of sustainability at the Related Companies, which committed to building LEED-certified projects exclusively since 2008, with 11 Silver and Gold buildings across the country.

Related was the first to use energy efficient — and costlier — compact fluorescent light bulbs at a construction site when building the LEED Gold luxury MiMA building on West 42nd Street, Matthews said.

“The industry thought we were crazy,” she said. “We saved $300,000 [in] 400 days of construction. Those lights are on 24/7.”

Related plans to up its eco-quotient for the 5,000 apartments it is building at Hudson Yards with a cogeneration station producing the complex’s own heat and electricity; a series of pneumatic tubes whooshing away trash, recyclables and compost to reduce trucks from the area; and a sophisticated thermostat system that residents can control remotely.

The developer, however, won’t be able to control how much energy a tenant uses, but it wants to make saving energy convenient.

“If you went off to the Hamptons and forgot to shut off your AC for the weekend you can do that [remotely],” Matthews said, “or if you want it back on before you come home, you can do that, too.”