In order to reach its goal of being carbon-free by 2040, Northfield is going to have to change the way it does business. A big part of that has to do with its built environment.
At its Dec. 7 meeting, the City Council got a chance to review a draft of a new sustainable building policy (SBP), which would impact the way developments, renovations and additions are conducted in the city of Northfield. The council is expected to vote on whether or not to adopt the policy in January.
The way Northfield’s SBP would work, Program Coordinator Beth Kallestad explained, is the city would ask developers to bring a sustainable development approach in exchange for financial incentives from the city. The policy would also set up tiers based on the size of the financial assistance from the city, setting up minimum sustainability criteria that go beyond state codes for construction or significant renovation.
For developments receiving between $150,000 and $300,000 from the city, the developer could only get out of sustainability standards by proving they are unfeasible for the given project, a claim which would have to be considered by the city during negotiations. For developments receiving over $300,000, meeting the sustainability standards would be required.
The policy would also kick in on private renovations and additions where there is financial incentive from the city, the space is at least 10,000 square feet and there is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) impact. It would kick on in municipal buildings of any size where there is an HVAC impact.
“We’re gonna follow our own policy on our own buildings,” Kallestad said.
Northfield’s SBP would not apply to developments taking place without city funding.
According to a statewide survey by the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), a Minneapolis-based clean energy nonprofit, 85% of developers already name sustainability in their mission statements. Fifty-five percent also say they incorporate sustainable practices because of the requirements of local jurisdictions, while 65% say they do it because it’s a requirement of their funding source.
After Kallestad’s presentation on the proposed policy, Councilor Brad Ness asked what the increase in cost would be for developments to hit the sustainability targets outlined by the policy. According to Kallestad, CEE found a 1-3% upfront cost increase. On the back end, though, she said, the sustainable developments that would result from the policy — most of which would be multi-family residential or commercial/industrial developments — would enjoy significantly reduced energy costs, healthier indoor air quality, better lighting and a more sustainable, well-built building overall. The costs would vary, though, she said, depending on the experience and expertise of the developer.
Councilor Suzie Nakasian expressed concern that the policy would prejudice project selection away from local vendors who may not have the expertise to do the sort of green development discussed in the SBP, thus creating an unfair playing field for Northfield’s local developers. Kallestad responded by saying the question of having developers undergo additional training had been raised at a meeting with local stakeholders and builders. Additionally, she said, the city is exploring a joint powers agreement with Hennepin County’s Efficient Building Collaborative, which would give technical support and guidance to both staff and local developers.
Councilor Jessica Peterson White and Mayor Rhonda Pownell asked if the SBP could have impacts beyond just general contractors, providing sustainability education and training for electricians and plumbers or trying to change how HVAC operates in other contexts in the city. Kallestad said the policy probably wouldn’t apply for those situations, unless a project came for tax increment financing (TIF) on single-family homes, for instance.
Councilor Clarice Grenier Grabau said she was excited to vote for the policy.
“This is something that we have to figure out how to do,” Grenier Grabau said. “It’s going to be painful in the beginning, maybe, but … once you do it, then you’ve learned that, and we can use that knowledge going forward.”