As the first green building is launched in Miami, a local developer and a green building pioneer discuss the benefits of undertaking environmentally sound building practices.
By Sarah Douglas
Want to qualify for green building status? It is going to cost, says a developer who’s testing the waters here in greater Miami with two environmentally friendly projects.
How much more in construction costs? Something in the 5 percent to 10 percent range, says Kim Rodstein, VP of H & R Mortgage and Realty Company and the developer of Miami’s first green project. Also the first green project for Rodstein, Baylights at 1910 Bay Drive in Miami Beach will be ready this fall. In Rodstein’s case, the additional financial burden, which Baylights Development Co. is absorbing rather than passing on to buyers, includes the cost of compliance and of hiring a specialist to guide her through the labyrinth of guidelines that the US Green Building Council espouses (available at www.usgbc.org).
Baylights, located at 1901 Bay Drive in Miami Beach, will be the first official green building in Miami. Developed by Baylights Development Co., it aspires to receive the silver rating.
Part of the cost for Rodstein was hiring what’s described as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings expert to navigate the points system the council has devised. Baylights, she hopes, will gain silver status upon completion. It is exempt from the gold and platinum categories, as it wasn’t planned as a green building.
“You need an expert in order to gain most points,” says Rodstein, who declines to say how much Baylights Development Co. is paying her green building Sherpa. “The individual guides you through the whole process from planning to completion, so you can gain or be awarded the highest accreditation. They check everything off for you.
“The cost is marginal,” she says, “but it was not an expense we were going to pass on to the buyer. We didn’t inflate the prices. They are market rate. The costs of compliance are absorbed into the construction costs.”
Baylights is a five-story development where the developers have used local materials, installed an environmentally friendly cooling system and landscaped to create a Zen-like atmosphere, according to the promotional materials.
The council’s green building rating system for new construction and major renovations lists a number of considerations for the developer.
“They rate everything about the infrastructure, mechanical, electrical and engineering,” says Rodstein. “They look at the landscaping and the air conditioning units, the materials utilized inside and outside, and what waste containers are used.”
Rodstein doesn’t baulk at the additional cost.
“If I can encourage other developers to pursue green construction, then that is a good thing,” says the trailblazer, who began to convert Baylights into a green project in late-2004. “It was November or December of that year when we decided that was the way forward. The aim is to create boutique-style living. In other words, anything where the unit-count is below 50. I hope to create a positive model for other developers. That is the rationale.”
She charts the course of the development’s history.
“Initially, the plans were created by Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design and my father,” she says referring to HR Mortgage and Realty president Hank Rodstein. “It had been designed as a standard building when my father brought me in. The plans were in place, and we had to retool and restructure. Several years into planning, we couldn’t make the development 100 percent green. It just wasn’t feasible. For example, we couldn’t add solar panels, because it was too cost prohibitive.”
Rodstein’s first incursion into green design is paying off. She has sold eight of the 12 units at Baylights. Pre-sale, prices ranged from a little more than $600,000 to more than $1 million for the units that range from more than 1,500 square feet to more than 2,500 square feet. Of the remaining four units, none is priced below $900,000. Each of the units has two or three bedrooms.
“The typical buyer is from the local market,” she says. “Although some originate from Europe, they are all local residents, mostly primary users.”
Rodstein is awaiting the green light for her next green venture, this time in Miami. Fifth Avenue Lofts, located at the cross-section of Northeast Fifth Avenue and Northeast 36th Street, has been conceived as a green building, which improves the chances of increased status under the green building council’s guidelines.
“We’re still in the planning stage,” says Rodstein. “We’re in the process of getting our Class 2 permits from the City of Miami.”
There is little to disclose about this venture, save that it is conceived as a 33-unit structure.
“We’re looking at other parcels, too, and our range of site is Miami and Miami Beach. Everywhere, from Downtown up to the Biscayne corridor toward the Upper Eastside.”
Rodstein says administrators at both Miami and Miami Beach were as green about the projects as the projects were themselves.
“We have been breaking ground in every sense,” she says. “The city officials welcomed green projects but weren’t aware of the prospects. To be technical, when we wanted to zeroscape, and we didn’t want an irrigation system because we were trying to be environmentally conservative, the cities hadn’t been exposed to or educated on the details of a green building.”
Another developer, Paul Murphy, had considered going green at Kubik, a project planned between 54th and 55th streets and Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, says Kim’s father Hank. “It wasn’t initially planned that way,” he says, “and it’s tough to do it midstream.”
Miami isn’t the focus of green projects yet, though it is catching the eye of developers to the west. A spokesperson for a Bonita Springs-based developer says the South Florida market remains untapped.
“Green building has been growing in Florida, and the state has its hot spots,” says Karen Childress, environmental stewardship manager for WCI Communities. “The Miami area is not one of the hot spots, but I’d like to help change that. Sarasota and Gainesville are communities in which green development prevails.”
She identifies Pruett and Mercedes Homes in Sarasota and Gulfstream Homes in the southwest of the state as strong exponents.
Just to muddy the waters, there are other green guidelines: those espoused by the National Association of Home Builders. As with all things green, there is a certain amount of irony. The association’s guidelines run to 156 pages as opposed to those of the council, a trifling 81, making printing of either set a less than environmentally friendly exercise.
“They’re new,” says Childress of the association directions. “The association realized the trend of green building.” She insists that, as with champions of other issues in the state, green campaigners have been the pioneers.
“Here in Florida, we built green before the national model existed,” says Childress. “There was no measurement for a green home and the state has its own climate issues. Even if there had been a national model, and other parts of the county had standards, including Colorado and Texas, nothing addressed the issues that Florida faces.”
Need another model of conformity?
Developers here may heed the Florida Green Building Coalition standard. The organization, established to provide a statewide program with environmental and economic benefits, is hosting its third annual building conference May 2 – 4 in Gainesville. “[WCI] is pretty loyal to those standards,” says Childress. “We’re getting to know the requirements quite well and we’ve geared our projects to fit them. The Florida Home Builders Association has been talking to and working with the coalition about how those standards can work as a pattern for the association.”
She explains the 30-year history of green ventures.
“I think it goes back to the 1970s,” says Childress. “It didn’t really have a name and it was something of a cult of dedicated environmentalists. In the 1970s, it was the need for energy efficiency that emerged because of the crisis during that decade. We really had to tighten up and seal our homes better, so that we weren’t losing air or wasting energy in heating or cooling.” Childress, who has served the sector since 2000, had the following observations.
“I have been involved for the past six years,” she says. “One of the factors that has changed over that period is that I’ve seen groups emerge, such as the Carpet and Rug Institute, which has started to measure emissions from carpets. Now you don’t have to shop too hard to find a carpet that meets emission standards. Carpet can give off toxic fumes. Ironically, in the 1970s as we were sealing off our homes, we began to use synthetic products that were giving off toxins. We were living in sealed homes, breathing fumes we shouldn’t have.
“The science of reducing fumes and maintaining a tightly sealed home while maintaining good air quality has improved,” Childress continues. “Large manufacturers, including carpet merchants, are now on board providing products with low emissions. Then, there’s water conservation. We now have toilets that are low-flow and incorporate low water usage.”
Even if a building doesn’t qualify for one of the ratings under the various guidelines, there are adjustments a developer can or must make to create a project that is more environmentally friendly or sound.
“Most of our buildings incorporate recycling programs,” says Lee Hodges, who worked as an environmental consultant for more than a decade before joining Miami’s The Related Group of Florida as its VP three years ago. “Waste management is centralized.”
One of the group’s specific challenges is developing conscientious coastal construction.
“All the work I do is beachfront property,” says Hodges, “for which we have to comply with state and federal regulations governing the nesting of sea turtles.”
He explains the process.
“The glass we use minimizes the glowing effect at night of having lights on,” says Hodges, “so the turtles, which use the moon as a compass, aren’t misguided by the lighting effect. We use glass that reduces this effect to less than 50 percent of the glow.”
The former environmental consultant, who advised on projects from Palm Beach to Key West from a Coral Gables base for 11 years, has an alternative view of building tall.
“In high-rises, all of the waste goes to one central collection point and it’s taken to the landfill,” says Hodges. “I specialized in development in environmentally sensitive areas. One reason that I decided to join The Related Group of Florida and do development in urban areas is that it leaves the green spaces vacant.”
He then shares his views on what has become a thorny issue for this region.
“I’m in favor of vertical living not horizontal living,” says Hodges.
“I am against development beyond the urban development boundary. If you increase development vertically, rather than horizontally, by doing this, it means that environmentally sensitive areas can stay free.”
But why do it? Why build green if it eats into the profit margin?
“The advantage is technically doing something that is promoting a good environment,” says Rodstein. “You’re keeping waste from flowing into the water, you’re minimizing debris. All of this lowers the operating costs for a building. You are offering the purchasers a better building with better efficiency. It’s more about doing good things for people.”