Transformative Recommendations (2017-2020)

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Link to Transformative Recommendations Sections

Revise and Adopt a New Green Building Policy

The 2011 Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code offers no prescription for green buildings, nor does it expressly give local jurisdictions the powers to enact or adopt Green Building Policies.[1] Alexandria, like many Virginia municipalities, have adopted green building policies to encourage, incentivize, and facilitate the development of green buildings, but without state authority, local jurisdiction cannot require developers to build green. Despite lacking the legal authority to “require” developers to build green (as they can do in the District of Columbia who has become recognized as an international leader in green building guidelines) Alexandria does seem to get its regional share of the green building development market.

While seeking state legislation, Alexandria should consider a series of revisions to its existing Green Building Policy (see preliminary list below) that would allow the City to provide additional incentives for developers of commercial and resident buildings to build green. These standards could also provide important baseline data about energy efficiency and usage as well as integrate other building/site level sustainability practices, such as low impact development and community energy systems.

  • Revise the green building policy and implement and include one or multiple community-scale design approaches to most or all new development in order to conform to net zero standards and 2030 carbon neutrality (choose from: LBC, Passive, Architecture 2030 etc.)
  • Revise the green building policy to include other site and building sustainability practices, such as green roofs, low impact development, distractive/.distributive renewable energy systems (e.g. solar, wind, geothermal), etc.
  • Develop special green building guidelines for retrofitting all existing buildings, including residences and buildings in historic districts.
  • Create a Small-Area Plan (SAP) Sustainable Community Scale Design Template to be replicated in all SAP revisions. Dedicate SAPs as Eco-Districts or other comparable sustainability community.
  • (LBC, Passive, and Architecture 2030) to capitalize on deep efficiency and or disruptive technology.

Beyond policies and regulations, Alexandria should also launch a series of demonstration pilot projects in collaborations with private sector developers and community-based green nonprofits that can provide practical examples of cutting edge urban design and green building technologies. The Planning Department could also pilot these and other green building policies through special green development provisions in new SAPs that apply to single family homes. A new GBP would have great potential to then attract many new green jobs and green investment. Focusing on community-scaled development would provide Alexandria with a Smart City that is resilient and have the ability to mitigate increasing effects of global climatic change. Priority recommendations could include:

Develop a New Community Energy Plan

Energy is a huge driver of economic growth that will become even more important as the nation and the world increase its share of renewable energy sources in light of global climate change and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. Local governments are leading the way in developing new types of community-level energy systems. Resilient, smart energy grids at the district level will likely become the predominate power generating system in the near future. By Alexandria taking these and other short-range action, the city can also leverage these new community energy investments to develop green cluster economies and capture green startup companies that will provide local jobs and stimulate the local economy further. A new community energy plan could complement and expand the city’s green building policies and programs to move beyond energy efficiency. The mid-range action items below can also help foster disruptive technology, save energy, and promote the sustainability agenda:

  • Require all new buildings to incorporate alternative energy systems (e.g., wind, solar, geo-thermal), consistent with a newly adopted green building code.
  • Implement a Lights Out Alexandria program.
  • Consider Energy STAR Certification and provide monthly green building seminars in partnership with local businesses.
  • Seek state legislation that would give local authority to adopt green building regulations, including living building guidelines and require energy efficient technologies such as smart metering technology and energy audits at the time of sale or legal transfer.
  • Solarize – look into a piloting of the Solarize Program in Alexandria that can test the boundaries of district energy and district water systems.[2]
  • Ensure that the North Potomac Yard, Eisenhower West, and GenOn Power Station site SAPs (and later all SAPs) develop in accordance with the greatest possible level of the adopted the GBPs and are consistent with the vision and principles of the Eco-City Charter and Environmental Action Plan.

Urban Greening

Urban Greening incorporates many different principles. These eight mid-range action items are necessary and need to be completed with three to five years. Most Urban Greening principles work cohesively are multi-faceted, and easily implemented. The simple planting of a native street tree, bought from a local tree bank vendor satisfies urban forestry and crown coverage goals, heat island mitigation goals, complete and living streets goals, invasive species prevention goals, supporting local business goals, cutting down on the City’s carbon footprint goal, through ecological carbon sequestration and by buying locally vis-à-vis regionally, and urban design goals. Each of these priority action items should help focus the EAP into developing a holistically designed policy document:

  • Create an overlay zone encompassing the entire Green Crescent. Use this to formulate strategies on how to interconnect all City open space resources
  • Adopt a Green Rooftops program and determine incentives.
  • Expand urban forestry, and living streets training and programs to residents and designate more “Street Stewards” that are responsible for future maintenance of street trees, street furniture, street art, and reporting environmental degradation of natural and built systems.
  • Develop a heat island (h.i.) and air quality heat map of the city by using LANDSAT data. Designate heat island overlay-zones and incentivize private h.i. mitigation measures including tree plantings, reflective and green roofing concepts. Increase the percentage of canopy coverage within h.i. overlay-zones by 5-10%. Develop an air conditioning / HVAC payment assistance program. (During long-range could provide district geo-thermal power to help assist in cooling).
  • Develop canopy goals based on zoning and integrate shade and multi-use trees with storm water infrastructure.
  • Establish a tree bank with urban-friendly trees for Alexandria’s future climate.
  • Prioritize all City plantings with native plant species through local city vendors. Determine if current native species definitions need to be adjusted in the future. Create succinct education and management programs to teach and guide residents as to why and how to remove invasive species.
  • Continue to cooperate with neighboring jurisdictions and the local public on flood management issues and explore ways to provide better structural flood mitigation.
  • Develop wetlands and Eco-City lesson plans for City schools and provide and inform the public of flood risk through documents and workshops.
  • Develop or revise Alexandria’s Landscaping Code in order to provide harmonious canopy and h.i. mitigation goals.

Transportation, Land Use and Housing

Transportation, land use and housing are all intensely interconnected, influencing each other. When the future revolves less around the automobile, more focus is put on democratizing the streets. All three elements are included when the City builds compact, mixed-use and mixed-income TOD that allows people to choose between transit modes and creates a truly walkable neighborhood. Completing each of these action items is achievable by 2020, yet they will require dedicated attention and planning:

  • Adopt a DRPM pilot program similar to the goBerkeley program and assess future feasibility.
  • Amend ECC and EAP to include an Affordable Housing Principle that corresponds to the HMP, and is inclusive of Green Building principles and the built environment recommendations of adopting a building policy. A second alternative would be to include affordable housing under the Land Use and Open Space principles in the EAP.
  • Adopt City design standards and guidelines that require all new and repaired streets to become ‘Living Streets’ after construction.
  • Establish a clear link between housing, transit and sustainable design and research and find a clear linkage between costs and benefits through the financing of sustainability within these directives.
  • Create a TOD overlay zone encapsulating Corridor B and ensure development is walkable and transit oriented.
  • Update the Bicycle Facilities Master Plan, and City bike and trail maps. Conduct feasibility studies for new links, trails, and networks that would connect all-of-the City’s open space and historic infrastructure. Promote Bicycle Trains and specific “Bicycle Only” days.

[1] Virginia Construction Code: Part I of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, DHCD, Division of Building and Fire Regulation, 2009, http://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/StateBuildingCodesandRegulations/PDFs/2009/Code%20-%20VCC.pdf (accessed July 9, 2015).

[2] Note that in September 2015 the City of Alexandria officially launched its Solarize program.