Apr 02, 2010 ellen leahy Uncategorized
So you want to develop a business in Syracuse?
VI: Water management forum held at Roji Tea Lounge
Syracuse as the “Emerald City” is a vision. And so it remains, as city, county and state codes in regard to sustainable green infrastructure building solutions have not yet changed. The key word is “yet.”
About 20 people gathered at the Roji Tea Lounge in downtown Syracuse last week for a “how to” implement green infrastructure in the city.
Besides ham and eggs, green can be many things, such as cleaner, renewable energy systems. Specifically, this group was concentrating its efforts on water. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, as the city’s water infrastructure is sorely in need of an update. A recent New York Times article reported that nationally the water infrastructure is about the same age, and much of it is failing.
Essentially, the forum participants were rethinking how water is gathered, moved and used. That’s rainwater, treated water and wastewater. The cycle of water use and reuse.
“Green infrastructure refers to ecological systems, both natural and engineered that act as living infrastructure. Green infrastructure elements are planned and managed primarily for storm water control, but also exhibit social, economic and environmental benefits.” wcel.org.
What this means is basically using plant-life as part of a water management system and rethinking drainage or the flow with the use of permeable surfaces. Impermeable surfaces came into vogue replacing gravel, which could be dangerous (falls), harder to maintain and dirty, too. But often it results in costly water collection systems needed to divert water, rather than let it seep into the ground naturally, which is also less costly.
Codes must evolve
Peter King, of King and King Architects, said that New York’s codes are based on the International Codes Council (ICC), and it is his understanding that ICC is also looking to evolve. King suggested 617 West Street be used as a pilot program, after David Colbert from Onondaga County Department of Water Environment Protection demonstrated that county, state and city codes don’t allow for green infrastructure solutions at this time.
“Their job is to look at a black and white book,” King said of code enforcement, adding that if you can come in with ideas on “How to,” this would be welcome at this time.
“Their risk is in approving something that hasn’t been done before,” said Kyle Thomas of Natural Systems Engineering.
“Walk in with a solution in hand,” Karen Hanford added.
Van Luven has been researching rainwater codes in other cities and said there has been a precedent set in Chicago and Portland (Oregon) that Syracuse could use as a starting point for change in its engineering practices.
Rick Destito of the Gear Factory said the problem has been that these code problems arise once you are in the middle of a project, so you have to conform to the existing code.
“You need to change the code before people get into it,” Destito said.
Van Luven applauded the city’s creation of pre-development meetings that gather all concerned departments in one room at one time to review a developer’s plans. He suggested the city use that same model for green developers.
“We hope the city will embrace having a board that people could appear before specifically for green development,” he said.
Maarten Jacobs of the West Side Initiative echoed Destito’s concerns in that often when businesses see the complexity in implementing green infrastructure, they drop it because of time and money. The complexity comes in because it is new thinking.
“If you can streamline the process, it will help,” he said, “Look at how the public arts commission streamlined how arts projects go to the city.”
Chris Fowler of Syracuse First asked how many contractors are out there that can handle this work? Dodson said it is a smattering at this point. But also Cornell Cooperative is presently researching to assemble a database of contractors and suppliers.
Green infrastructure has different cost savings
King who relocated his architecture firm to the Near West Side in a LEED certified renovation project said there are economic and social paybacks that aren’t as apparent. He noted that the up front costs can be mitigated. For example, King’s building is a healthy building. He used the example of one of his employees who can document a turnaround in chronic allergies because of the new work environment. He said the employee now has less out of pocket for doctors and prescription expenses. Also the cost of employment decreases with a healthier workforce, he said.
Colbert said King makes a great point with the healthy building, adding that some of the social aspects will be hard to measure, but equally as important.
“As a lifelong resident of the city of Syracuse, Onondaga Lake is a giant colostomy bag I am walking around with,” Fanizzi said. “It’s so plagued with toxicity.”
Lindsay Speer a community organizer from M&R Strategic Services said, “There needs to be some political will.”
Common Councilor Matt Rayo agreed that the Emerald City moniker is a vision, not an implementation. He said he wasn’t speaking for Mayor Miner, but he is aware that she’s interested in reviewing and updating the codes and zoning.
Destito asked if there could be an incentive for businesses to employ green infrastructure, to make it more palatable for the pioneers.
The incentives have mainly been in design awards and recognition that could be used for public relations. Although Colbert said County Executive Joanie Mahoney has created a $3,000,000 Green Improvement Fund providing money for commercial and non-profits projects, from funds that had been earmarked toward the Midland WasteWater Treatment Plant (that was halted). For example, the fund would pay for the cost difference between a standard roof and a green roof on a proposal.
“There is a warehouse component in the rear of our building with a roof that has fallen in, we see this as an opportunity not a liability,” Fanizzi said.
Fanizzi and Van Luven intention is to renovate 617 West Street using sustainable infrastructure and practices. An outcome of the forum was to use their development process as a case study for other small business owners and developers to follow.
Because they purchased distressed property that did not require a huge out lay of cash, they can afford to take more time during the renovations to try and incorporate some new ideas. But at some point, they will have to get it done, just like everybody else.
Colbert quoted Ghandi saying, “Be the change in the world that you wish to see.”
The participants agreed to do more research and to meet again, as Fanizzi and Van Luven continue developing 617 West Street.
Christa Glazier – Downtown Committee
Matt Rayo- Common Council
David Colbert- Metro/ Water Environmental Protection Agency
Karen Hanford – Community Outreach / Hanford Pharmaceuticals
Chris Fowler -Syracuse First
Kyle Thomas- Natural Systems Engineering
Maartan Jacobs -Director near west side initiative
Jessi Lyons- Cornell Cooperative Extension
Virginia Williams- Project coordinator ESF outreach
Lindsay Speer- Community Organizer, Joe Heaths Office
James Owen – Architect on our project
Rick Destito- owner Gear Factory
Peter King- CEO King and King
Khristopher Dodson- Center of Excellence
Dave Thomas- Realtor CB Richard Ellis
Christian Van Luven – developer 617 West Street/owner Roji Tea Lounge
Cosmo Fanizzi -developer 617 West Street
Ellen Leahy – City Eagle