Despite the ailing economy and disappearing homebuyers, some are actively encouraging the construction of environment-friendly homes in Oak Park in the near future. The village is even looking to write green building practices into its zoning codes, requiring developers to produce homes in ways that aren’t harmful to the planet.
Oak Park has been working on changes in how it deals with developers for the past four years. And the village board could adopt those changes into law as soon as next Monday.
One change would require anyone developing a 10,000- to 30,000-square-foot property who is looking for relief from Oak Park’s zoning codes to meet certain green benchmarks. Called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the distinction is granted by a nonprofit organization called the U.S. Green Buildings Council, based on criteria such as materials used and how much energy the home requires.
Larger projects (over 30,000 square feet) seeking zoning relief would be required by the village to pursue silver LEED certification at a minimum, which is stricter and requires meeting more standards. Whiteco is pursuing LEED certification and so did the village for its public works facility on South Boulevard, according to Village Planner Craig Failor.
Other communities, such as Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, also require some level of LEED certification, Failor said.
Local architect John Schiess is working on a green condo development at 6603-6609 North Ave., which is slated to go before the plan commission on March 19. The 18-unit, 4-story condo building needs a zoning variance, since it is 10 feet higher and six units over what village code allows.
Shiess hopes to provide environmental features, such as a green roof and wind turbines. He estimates the project would cost 5-10 percent more than a non-green condo development of similar size. But he believes the green features would give them a leg up in a tumultuous market.
Building green costs more, but Shiess believes it’s too early to put that extra cost in the sale price.
“In this market, you can’t pass this cost on to a buyer because a buyer doesn’t recognize that just yet,” he said. “There’s an education process that has to get moving in that direction.”
The village is also attempting to educate. Oak Park sent out a call to developers last year looking for someone to rebuild two village-owned homes near Barrie Park. The idea is to have someone construct the homes with green features and then host events and seminars there to educate residents about how to make their homes more environmentally friendly.
Oak Park was dissatisfied with offers for one home at 1100 S. Lombard. So the village board agreed last week to sell the two-flat to someone for $240,000. Oak Park bought the house for $307,000 in 2004 during the Barrie remediation project.
Meanwhile, the village is trying to work out a deal with a Chicago-based developer for the other home at 1030 S. Taylor. The group, 2 Point Perspective, is offering $125,000 for the home, which cost the village $271,000.
Village Redevelopment Manager Bob Clements said Oak Park is waiting to hear back from the developer, and trustees will consider the offer in the coming weeks.
The 2 Point Perspective team is proposing a platinum LEED-certified home that would use solar panels, recycled materials from the old home, rain barrels and a compact layout.
Lisa Elkins, principal for 2 Point Perspective, said the team is committed to seeing the project through. Right now, they’re working to secure financing and reconfiguring the home to bring the $635,000 cost down 15-20 percent.
She believes building green is worth the higher construction costs, which would be offset by future savings in energy costs.
“I think people still want to do green development, and if they could afford that little extra bit up front, it’s still a good savings in the long run,” Elkins said.