What Good is a Biophilic Building with No Renewable Energy?

Comments at Arlington Planning Commission Meeting on December 1, 2020.

I applaud staff’s proposed measures to strengthen the County’s Green Building Incentive Policy (GBP) including: LEED Gold and Energy Star certification, installation of rooftop solar, Energy Star appliances, and EV charging stations.

However, the inclusion of a Racial Equity requirement as a component of a GBP is both misplaced and redundant, since the County already has an Equity Resolution declaring its commitment to racial justice.

Also as community activist Suzanne Sundburg points out, the Biophilia requirement is rendered meaningless by the bonus density awarded for implementation of the new standard. She says:

“With site plans, the entire site is typically excavated to build an underground garage, which means every tree and every blade of grass is scraped away. Even if you tried to save a portion of the site with existing trees, the nearby excavation would likely lower the water table in that area, leaving the trees without access to an underground water supply that is necessary for survival.

“We’re not building a lot of strictly commercial office space these days, so most of what is being built via site plan will be subject to affordable housing bonus density with the County Board having nearly unlimited ability to change or waive whatever requirements currently exist to limit the impact on the site.

“This is the problem with all of Arlington’s so-called environmental plans, policies and programs. They are directly contradicted or offset by other competing plans, policies and regulations.

“Though I certainly see the desirability of the proposed GBP, I have to wonder whether it simply will end up being like the rest of Arlington’s faux green window-dressing that is little used or whose use is perverted and then rendered meaningless by all the added hardscape and built infrastructure. Kind of like putting lipstick on a pig. Yes, you can do it but why bother?

“Biophilic facilities are not natural systems. They are artificial by definition. And they are unlikely to produce equivalent, balanced ecosystems. Once you’ve destroyed a truly natural site and its infrastructure, it’s game over.

“Board and staff choose to ignore this reality and wish to pacify/hoodwink those who want meaningful conservation and preservation by offering empty plans and ineffectual programs that then are placed in a drawer, never to see the light of day (but are used to apply for “awards” and tout in press releases and marketing materials). Even if some of these “green” options were implemented in the occasional site plan, the question is what the marginal environmental benefit would be (given that the offset is more built infrastructure). Better than nothing, I suppose. But not by much.”