County kicks off SuperGreen initiative

With state officials currently in the process of creating an environmental incentive program labeled “SuperGreen,” Sussex County officials have also taken up the cause, this week voting to implement a pilot program of their own, on a trial basis.

On Tuesday, Dec. 16, the council voted to begin a pilot program that will create two additional levels of environmentally friendly building standards as enticements for developers to voluntarily build “green” in Sussex County.

The two “levels” of the county’s “SuperGreen” program would feature less stringent requirements than the state’s proposed SuperGreen program, offering a lower benchmark for those who don’t feel they can shoot for that target.

“It would provide some incentives for developers to build in an environmentally responsible manner,” County Administrator David Baker said Tuesday.

The voluntary program would apply only to condominium, residential planned community and subdivision applicants before the county who are planning projects with a minimum of 20 homes.

Level 1 of the county program would be offered for existing or new development, and the incentive offered would be a certificate stating the project had met the county’s Level 1 requirements.

Requirements to obtain the certificate would be to obtain 33 percent of the points required by the state for the “SuperGreen” designation, with minimum points in individual grading categories meeting at least 33 percent of those category requirements, as well as qualifying for 25 percent of the requirements for LEED or for NEHB bronze certification. Other state requirements would not be measured for the county program at Level 1.

Level 2 of the program would have an incentive of expedited review by county agencies. It would require the developer to meet 67 percent of the points required for SuperGreen designation, as well as 67 percent of the points required for each category and 75 percent of LEED requirements or NEHB silver certification.

The next level for the program would be the state’s SuperGreen designation, garnering expedited review by both county and state agencies.

Implementation of the program would include a certification of the requirements being met, as prepared by an independent third party, with a performance bond paid by the developer. Units would have to be phased in proportion to the whole project, and penalties for failing to meet the requirements would include cashing the performance bond, and the withholding of certificates of occupancy and permits.

Baker noted on Tuesday that county staff were suggesting the county start the program with a pilot project or projects selected by county staff as a test case for the program. The program could then be returned to the council to correct any problems perceived in those pilot projects.

Councilman George Cole (R-5th-Bethany Beach) questioned the ability of the county to pursue the program ahead of state officials finalizing their criteria for the SuperGreen program, but Baker said he felt the could proceed with the pilot projects.

Cole noted the number of state agencies involved in approving a project and questioned whether the county could provide a truly expedited process when it might be dependent on state agencies to provide information and approvals.

But Baker emphasized that the pilot project would involve Levels 1 and 2 only.

“I don’t think you’re going to see the state doing anything,” Councilman Dale Dukes (D-1st-Laurel) said, noting that DNREC Secretary John Hughes is expected to be leaving with the start of the new state administration in January. “You’re probably not going to see them doing anything for years to come. I think we need to develop our own program and move on.”

County Solicitor David Griffin noted that the county’s Level 1 certificate would not place the county in a position of issuing a warranty guaranteeing construction, as it would contain a disclaimer to that effect.

While Cole expressed concern that the draft policy might be insufficient to kick off the pilot program, Council President Finley Jones (D-3rd-Greenwood) said he felt it would suffice for the pilot program. Griffin emphasized that the pilot program would involve staff bringing a project forward as a recommended candidate for the program and would not open it up, yet, to everyone.

Council voted 5-0 to implement the program on a trial basis, with Levels 1 and 2.