[Today we are interviewing Joan Kelsch, an environmental planner for the Arlington County Government.  I first met Joan when she agreed to sit down with me and discuss the Arlington County green building bonus density program.  I really appreciate the green building incentive program put in place by Arlington County.  To learn about changes to the program, read on!]

Chris:  I know you have been working hard on revisions to Arlington County’s green building policies.  What changes were made?

Joan:  Arlington has had a green building density incentive policy for nearly 10 years.  It was originally adopted in 1999 and we updated it in 2003.  There have been many changes in the green building arena over these past 5 years and we updated our policy to reflect the increase in knowledge and market demand for green buildings.  We wanted to provide a stronger incentive to achieve the higher levels of LEED (gold and platinum).  We reduced the bonus for LEED Certified and Silver since these levels are more frequently achieved in the DC region, even without an incentive.  The basic bonus density incentives apply to office construction, and we added a slightly higher bonus at all LEED levels for residential projects.

Arlington’s program offers additional density based on Floor Area Ratio (FAR).  The new densities offered are as follows:  

LEED Level     

Existing Bonus

Proposed Bonus


Office               Residential


0.15 FAR

0.05 FAR            0.10 FAR



0.15                    0.20



0.35                    0.40



0.45                   0.50

Chris: Why did Arlington County’s revise its green building policies to increase the incentives for meeting higher LEED certification levels, like Platinum, while decreasing incentives for the lower levels of LEED certification? 

Joan:  We wanted to provide an extra incentive to achieve more sustainable buildings (as measured by higher LEED levels).  We also wanted to provide extra incentive for residential projects to achieve LEED certification.  Over the past 5 years, our data indicate that about 55% of office space agreed to achieve LEED certification in exchange for the density bonus.  During the same time period, only 25% of multifamily residential units agreed to achieve LEED certification in exchange for bonus density.  We’d like “greener” residential projects overall and we’d like to encourage office developers to really stretch to reduce environmental impact even further.

Chris:  Do you think green building certification (e.g. LEED) is the proper regulatory vehicle for encouraging green building developments?  Why?

Joan:  LEED is the most widely accepted and understood green building rating system.  Until building codes call for more energy efficient and water efficient buildings, I think LEED is a good tool to guide more environmentally responsible development.  LEED addresses issues broader than just building code – indoor air quality, materials choices, embedded energy issues, waste management, etc.  I think LEED has played a critical role in helping the market transformation toward greener materials and process and will continue to do so. 

The Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (MWCOG) released a report in December 2007 recommending that local governments strive to achieve at least Silver LEED certification for all public buildings and that private development be encouraged to meet at least the LEED Certified standard.  Using LEED across the region levels the playing field, making it easier for developers and the construction industry to understand and meet the LEED standards whether they build in DC, suburban Maryland, or Northern Virginia.

Photo:  EPA

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