Montgomery County, Maryland has proposed adopting the International Green Construction Code 2012.

At first blush this might sound like a good thing, until one considers that Montgomery County has long had mandatory green building laws for public and private construction, and the County today also offers significant incentives for green building.

Many hundreds of LEED projects have been registered in Montgomery County, putting the county near the very top of the list for green construction in the U.S. by county and within the County, Bethesda and Rockville top of the list for municipalities of less than 100,000 people across the country.

The ramifications have national import. Montgomery County is not only the most populous county in Maryland, it is one of the most environmentally progressive jurisdictions in the nation. It has also been ranked by Forbes as the 10th richest in the United States and accordingly first construction costs do not have major economic implications. Politically, the County is heavily Democrat with a Democrat County Executive and County Council. Observers are noting, if this anti-LEED sentiment can manifest it itself here it can happen anywhere.

Today local law requires any newly constructed building or extensively modified (non-residential) building or multi-family residential or mixed use building that is taller than 4 stories that has or will have at least 10,000 square feet “must achieve a Certified level in the appropriate LEED rating system.” The County also offers a real property tax credit in varying amount (10-75%) and term (3-5 years) based on the type project and the rating it achieves above the minimum Certified level.

The City of Gaithersburg, within Montgomery County, has adopted amendments to their building code that requires increased energy and water efficiency requirements that drive building to LEED Gold and better. As a practical matter, throughout the County the market now requires Class A office building be LEED Gold if not Platinum.

But all of that will be repealed and the existing LEED building requirements will be abolished. All new building, public and private, will instead have to comply with the IgCC 2012 or ASHRAE 189.1, the alternative compliance path built into the green code.

Proposed as Executive Regulation #21-15, by a notice published in the Montgomery County Register on December 1, 2015, the green building code will cover all new buildings and additions 5,000 square feet and larger. Single family detached and townhomes are not proposed to be included. Unless “disapproved” by the County Council, the effective date will be April 4, 2016.

Note, that Montgomery County is not adopting the 2015 International Green Construction Code.  While the IgCC 2015 was approved last year, that current code is not approved for use by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development which requires each jurisdiction in Maryland use the same edition of the same building codes. It is significant that effective July 1, 2015 all building in Montgomery County must comply with the International Energy Conservation Code 2015, with its energy consumption reduction requirements and many of those now existing requirements ameliorate the impacts of the proposed (3 year out of date) IgCC 2012.

After more than a year of seeking public comment, including studying the costs of implementation of this new code, County staff is proposing a modest number of amendments to the form IgCC. Most are being positively received and if there is a criticism, it is that they do not go far enough when many of elements of the code are being moved to appendix A and made optional. It is also suggested that requiring diversion of 50% of demolition debris and diversion of 75% on construction debris is below what the market does today.

The enactment attempts to correct some of the industry bias in the form IgCC when, in pursuit of heat island effect mitigation, Montgomery County reduces the IgCC mandated heat island mitigation “for not less than 50% of site hardscape” to “less than 40%”. The State of Maryland which approved the IgCC for use on Maryland capital budget funded projects (that includes Montgomery County public schools) reduced that percentage to 30% and Baltimore City addressed the flaw by permitting the use of “porous asphalt pavement” in addition to pervious concrete. It is suggested that Code officials have not been bold enough with the proposed amendments.

As progressive as this bill is, Montgomery County is one of a very limited number of jurisdictions mandating new construction and renovation of both private and public buildings must be green. The City of Rockville, within Montgomery County, adopted mandatory use of the IgCC effective July 1, 2015. And the County will join Rockville as the only jurisdictions requiring all building comply with the IgCC or ASHRAE 189.1, without alternatives. While Baltimore and DC have similar mandatory IgCC laws, they additionally permit alternative compliance paths, like LEED Silver certification, compliance with ICC 700, and Enterprise Green Communities verification. Recognizing that today Montgomery County requires use of LEED, but under the proposal will in the near future only allow use of the IgCC will be controversial.

It is worthy of note that a relatively few jurisdictions have adopted the IgCC with only a handful of IgCC new construction projects having been completed. Not a single IgCC building has yet to be constructed in the City of Rockville, nor under the State of Maryland or Baltimore City IgCC regulatory schemes (i.e., instead each of those two regulations allow alternative compliance paths and most, if not nearly all new construction is opting for LEED). And there are no completed 189.1 buildings, anywhere. Some are suggesting with this use of the IgCC Montgomery County is on the bubble.

A public hearing on proposed Executive Regulation #21-15 is scheduled for Thursday, December 17, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. in Rockville. Comments may also be submitted until January 14, 2016 as indicated in the Montgomery County Register. But it is the County Council that has the authority to halt this regulation.

We work with property owners and builders across the country, including to evaluate the impact of alternatives for green building, like the IgCC, now required of nearly all construction and renovation in Montgomery County. If we might assist you in evaluating green building, do not hesitate to give Stuart a call at 410-339-3910.

This blog post was updated to include information provided at the December 17, 2015 public hearing.