Green Building Ordinance Task Force: Interview with Katrina Managan


Interview Questions with Katrina Managan, January 23rd, 2018

Facilitated by Phoebe Loyd, MLA Graduate Student Candidate, University Colorado Denver

Green Roofs – Policy & Marketing | Independent Study Fall 2018

Describe your profession and your work for the city of Denver, as well as your involvement with the Green Roof Ordinance.

KM: I am the energy efficient buildings lead, which means I lead the city to solve climate change by improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Buildings are responsible for 57% of the cities greenhouse gas emissions, so I run a whole program that helps buildings over 25,000 sq. ft. to report their energy performance every year, (similar to a mile per gallon rating on a car). When the ordinance passed, the city took a look at who would have the expertise to lead a process to consider if we should make some revisions, and they said “hey you work with buildings over 25,000 sq. ft and the existing ones you work with in particular are a challenge in this new ordinance because they cant support the weight which was challenging, see if you can go make some improvements.”



How was the ordinance received? (In regards to citizens vs. local gov.) What were the hesitations or concerns with the implementation of the ordinance?

KM: Citizens were really excited, because it had really good ideals. The challenges that we faced were that it conflicted with our code in a whole number of ways, because it was code from Toronto, Canada. It conflicted with building code, our state water laws in requiring the retention of water, and it was also really expensive. From the cities perspective, that was something we were hearing a lot of from our stakeholders was the concern of the cost. More important than just the cost, was that the cost was disproportionate on certain building types just the way the ordinance was designed. The cost was particularly burdensome on retail and other large flat buildings, because they had the highest coverage requirements per square foot that would increase construction costs by 15%, which is a big bump and there was real concern that we might not see another new grocery store in Denver. We also had a lot of challenges with existing buildings, and we found that about 90% of existing buildings would not be able to support the weight (of green roofs). So while the voters were well intended, if 90% of the buildings cant do it, then they just have to do these costly structural engineering to show that they can’t do it – we are not achieving anything for the voters.



What were the (city/departments/people) gains or benefits from the ordinance?

KM: The benefit is that we had to start implementing the ordinance on January 1st, 2018. The benefit of going through the process to really look at it is to see if we can do something that is better, that improves the benefits for the voters while making it a more workable policy for the regulated sector. To make it an equal policy across different building types and to achieve everybodies goals.



Considering these installations come with a high cost- how do you feel the ordinance will contribute to Denver’s urban development? Will it help grow our economy and make our city more sustainable by providing more jobs and opportunities around the sustainability sector? Or will it create more bureaucratic processes and restrain commercial growth?

KM: The task force’s goal was eager compliance for all buildings, and I believe we have accomplished that. This will slow down and add some steps to new development or a roof replacement, but I think that we saw the real estate sector get comfortable with this as being really doable. That every building could find a pathway to eager compliance, and it is also going to make our city more sustainable with more solar energy efficiencies with green spaces and green roofs. Would the real estate sector wish that this would just go away? Sure. But the voters voted for it, and it’s not going away, so this is something they finally said this is workable for development.


How did the Green Roof Ordinance evolve to the Green Building Ordinance? What key players were involved in this process to accelerate the incorporation of other sustainable systems?

KM: The critical players were the main proponents who put the ordinance on the ballot, and then the lead opponents of that original ordinance. They were the two sides of the task force, and I tried to involve a lot of experts in the middle from each of the key real estate sectors to make sure we were not leaving anyone out. We had a retail expert, industrial expert, hotels, apartments, and offices – we had a good balance. There was representation from real estate experts, green roof proponents, an affordable housing provider, Xcel Energy, a solar expert, an energy efficiency expert – just folks who were technical with this type of industry that could help the task force wrestle with what we should be considering.



Do you feel that the real estate sector had the most representation on the task force?

KM: I feel that by necessity they had the most representation. Out of the 21 task force members, 7 were real estate seats (one from different sectors) because we really needed to understand what limitations hotels might have, versus what apartments might be putting on their roofs, or industrial or retail – they all needed a seat at table. I tried to have people on the task force wear multiple hats, so the retail sector was also someone who helps finance energy efficiency projects and is an expert for PACE financing. My industrial sector was the Vice President of Sustainability for Prologis, so they know how to deliver sustainable buildings in ways that actually work for their bottom line. They helped us guide the task force on ways on how to do that but also represent the whole industrial sector. We also had members of the task force representing offices Downtown, like the retro-commissioning engineer, but they also knew how to make buildings more sustainable. You can say real estate was heavier, but it depends which hat I tell you people were wearing at that time.



What was the internal consensus of incorporating more dynamic policies and applications with the Green Building Ordinance?

KM: I don’t think anyone knew where this process was going to go. We had all the key departments and representative advisors on the Task Force, like myself, Community Planning and Development, Public Works, and that helped the Task Force figure out what that path was. It took a couple different directions until the new ordinance landed where it has. The city is here to do what the citizens want us to do, so when you put all the right smart people together in a room on a Task Force, we were happy to assist citizen voters in helping them achieve what they wanted?



What has been the most effective means of messaging or communications with this type of initiative?

KM: It depends on who the audience is. If I am talking to a more general audience, their ears are perking up when we talk about this vision of a more sustainable, greener city that is solving climate change by adding green spaces. If I am talking to the real estate sector audience, what gets them engaged is hearing that the Green Building Ordinance is better than what the voters originally voted on with the Green Roof Ordinance. I think that there are quite a few folks in the real estate sector, and those who followed the task force, that were chiming in how this really could be good for their bottom line.



What do you think will be the contributing factors for the Green Building/Green Roof ordinances to garner acceptance from the development sector?

KM: Green spaces are great amenities, people want to live in buildings that are powered by renewable energy, and people want to rent space in those buildings for their businesses. Developers see this as an asset for the bottom line. Architects also get really excited, they now get a chance to do all the “cool” green stuff they have always wanted to do but never had the funding for. Developers see the path, especially concerning the new buildings in Denver. There are now options in this ordinance that now make buildings more competitive in the market.



What has been the biggest challenge in working with this citizen led policy?

KM: This was really challenging because it was just dropped on our ballot without any stakeholder or city input. It happened so fast –  it took effect two months after it passed. It really left the city and developers scrambling with such a short timeline. Change is hard – we should not be afraid of it, especially in terms of making a greener more climate-friendly city, but we have to do it in a way that is also sustainable. We have to do it in a way that works and not be completely disruptive as this was. Now that the new ordinance is in effect, we are starting to see a lot more permits coming through.



What has been the biggest surprise or achievement in creating the GBO?

KM: That everyone from the different sectors came together, and weren’t like “oh I can live with this…” but instead were really positive about how we could make the ordinance better. I didn’t think we would ever get to the point where both sides were actually excited. When all said and done, they all seemed to generally like each other too.



Do you see a potential for this model (citizen led, grass-roots, progressive applications) being used for other sustainable initiatives (i.e. city-wide composting utilities, stormwater treatments, water conservation, etc.)

KM: We always involve citizens really heavily, it is the way that Denver does policy is with extensive stakeholder engagement and getting citizen input – that is how good policy is made. When citizens just throwing something on the ballot, I am not sure if that is if city staff could really say this is a “model” on how to bring change.



Had there not been a citizen led mandate, what efforts is the city of Denver making to make sure we hit our 2020 sustainability goals?

KM: We have a lot that was in the works to reach those goals, this ordinance certainly helps us but it doesn’t do nearly enough, especially on our climate goals. It takes a really big step for a lot of these buildings. It is not going to be one policy that solves everything, but this certainly accelerated things. In some ways this policy was awkward, because it combined options from the beginning that was either green roof or solar and it actually ended up pinning the two sustainable options against each other. We have goals of having more green spaces in Denver, we need to solve climate change in Denver, and I don’t know that these two should need to compete in compliance with one policy.



What advice would you have towards professionals engaging with the Green Building Ordinance? How would you like to see this mandate reflect your efforts?

KM: I really hope this ordinance helps buildings take different compliance paths, and that’s what we are seeing so far – and we will see how that plays out over the next couple years so that we are achieving multiple goals (like greenspaces, green roofs, and solar, and energy efficiency for the city). I think it will be really interesting because they are all really important opportunities in moving forward for different sectors. In how professionals can really dive in, we will see more opportunities for the consultant, architecture, and the roofing fields. There are going to be a lot of industry that needs to learn what these options are, and help evaluate the lowest cost compliance options. My biggest advice would be to help folks understand the life-cycle costs of these measures of green roofs and energy efficiencies, and not be intimidated by the upfront costs. This ordinance might restrict development to have a high first-cost, but it has these great benefits for the tenants or occupants that will attract them to the building. I know this is really going to force individuals to evaluate these technologies in a way that they hadn’t before in terms of making a building or replacing a roof. I think that there is a really interesting opportunity to help effectively evaluate the different compliance options and find a path that works really well for their buildings and accomplishes these changes for what works for them financially. There are a lot of people who want their careers or their firms to be part of a bigger goal, and so I hope that we can help folks start to see we can all be a part of this together.

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