City Planner: When Going 'Green' Isn't Pretty

Piedmont's planning staff is asking the Planning Commission to look at new, environmentally friendly technologies that don't fit neatly into current residential design policies

Artificial turf? Reflective-surface roofs? Electric vehicle charging stations? Grey water and rain water systems?

Each of these relatively new technologies has some environmental benefits. Each has some aesthetic challenges when it comes to incorporating them into homes and gardens.

City Planner Kate Black is asking the Piedmont Planning Commission to consider possible changes to city codes and residential design guidelines to address these issues.

Planning commissioners will take their first look at the possibilities during their meeting Monday, March 12, starting at 6 p.m. in the City Hall council chambers, 120 Vista Ave. (There's a dinner break at about 7:30 p.m.) Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on these issues during the meeting.

"Due to the public’s increasing awareness of global climate change and dwindling resources, there is an ever-evolving array of new building materials and products which are more energy efficient, and thus, likely to also reduce residential energy costs," Black says in her report to the commission.

"Accommodation of these new technologies is in line with the Environmental Task Force’s recommendation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ... the City’s Climate Action Plan estimates that if 55% of Piedmont homeowners updated their homes with energy efficient retrofits, the City would achieve a reduction of 4,200 metric tons of GHG emissions per year.

"The City’s target is to reduce GHG emissions by 15% below 2005 levels by 2020, an amount equal to about 6,350 metric tons. Thus, residential energy efficiency retrofits are an essential and readily available means to achieve the City’s GHG reduction goals.

"However, staff believes that some of the new technologies have competing objectives:

"The 'green' benefit of the technology has the potential to create a positive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but a negative impact in terms of the aesthetics of individual neighborhoods and how the City looks in general.

"There are Piedmont residents who believe that the changes should be allowed with little or no regulation, but there are other Piedmonters who want to maintain the existing property values by preserving the City’s high design standards and make sure that exterior physical changes are reviewed to mitigate adverse visual impacts if necessary.

"Staff is interested in learning the public’s and Commission’s opinions about how these new features should be treated (or not) for the purposes of design review."

The technologies under consideration are:

  • Grey water systems
  • Rain water systems
  • Light-colored and reflective roofs (made of PVC or similar materials)
  • Tankless water heaters
  • Electric and compressed natural gas vehicle charging stations
  • Artificial turf
  • Non-vegetative permeable surfaces ("hardscapes")

The complete meeting agenda and the lengthy staff report are attached above as PDFS. The agenda is also available on the City of Piedmont website.

Should "green" benefits outweigh aesthetics? How should Piedmont balance the two? Tell us in the comments section below.


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