East Hampton could be one of the first municipalities to take advantage of a new state law in New York that allows municipalities to forego collecting property taxes in order to promote sustainable building. Frank Dalene says that it’s a no-brainer.
“We’re developing a comprehensive plan for East Hampton,” says Dalene, chair of the East End Committee for the Long Island chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. “And this is something that we’re going to adopt locally.”
The bill signed into New York state law last month enables New York municipalities to exempt LEED-certified or otherwise green-certified projects from property taxes—an incentive for builders and developers to seek certification for new buildings, renovations, and additions. The bill was born in East Hampton: Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., who represents District 2 in the New York State Assembly, introduced the bill and ushered it into law.
The new policy may appeal broadly across New York. While offering tax incentives for builders and developers to reach for higher standards in sustainability is nothing new, the state’s “enabling” legislation is an example of how government can promote green building in a difficult economy.
New York’s new law does not directly grant property tax exemptions. Rather, it permits municipalities to adopt a property-tax abatement scheme for green projects. The bill offers a graduated property-tax exemption for certified project for a certain number of years, based on the level of certification reached. (The law spells out standards for LEED certification, but compliance paths include other standards as well, such as those set forth by the Green Building Initiative (Green Globes) and the National Association of Home Builders (National Green Building Standard).)
For example, a LEED-certified or LEED Silver–certified building started after Jan. 1, 2013—in a municipality that has adopted the state-level legislation—would be 100-percent exempt from property taxes for three years. In its fourth year and every year after, the exemption would fall 20 percent (so, to 80 percent in the fourth year, 60 percent in the fifth year, and so on, to a zero-percent exemption).
“It’s not very difficult to achieve LEED certification,” says Vince Copogna, executive director for USGBC’s Long Island chapter. “Any decent builder, any decent project. They might not want to do some of the paperwork, but they can certainly achieve LEED certification. You’ll see that—and you’ll probably see them going for Gold and going for Platinum.”
Projects that achieve LEED Gold certification get three years of exemption at the 100-percent level, before the exemption phases out by 20-percent increments annually. Projects certified LEED Platinum start with six years of total property tax exemption. (The exemption applies to the change in the property value—so, for green renovations or additions, the exemption applies to the amount of the building value’s increase, not the total building value.)
“The incentive of going from three years to six years, once you hit platinum, is tremendous,” Copogna says.
It’s a low-risk proposition for a state government—which is merely authorizing local municipalities to choose not to collect property taxes, according to Jeremy Sigmon, director of technical policy for USGBC.