Both houses of the legislature approved separate bills relatedto tax benefits for installing solar panels and green roofs in NewYork City. The state's "net metering" program, allowing those withwind-powered generating systems to provide energy back into thegrid and get a credit against their own usage, will be expanded toinclude commercial customers. Stiffer "block the box" penaltieshave been enacted to help ease New York City gridlock.Additionally, construction of the Gansevoort waste-transferstation, in the works for more than three years, will finally moveforward under an agreement between the city and thelegislature.

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Of the two tax-abatement provisions, it seems likely that theone rewarding installation of a green roof may get more takers atthe moment. "Relatively speaking, if you have an appropriate roof,it's easy to put on a green roof," attorney Caroline Harris tellsReal Estate New York. "And there are multiple benefits todoing so," as compared to the solar panel, which only generates onebenefit, albeit a substantial one: producing energy.

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"The green roof will reduce the amount of energy you need,because it cools your building in the summer and insulates it inthe winter, so you need less heat," says Harris, who led a TroutmanSanders LLP team that drafted the tax-abatement legislation onbehalf of pro bono client Sustainable South Bronx. "It cools theambient air, so it's good for the environment, and it deals withstorm water runoff, so it addresses that environmental issue aswell. It provides benefits on multiple planes."

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Harris says Sustainable South Bronx, founded in 2001 byMacArthur Foundation fellow Majora Carter, actively promoted thegreen roofs bill in tandem with the Natural Resources DefenseCouncil and the S.W.I.M. (Storm Water Infrastructure Matters)Coalition. The legislation provides for a one-year tax abatement ofup to $100,000 on the installation of a green roof, at a rate of$4.50 per sf. A green roof is defined as an addition to a roof thatincludes a growth medium and a vegetation layer ofdrought-resistant, hardy plant species.

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"This tax abatement will act as an economic stimulus by creatingliving wage green-collar jobs that are pathways out of poverty,"says Rob Crauderueff, director of sustainable policy at SustainableSouth Bronx and chair of S.W.I.M's policy committee, in a preparedrelease. S.W.I.M is a coalition of 50 city, state and nationalorganizations "dedicated to ensuring fishable and swimmable watersaround New York through natural, sustainable storm water managementpractices," according to the release.

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Harris notes that while the number of contractors qualified toinstall green roofs is relatively low, "I would see this as agrowing business in what you would call 'green collar' jobs." Amongthe landscaping contractors active in the green-roof sector isPlant Fantasies Inc., which has installed such coverings athigh-end apartment buildings but is also finalizing one for MountHope Community Center in the northwest Bronx.

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Aesthetic appeal played a part in Shaun Belle's decision to puta green roof on the community center. "We want to create a visualpatchwork of green in an asphalt jungle with very few open spaces,"says Belle, CEO of Mount Hope Housing Co., in a prepared release."Our goal is to soften up the landscape with trees, shrubs andflowering plants." According to the release, three levels ofplanted outdoor terraces will offer views from multiple levels ofthe building, and the 3,600-sf green roof—plus a smaller, 900-sfroof—will perform water retention and cooling functions for thebuilding.

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The Mount Hope example helps illustrate Harris' belief thatgreen-roof installation is "lots of different types of buildings. Isee a lot of interest on a citywide basis in doing something tohelp our environment, and this is a tangible action people cantake." She adds that the tax abatement will help spur interest ingreen roofs.

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For optimal results, Harris says, green roofs should beinstalled "on all of the buildings in the neighborhood, to reducethe temperature on a neighborhood-wide basis. That would befantastic for the environment." Naturally, this would requiresomebody taking the lead after installing a green roof: organizinghis or her fellow property owners to follow the example. "Communityboards would be a good place for people to publicize green roofsand maybe get activities going on a community-wide basis."

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The green-roof tax abatement is a five-year pilot program,subject to renewal in 2013, and Harris is confident that theprogram will prove itself in that time. It may also serve as apilot program in another sense, that of setting an example forsmaller municipalities or counties to follow. Harris says, "Rightnow the legislation is geared toward cities of more than onemillion"—of which New York City is the only one in the state—"but Isee no reason why cities with smaller populations shouldn't seek tohave the same environmental benefits."

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Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny is managing editor of Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. He has been reporting on business since 1988 and on commercial real estate since 2007. He is based at ALM Real Estate Media Group's offices in New York City.