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AUSTIN, TX-Once upon a time, the term “green, multifamily development” was considered an oxymoron. Developers couldn’t justify the up-front capital expenditures of building toward LEED certification compatibility, especially when it came to rental units.

Things are changing, however, both in Texas and nationally. Experts tell GlobeSt.com that as environmental concerns continue topping headlines and, just as importantly, as the upfront costs of developing in a sustainable fashion continue dropping, multifamily developers are finding that going green can end up meaning green. It doesn’t mean that all developers are racing toward sustainable projects. But there is a definite start in that direction.

Catellus-a Prologis Co. was just awarded LEED Neighborhood Development certification for its 711-acre, mixed-use Mueller, including the 441-unit Mosaic at Mueller apartments, which follows EnergyStar guidelines. Greg Weaver, president of the Denver, CO-based development company says that, in performing due diligence before launching Mueller, the project would not be negatively impacted from a cost standpoint. “We felt it might actually add value to the projects, because they would be attractive to home-buyers and renters,” Weaver notes. On the multifamily end, he continues, renters have selected Mosaic Apartments (get this) as a rental because of its sustainable components.

FORE Property Co, headquartered in Washington, DC was recently awarded the LEED Silver desgination for its 216-unit Greenhaven Apartments in McKinney, TX. FORE partner Brad Miller says the costs are definitely coming down on sustainable building, partly because construction costs overall have come down.

Miller goes on to say that more manufacturers are involved with sustainable building. “Four or five years ago, only one or two manufacturers were involved in this area,” he explains. “These days, more are out there, meaning more competition, and costs coming down.”

Matt Dillas, senior engineer with Boston Capital notes that another way in which costs can be cut in going sustainable involves common sense, such as adequate insulation between the walls and automatic thermostat controls. These are steps that might not have the “wow” factor as solar panels might, but they’re just as important. Miller agrees.

“When we had a film crew (at Greenhaven) wanting to photograph some of what we did that was sustainable, I told them they’d have to look behind the walls,” he comments.Developers choose to go green for a variety of reasons. For Catellus, the motivation was the city of Austin, which has multiple goals for sustainability. FORE’s motivation was similar, in that the city of McKinney also had a commitment to sustainability.

What’s also interesting to note is that many of these developers ended up having to wing it when it came to developments. The USGC (get this) doesn’t have multifamily guidelines for development in place, which impacted Greenhaven. Furthermore, Mueller was part of a pilot program, so there was really no prototype to examine when it came to getting the project done.

Both Weaver and Miller acknowledge, however, that these initial projects are ideal prototypes for future developments. Furthermore, both men say that there were various lessons learned in their projects; the major one being the importance of up-front planning. It’s important to try to make as many of the decisions as early in the process as is possible, Miller remarks.

“The process starts immediately on the planning side,” Weaver adds. “If you don’t plan for it and end up capturing it later, it’ll cost you a lot of money.”

Will more multifamily developers go for green in the near future? Dillas, who acknowledges he’d like to see more adaptation of older buildings toward sustainable standards as opposed to new, flagship product, says a great deal depends on governmental incentives.

“If you have state agencies pushing and stating they’ll get extra points for the green initiatives when they put out (request for bids), then those will drive it,” he says. “If someone is pushing in that direction, and two or three line up to do it, that’s when you’ll see this really getting done.”

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