“Green” resorts

A reader on pro-urb was concerned about the Smart Location prerequisite in LEED-ND as it might apply to rural or exurban sites. As I see it, option #5 is a way out for greenfield developments. Option #3 might encourage developers to consider “town extensions” adjacent to existing settlements — a town of 500 consisting solely of a John Deere store, Chatterbox Cafe, post office, and volunteer fire station qualifies (and if the town doesn’t have a cafe, the developer’s free to open one) — rather than buying up cheaper greenfields further from existing towns. Similarly, a developer can provide transit service to meet option #2.

Quite a lot of thought went into hammering out the prereqs and credits, and it is indeed quite intentional that LEED-ND tries to exclude isolated, leapfrog development. As I see it, greenfield developments have an easier go of everything else; why not create just one document that explicitly favors infill and reinvestment at every step? LEED-ND also tends to favor mixed communities, and I’d argue that isolated luxury resorts and retirement havens are neither environmentally nor socially sustainable.

Not a week later, a young reporter from a well-known Colorado ski town called about a major new resort proposed there. I ran what I knew about the project (assuming they do best practices with the buildings, which given their forecast budget seems possible) through the system and found that it could potentially qualify as ND Gold. It would be possible for a resort built in this location to collect most of the points under Green Construction/Tech and Innovation, half the Neighborhood Planning/Design points, and a plurality of the Smart Location/Linkage points.

The key is that this site is an infill site within a compact town of 5,000, with many amenities (including a popular bus system) already in place. Even more so than beaches (and much more so than golf), ski resorts have land constraints that funnel growth into reasonably compact corridors along the river valleys separating mountains. Indeed, Colorado DOT’s draft EIS evaluating capacity enhancements in the I-70 corridor found potential mode shares of 25-30% for fixed guideway transit.

Yet, it still raises the question of how sustainable an isolated ski resort can possibly be. A ski slope is a clear-cut, more or less, of erosion-prone slopes; snowmaking exacerbates an already precarious water situation; nearly all of the patrons will either fly across country or drive through the notoriously congested Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, an interstate which ruined formerly wild canyons; and ski towns have perhaps the worst jobs-housing imbalances in America. (Maybe mining towns in southern Africa have it worse — but in any case it’s ironic that said resort gets points for addressing jobs-housing balance when the waiters and ski instructors get $10/hr and the condos start at $1M.)

Suffice to say, now that LEED-ND is out of the gate, people will surprise even its authors with how it’s used. Personally, I’d have thought that these developers would go for LEED-NC Multiple Buildings (much easier to achieve), but whatever.

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