Not good enough, Fairfax County planners said. The Department of Planning and Zoning recommended denial of the land-use application because Pohanka refused to submit to a national process for certifying green buildings.
The Planning Commission endorsed Pohanka’s plans anyway, and county staff eventually agreed to support the application after Pohanka agreed to achieve verifiable energy savings. Both the staff and the Planning Commission play advisory roles, but their opinions have significant influence with the Board of Supervisors, which will consider Pohanka’s application on March 20.
To some public officials, Pohanka’s land-use case demonstrates that Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction is serious about promoting green buildings.
More than 11,600 commercial projects have been certified as green by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, with nearly 2 million square feet of new construction obtaining LEED certification every day, said Ashley Katz, a council spokeswoman.
But others say the car dealership’s behind-the-scenes struggle suggests that the county’s environmental regulatory apparatus has become too onerous.
“On Pohanka, when I looked at it, I just said this has gone too far,” said Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield). “It doesn’t seem realistic to me that anybody would put those kind of handcuffs on their business unless they were trying to please staff.”
Pohanka, based in Prince George’s County, submitted the Chantilly rezoning application last year to redevelop about 10 acres along Stonecroft Boulevard near Route 50 in the Dulles Suburban Center area. The plans called for two interconnected buildings that would stand one or two stories high and occupy about 75,000 square feet, which is about the size of a soccer field.
Geoffrey P. Pohanka, the group’s vice president, said the firm always wanted to build a green building, if only to trim its energy bills.
Hence the windmill, which was an idea he picked up from a dealership out West. In 20 meetings or so with county staff, the company tried to make the case that its dealership would be greener than green, but that obtaining LEED approval was not necessarily the best way to go prove it.
“We were not saying we’re opposed to LEED. We were trying to show them it wasn’t giving them what they thought it would,” Pohanka said. He said many energy-saving features the dealership proposed — such as service bay doors that open and close in fewer than 5 seconds — had little bearing on LEED’s scoring system, while those that did, such as relocating near a Metro stop, were not practical.