Building Sustainable Ordinances in Taos: The Taos High Performance Building Ordinance Demonstrates That the Citizens of Local Communities Can Be Powerful Assets in Achieving Sustainability

By Holmes, Maja Husar; Henry, Alix W. | The Public Manager, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Building Sustainable Ordinances in Taos: The Taos High Performance Building Ordinance Demonstrates That the Citizens of Local Communities Can Be Powerful Assets in Achieving Sustainability


Holmes, Maja Husar, Henry, Alix W., The Public Manager


Cities and towns across the United States are grappling with ways to reduce energy costs, conserve water, and limit their carbon footprint. Taos, New Mexico, is on the forefront of this collective challenge. On February 24, 2009, the Taos Town Council unanimously approved the Taos High Performance Building Ordinance. The new ordinance was the result of a yearlong effort by town officials, citizen volunteers, and hired consultants to encourage energy-efficient construction and design for town-owned buildings, new and renovated residential structures, and commercial property.

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The town of Taos hired Sage West Consultants to draft an ordinance that incorporated energy-efficient and sustainable building practices for residential, commercial, and town-owned properties. The Town Council mandated the consultants work with a steering committee of citizen volunteers to draft the ordinance. The drafting revealed the importance of capturing the multiple definitions of sustainability.

This article highlights three distinct perspectives of sustainability critical to the adoption and success of the building ordinance:

* produce sustainable reduction in energy and water consumption

* provide economically sustainable alternatives for affordable housing

* facilitate sustainable community consensus on the principles of ordinance.

Context

In 2005, the U.S. Conference of Mayors made a commitment to reduce pollution by striving to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in its own communities. One of the first signatories was Bobby Duran, then-mayor of Taos, New Mexico. To meet this commitment, local administrators--under the direction of Duran--proposed that the town of Taos adopt a sustainable building ordinance. Under Duran's leadership and continued endorsement from Darren Cordova--a former councilman who has replaced Duran as mayor--the Town Council hired consultants to assist with the creation of a new high performance building ordinance.

The ordinance was intended to serve several purposes. First, Taos would be an example for its citizens by adopting sustainable building practices for all town-owned buildings. Second, the ordinance would accommodate the needs of the community's low- and moderate-income residents for affordable housing and energy use. Third, the ordinance would ensure high-performance building practices in all new residential and commercial construction.

On February 24, 2009, the Town Council unanimously passed the ordinance to promote energy and resource efficiency and water conservation and to endorse innovative building design to lessen the impact on the environment and enhance quality of life. A testament to the success of the passage of the high performance building ordinance was citizen participation.

"I am impressed with the level of community effort on this ordinance," said Town Planner Matthew Foster. "More than 50 citizen volunteers and our consultants worked long hours together with town officials to make the effort succeed."

Perspectives of a Sustainable Ordinance

The consultants cast a wide net to invite citizens to participate in the steering committee, a requirement of the contract with the town. In the end, a committee that included builders, engineers, architects, landscapers, real estate agents, banks, and public officials played a significant role in defining the three perspectives of adopting a sustainable high performance building ordinance.

Reduce Energy and Water Consumption

The committee began its focus on existing examples of successful energy reduction, including renewable energy, solar water heating, passive solar design features, energy efficient appliances, recycled and reused materials, insulation, and efficient windows. Discussion around water conservation embraced water collection systems (catch water systems), recycled water (gray water systems), and xeriscaping. …

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