Following a three-year pilot program, in late April, the USGBC formally launched LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND), the seventh LEED rating system. As with other LEED systems, LEED-ND is a voluntary program. However, unlike the other versions of LEED, LEED-ND is the first to focus on neighborhood design. As a result, projects submitted for certification are measured by acreage, rather than square footage, and prerequisites and credits address high-performance buildings and infrastructure as well as location, land use, and design of the public realm. ECO-STRUCTURE recently spoke with Sophie Lambert, director, neighborhood development for USGBC, about the new system.

Can you tell us a bit about the unique requirements of LEED-ND? For instance, why is the certification processed divided into three phases? Are there other unique considerations to be taken into account when pursuing certification?
LEED-ND projects might have significantly longer construction periods than single buildings, so the standard LEED certification process has been modified. The three-stage process is meant to align with the land-use development process as best as possible.

Stage 1, Conditional Approval of a LEED-ND Plan, is available for projects before the land use entitlement (approvals) process begins to see if the plan is eligible for LEED-ND certification. If the conditional approval of the conceptual plan is achieved, the project team receives a letter to help the developer build the case for entitlement among land-use planning authorities and gain community support for the project.

Stage 2, Pre-Certified LEED-ND Plan, is a review of the project once 100 percent of the building square footage has received land-use entitlement (though it does not need to have building permits), the right to use the land for specific types, and quantities of proposed land uses. The project can be under construction and still be eligible for Stage 2, but not more than 75 percent of the square footage can be complete. If pre-certification of the plan is achieved, a certificate will be issued stating that the plan is a Pre-Certified LEED-ND Plan. Achieving Stage 2 can aid developers in resisting pressures to alter a project, can aid in securing financing and tenants, and can help show that the project has made an early commitment to achieving a green neighborhood development.

Stage 3, LEED-ND Certified Neighborhood Development, is the final step. In this phase, the project team submits documentation for all prerequisites and attempted credits. If certification is awarded, a plaque is issued to the project that indicates that the project meets LEED-ND criteria demonstrating leadership in the realm of green neighborhoods.

How did the development of this system differ from that of the other LEED rating systems?
LEED-ND was created in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council (representing Smart Growth America) and the Congress for the New Urbanism. This partnership resulted in a broader group of experts developing the rating system (the LEED-ND Core Committee consisted of five experts nominated or elected by each of the three organizations) and a wider group of stakeholders in the development of the standard. In many ways, though, it did follow the LEED process for creating a new rating system in terms of consisting of prerequisites and credits and holding public comment periods and a pilot.

What were the biggest challenges or surprises during the development process?
That there was remarkable shared vision for a rating system for green neighborhood development by the three organizations. At the same time, there were definitely issues that the three partners did not agree on. As a result, there are some issues that have additional option paths to serve as a compromise of sorts. There was a lot of debate about whether there should be a prerequisite for including affordable housing, a prerequisite for not demolishing any historic buildings, and also about whether greenfield development should be allowed and, if so, in what situations.

Is there a minimum size and/or cap on the size of a development or neighborhood that can apply for certification through the system?
In the pilot and also for LEED 2009 for Neighborhood Development there is not a minimum or maximum size. We give a strong recommendation that projects consist of at least two habitable buildings and not be larger than 320 acres. Larger projects are encouraged to submit their application in smaller neighborhood submissions.

What kinds of projects were submitted in the pilot period? How were these pilot projects chosen?
The LEED-ND pilot had a call for interest in January 2007; 371 projects indicated interest in participating in the pilot. Projects were not selected. Instead, 238 decided to register in the pilot after responding to the call for interest. The pilot closed in January 2010. Of the 238 pilor projects, 140 were submitted for review and 75 have completed one of the three stages of certification thus far. The projects that participated in the pilot vary significantly, although the majority were located in more urban areas with proximity to transit. There were brownfield redevelopment projects, urban in-fill projects, transit-oriented development projects, expansions of university campuses, small residential projects, large mixed-use projects, redevelopments of airports, redevelopments of shopping centers or other suburban retrofits, and some greenfield projects that were located near existing services or transit. There were a couple existing neighborhoods. If there is vacant land in an existing neighborhood, LEED-ND can be a valuable certification tool, but the rating system was designed for situations where at least 50 percent of the building square footage will be new construction or major renovation of existing buildings. For existing neighborhoods with little or no new development, LEED-ND can be used as an evaluative tool, but not as a certification tool.

What kind of feedback was received during the pilot period?
We received a lot of valuable feedback from the pilot projects, both from consultants and the developer-owners. They identified parts of the rating system that were difficult to demonstrate or not stringent enough, and related these findings to their particular location or project type. The pilot projects also gave important feedback on the documentation required to show compliance with a prerequisite or credit. All of this feedback from the pilot projects and from other stakeholders resulted in the core committee making significant changes to the pilot version of the rating system.

What kind of feedback was received during the public comment period?
We received thousands of public comments—much more than we expected—which were held in late 2008 and early 2009. The feedback was constructive and informative. We held two public comment periods and made many changes as a result of the feedback received during the first public comment period. Some issues such as the requirements for residential and nonresidential density in our Compact Development prerequisite resulted in a significant amount of feedback with some commenters saying the thresholds were far too long and some saying they were far too high. This made the core committee decide that for now, it was close to being right and should be tested with LEED-ND 2009 projects.

How did this feedback affect or influence the final rating system?
Some of the bigger changes from pilot to post-pilot were that we added a prerequisite for at least one certified green building, we added a prerequisite for energy efficiency and water efficiency, and a prerequisite for walkable streets. There were smaller changes, such as allowing minor improvements within the required buffers around wetlands and water bodies, adding graphics where appropriate, and aligning with LEED 2009.

For more information on LEED-ND, visit usgbc.org.