Denver mayor opposes green roof ballot initiative, says it ‘goes too far too fast’

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DENVER – Mayor Michael Hancock is opposed to an initiative Denver voters will decide on in November that would require many newly-built large buildings in the city to have a “green roof” of sorts installed.

Last month, the Denver Elections Division approved the Denver Green Roof Initiative ballot petition after verifying the group had gotten the correct number of signatures to put the measure on November’s ballot.

If approved, the measure would require roofs of new buildings at least 25,000 square feet in size be covered at least 20 percent by solar panels, garden space, or other “green roof” qualifications. Older buildings of that size that are replacing their roofs could also fall under the measure’s requirements.

But Hancock sent a letter to some city council members this week voicing his opposition to the measure, which he says “goes too far too fast.”

While saying he “applauds” the group backing the initiative for “striving to address very significant concerns,” he wrote that the initiative “provides no flexibility or opportunity for ‘carrots’ instead of ‘sticks.'”

“While green roofs support many sustainability objectives, Initiative 300 is not the right approach for Denver,” the mayor wrote. “By taking a mandate-only approach and eliminating the opportunity for options, the initiative would actually hinder efforts to pilot, promote, phase and incentivize green infrastructure, as is being done in many of our peer cities across the United States.”

Hancock wrote that he also had concerns about the inevitably-higher costs that would come with the projects, and their maintenance after the initial construction.

“We would have much preferred to see a collaborative approach, which has become the hallmark of how we solve problems here in Denver,” Hancock said.

He also pointed out what he says is “an aggressive sustainability agenda” that has been instituted by the city over the past half-decade, which includes goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and a no-timeline goal of Denver using 100 percent renewable resources.

But the proponents of the initiative fired back.

“These commitments are empty promises for a politician whose term will have ended far earlier than the deadline set for these goals,” the group retorted, also pointing that some of the city’s goals are already behind schedule.

“We understand that this will increase the cost of construction. Green roofs are more expensive to install and maintain,” the group wrote. “However, the roof membrane lasts 2 to 3 times as long and combined with the decrease in energy consumption will directly result in significant lower long term operational costs.”

The group pointed to other cities, like Portland and Toronto, that have had some successes with green roof programs coming in ahead of budget and making positive impacts on the city.

The group said it had reached out “multiple times” to the city attorney’s office to clarify the mayor’s comments, but had not received a response.

“These are the very issues we ran into when attempting to collaborate with the appropriate parties and to say that we did not take a collaborative approach is insulting to all the effort put forth for the last 7 years,” the group responded.

The Denver Green Roof Initiative is set to hold two town hall meetings this weekend. The Denver Post reports that opposition groups have outraised the initiative by approximately 6-to-1.