Sustainability for Developers Starts at Their Attorneys Office

In real estate, we have gotten used to words such as “green” and sustainable.” It is easy to find a flood of information regarding making your buildings better for the environment and future owners or tenants. Additionally, you can see examples of Andres Duany’s founded Smartcode that allows towns and individual developments that are designed on a human scale rather than simply for maximum speed of vehicles. Since its conception in the early 1980’s in Seaside Florida, the idea has been replicated many times across the nation.

We have covered making better homes, offices, and building codes but a recent article in Urban Land has me thinking about what developers can do on the front-in of the development to insure sustainable building. (HOA Covenants for Sustainability) suggest that developers and their attorneys can write HOA covenants in a way that support sustainable growth.

Most new developments use HOA covenants to enforce details on how big your house has to be, what type of shingles you must use, where your cars need to be parked, what mailbox to buy, and even what garbage cans allowed. They even go as far to tell you what you can and cannot do in your home. These covenants are written before the first resident moves in and will cast the vision and expectations of the development moving forward. The article simple suggest casting a better vision.

The author suggests that these same documents can be used to promote sustainable living in using a two-step approach. The first step is in drafting the covenants to reflect sustainable activities. Seth Weissman suggest “When covenants specifically permit things like vegetable gardens, rain barrels, solar panels, cisterns, compost piles, and architectural changes that promote more sustainable living, a different set of values is articulated. These things become legitimized. Sustainability is then being accorded the same value in covenants as the preservation of order and the consistency of community appearance.”

The second step in this process is use these covenants to promote this new set of values. Many believe price premiums will be placed on developments where the above examples are present. Developers can use their input in effort to promote sustainable living prior to the first lot being sold. Well-drafted covenants are a great first step in this direction.

What Do You Think?Sustainable HOA's


About Developing a Developer

I am currently in graduate school in Auburn University's Real Estate Development program. I love real estate. I love everything about it. I love the fact that there are no two properties alike and no two deals alike. In addition to my schoolwork, I love seek out books, articles, blogs, and people that can future my knowledge of this ever changing industry. So here I am! If you know me you will agree that I am not your typical graduate student. If you asked me after graduating from Mississippi State if I thought I would sit in another classroom, write another paper, or take another test I would have answered with "Not in a million years!" If it were not for the MRED program at Auburn I would still be saying that. I want to use this blog to share my story as I go through this program. I expect to make some post closely related to the program itself and others simply about life while I make these changes. I will try not to bore you to death!
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2 Responses to Sustainability for Developers Starts at Their Attorneys Office

  1. Christian Dagg says:

    Jonathan- as a designer I come into contact with covenants all the time. When they restrict people from parking speed boats in their front yards, I think they are good. When they severely limit what I can do as a designer they are terrible. I recently worked on a project where the covenants restricted solar panels and metal roofs- although metal roofs are great for energy efficiency, longer lasting and can be recycled. Luckily, the HOA was chaired by an enlightened individual who was willing to listen to reasonable arguments and make a professional judgment that allowed us to move forward. If they use it as a checklist- it is over- if those who draft the covenant leave open room for dialogue, appeal and adjustment to new technological advances then something important can happen. How can you and your lawyer anticipate what the suburbs will look like when we power our houses in neighborhood blocks with the batteries of our electric cars that have recharged from breaking and local natural gas mini generators? (which they are already doing with success in Germany).

    • Christian, I have experienced similar scenarios. I guess that is why this article caught my eye. I like your comment on writing covenants in a way that will allow adjustments as technology advances. I for one am glad that my neighbor does not have his roof covered in solar panels from the 90’s. However, I was at a trade show recently and saw solar panels that were disguised as architectural shingles.

      As to your question, I see it very difficult to predict future technology. Ten years ago I would never have thought that I would have a phone quite like the Iphone. However, I grew up watching The Jetsons so I was determined that we would all have flying cars by now! I think by making a solid attempt to allow for sustainable measures in a development is taking a huge step in the right direction. By selecting language that will lend itself to future edits you are insuring the survival of the sustainability efforts of your development.

      On a Personal note. I hate that our Boston trip got canceled. I could tell by your lectures that you love the city. I was looking forward to it. I just knew between you and Professor Robinson that I would know just about everything I needed to about Boston in a three day period.

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