Toronto developers see red over "green" roof law

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Toronto’s real estate developers are unhappy about a new law mandating “green” rooftops, arguing the city should have instead offered incentives to encourage the planting of grass and shrubs atop large new buildings.

The Toronto Skyline with a condominium building under construction (L) is shown in downtown Toronto, May 14, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese

Toronto last month became the first major city in North America to pass a bylaw requiring that any new development with floorspace of more than 2,000 square meters devote between 20 and 60 percent of its roof to vegetation. The rule applies to residential, commercial, industrial and institutional structures.

“I don’t think anybody is warm and fuzzy about having a green roof bylaw impressed on them as a prescriptive method,” said Stephen Upton, vice president for development at Tridel Corp, a Toronto high-rise condominium developer.

Supporters argue that green roofs offer many benefits to city dwellers and the environment, including energy savings as grass and foliage reduce the penetration of summer heat and limit the escape of heat in winter lessening the need for air conditioning and heating.

Greenery on roofs, supporters say, can also reduce the quantity of water runoff, so helping stormwater management, and can filter out pollutants from rainwater.

The city council is also being criticized for not considering other approaches to making buildings more environmentally friendly, such as solar panels, and for pushing the cost-raising measure during a recession when buyers are already suffering.

Upton said green roofs could add C$200,000 ($177,000) to the cost of a new building, which would then be passed on to the buyer. On top of that would be ongoing maintenance, replacement and repair costs.

“People start questioning affordability,” he told Reuters.

Roofs sporting grass, plants and even trees are popping up in cities all over North America. Chicago likes to boast that it has more than 600 buildings with green roofs. The green roof on Vancouver’s new convention center, the broadcast hub for the 2010 Winter Olympics, is billed as the largest in Canada.

“There is a lot of political support for greening the city,” said Steven Peck, president of Toronto-based Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a non-profit industry association.

Toronto Mayor David Miller has made the environment a central plank of his term, which has also seen the city offering rebates for low-flush toilets and banning the sale of bottled water at City Hall.

The bylaw takes effect in February 2010 although industrial sites have a one-year grace period and only need to set aside 10 percent of their roof space.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant; Editing by Frank McGurty