Sustainability as a tool for economic development was the main theme at the annual meeting of the New Jersey chapter of the US Green Building Council on Feb. 1 in Newark. Among the featured guests were Upendra Sapkota, acting director of the Planning, Zoning and sustainability office, and Natalie Agosto Filion, the office’s chief sustainability officer of the office of sustainability.
Faith Taylor, the immediate past chair of the chapter and senior vice president of global corporate responsibility officer for Wyndham Worldwide said that as Newark grows, both the chapter and the city can benefit from their aligning views on sustainability.
“There have been many starts and finishes [to making Newark sustainable], but I’m proud we have two people here who are working on it and making it happen,” she said. “We need to support [Newark] 100 percent. The United States Green Building Council is here to support them, help them and their mission which aligns with our values.
“There is a value to helping to make Newark a better place to live. And that is clean air, clean water, great transportation and being able to have buildings that are energy-efficient and reducing our footprint so that we can deal with climate change.”
A significant step towards making the city more economically vital and sustainable, Sapkota said, has been the MX-3 zoning ordinance the city adopted in October.
The ordinance applies to development from Newark Penn Station to Broad Street and aims to continue densifying the existing neighborhood while adding environmentally friendly infrastructure.
“With the zoning ordinance, we have tried to relax parking requirements,” Sapkota. “We are also revising our ordinance requiring charging stations, bike racks and things like that and also requiring green roads, open spaces and things like that to work sustainability and also to incentivize the developers.
“Any developers that want to do work and meet the criteria, we are going to incentivize them with hyperdensity bonuses and also provide them expedited public service. That is a policy we are trying to establish in the city to support sustainability and to help the developers.”
Elements of the ordinance that increase density along the train station, according to Sapkota, can have an effect towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions for the city.
These bonuses for hyper density, Sapkota added, will also go a long way towards keeping city transit affordable and accessible to all residents.
Filion, who is taking the lead in the city’s revised Sustainability Action Plan, said these changes to transit-oriented development have the potential to benefit all residents, too.
“We are planning inclusionary zoning ordinances so that folks who are longtime Newark residents can benefit from this renaissance that is happening here,” she said. “We also have 2020 initiatives. All of these things are major accomplishments of becoming a more sustainable city are here for the people that have struggled through the hard times.”
The MX-3 ordinance includes promoting the following sustainable elements: green roofs; living walls; gray water recycling; open spaces, both public and private; electric vehicle charging stations; active street fronts for mixed-use development; implementing low impact development strategies; and bicycle parking.
To be able to create hyperdensity near the train station, Sapkota said the new ordinance has increased the height requirement up to 12 stories.
“We want to make sure that the height changes don’t negatively affect the city’s infrastructure,” he said.
Lotus Equities, which currently is redeveloping the former Newark Bears Stadium, is one of the developers Sapkota said has taken the lead on environmentally conscious development.
Filion said the city is set to release its updated Sustainability Action Plan in the coming weeks.