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Counting Down to a Green New York


The first tower’s heating-and-cooling system will be electric, with about 20 percent of the building’s common-area energy needs met by solar arrays. There will also be a school, a community services space and public gardens.

“Affordable housing has the largest penetration of greenness of any building sector,” said Jonathan Rose, in large part because developers are looking for ways to keep operating costs down, as they can’t substantially raise rents to cover those costs. All of the 360 units in the first phase will be reserved for residents making less than 90 percent of the area’s median income, or $86,000 a year for a family of three. Almost a third of the units will go to extremely low-income renters, meaning a family of three making less than $29,000 a year, with a share reserved for the formerly homeless.

The priorities of luxury developers often don’t align with climate concerns.

Floor-to-ceiling windows, the hallmark of many luxury apartment buildings, are far less effective at insulating buildings than solid surfaces, and require more energy to heat and cool. Extra-tall ceilings, cavernous amenity spaces and a tendency to pamper residents (at least those who actually live in the buildings) don’t help luxury developers’ situation.

“It’s like saying a 12-cylinder Ferrari is more efficient than it was yesterday — they still use a lot of gas,” said Stephen V. DeSimone, the chief executive of DeSimone Consulting Engineers, who has worked on several supertall and high-end buildings. Luxury and sustainability, he said, are “sort of at odds with one another.”

But the city’s new emissions standards for buildings over 25,000 square feet could change that. In April, the City Council passed rules that require some 50,000 large buildings to reduce carbon emissions in aggregate by 40 percent by 2030 and another 40 percent by 2050; noncompliance could result in millions of dollars of annual fines. (Rent-regulated buildings will have to meet less stringent criteria.)

But the penalties should act as a deterrent, not a revenue source, said Costa Constantinides, a Queens councilman and chair of the committee on environmental protection.

“I don’t want anyone’s money; I want their carbon,” he said, adding that the regulations, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, are achievable.


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