Cincinnati Tax Plan Rewards Robust LEED Development

Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of the Reds, is about to get a little greener. With the recent passage of a new set of tax abatement guidelines by the Cincinnati City Council, local property owners will have an extra financial incentive to construct buildings at higher levels of LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

On Dec. 19, the City Council approved a proposal from Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan to provide progressively greater tax incentives for those projects that had LEED certs at the basic, Silver and Gold levels. The new guidelines will amend the city’s successful 2006 ordinance that provides a 15-year, 100 percent property tax exemption of up to $500,000 (unlimited for Platinum level buildings) for newly built or retrofitted properties that achieved LEED certification.

Image via City of Cincinnati

Image via City of Cincinnati

The pioneering 2006 law is considered a model tax incentive program for the rest of the United States, according to the USGBC’s Cincinnati Regional Chapter. The incentives have inspired a wave of LEED-certified development since 2006, including a massive 1.6-mW solar power generation system at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2011 and five of the six LEED-certified buildings at the University of Cincinnati.

The University of Cincinnati's Center for Academic and Research Excellence building earned LEED Gold certification in 2008. Image via Green Education Services.

The University of Cincinnati Center for Academic and Research Excellence’s Edith J. Crawley Building earned LEED Gold certification in 2008. Image via Green Education Services.

However, Quinlivan argued, there was no distinction made between basic LEED status and the more stringent requirements of the Silver and Gold USGBC levels. As a result, she told the Cincinnati Enquirer, there was “nothing to incentivize people to do the best they can.”

Since the law was introduced in 2006, Quinlivan said, only eight of the 126 new homes that earned the abatement had achieved Gold-level status and just three were at the Platinum level. For new commercial construction, six of the 13 projects that qualified were LEED-certified at the Gold level.

The 6,400 solar panels mounted atop the parking-lot canopies of the Cincinnati Zoo generate nearly 1.6 mW of electricity. Image via Cincinnati Zoo.

The 6,400 solar panels mounted atop the parking-lot canopies of the Cincinnati Zoo generate nearly 1.6 mW of electricity. Image via Cincinnati Zoo.

Under the new guidelines, all new commercial properties and renovations will be required to reach LEED Silver status or higher to qualify for the tax abatement. For residential structures, the tax breaks over the 15-year period will be divided into three new tiers: a $275,000 limit for a basic LEED cert; a $400,000 limit for LEED Silver; and a $562,000 limit for LEED Gold. Platinum-level homes will continue to have no dollar limit, as was the case in the original law.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.