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Old Posted Jun 29, 2006, 3:50 PM
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City Hall's spreading the green
June 29, 2006
BY GARY WISBY Environment Reporter

Chicago is already tops for green rooftops, leading North America in the latest survey.

But City Hall, which started it all with a 20,300-square-foot green roof five years ago, wants more company downtown.

So under a plan that won City Council approval Wednesday, the city will offer matching funds up to $100,000 to put green roofs on downtown buildings.

The pilot program will draw $500,000 from the Central Loop Tax Increment Financing District. At $10 per square foot, that's enough to fund five to 10 projects, said Michael Berkshire of the city's Department of Planning and Development.

He calls the new project the GRIF TIF -- Green Roof Improvement Fund Tax Increment Financing.

"If it's a success, we'd like to target other TIF areas," Berkshire said. Prime candidates would be areas troubled by flooding or that are big contributors to the "urban heat island" effect -- conditions eased by roof plantings.

Buildings also benefit because green roofs cool the floor below in summer and help hold heat in winter. City Hall's greenery saves $5,000 a year on utility bills, Berkshire said.

Inspiration from Germany

Green roofs also extend the life of existing roofs by protecting their waterproofing membranes from ultraviolet rays and temperature change.

Where practical, green roofs are planted on all new and rehabbed city buildings. "Most people associate them with new construction," said Planning and Development spokeswoman Connie Buscemi. "That's a myth this program will help dispel."

Smaller buildings are getting the roofs, too. Last year, the city awarded $5,000 grants to 20 owners of homes or small businesses from a pool of 120 who applied.

A survey by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities said Chicago led North American cities in 2005 with 295,000 square feet of completed green roofs. But Berkshire said 2.5 million square feet are in various stages of development on more than 200 public and private structures.

That's not counting the 1,067,220-square-foot Millennium Park or the new 239,580-square-foot park at Soldier Field. Both are considered green roofs because they are built over parking garages.

Chicago's elevated greenery is one of Mayor Daley's darlings. He was wowed by green roofs in Hamburg, Germany, during a 1998 tour, and City Hall had its green roof by the end of 2001. It cost $2.5 million, funded by a settlement with ComEd.

Now that aldermen have OK'd the new program, Berkshire will start talking it up with business groups and building owners. Applications will be accepted online, with a Sept. 1 deadline.

Green connections lead to garden on garage

Sara and Joe Shacter have one of the newest and nicest green roofs in town, and it didn't cost them a dime.

The 20-by-22-foot garden was planted on their flat-topped garage on North Leavitt two weeks ago by Animal Planet's "Backyard Habitat" show.

Plantings were already in bloom so the roof could be shot for an episode that will air in the fall.

The Shacters built the home and moved into it in February with their 2-year-old twins, Jason and Benji.

It was chosen for the TV show because the couple had thought about adding a roof garden themselves, and because of Joe's green connections.

He works for the Environmental Law & Policy Center and is a former president of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, "so we're pretty environmentally conscious these days," his wife said.

Joe added, "We have an astounding green roof, and way before we thought we would."

The garden was designed by Bernie Jacobs of Jacobs Ryan Associates and installed by Intrinsic Perennial Gardens, a Hebron, Ill., firm that specializes in green roofs.

Snow, animals no problem

The company has built about 70 green roofs in the Chicago area, 60 of them in the city, said Kurt Horvath of Intrinsic.

For each job, he assesses whether the roof is strong enough to hold the additional weight of dirt and plants -- the range is 15 to 40 pounds per square foot.

What about snow? Chicago roofs are built to withstand it, "so there's no reason to remove it," Horvath said. "You leave it just like you would on your [ground-level] garden."

Animals are no problem, either, he said. "I've never seen any type of squirrel or rodent damage."

At the Shacter residence, Intrinsic installed a $15,000 garden, using 21 plant varieties including asters, chrysanthemums, delphiniums and three types of sedum, the tough, colorful common denominator of green roofs.

"We're watering it for the next two weeks, but after that it will be self-sustaining," Sara said. "I had no idea it would be so pretty."

Joe said the garden complements the home's landscaping, which incorporates several native elements.

"We're infatuated with our roof," he said. "We've got neighbors across the alley yelling at us, 'Thank you for the view!'"
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