LEED For Neighborhood Development: Update and Free Certification Exam

The Green Building Certification Institute (USBGCI) is accepting applications from professionals interested in taking the LEED AP Neighborhood Development beta exam and potentially earning the credential for free. You must submit the application and required documentation online by December 15th. The final, balloted version of LEED for Neighborhood Development was recently released with a few interesting changes including new requirements for certification of at least one green building, walkable sidewalks, increased density, and an allowance for minor construction such as boat access ramps in green buffer areas that encourage human interaction with nature.

by Jessalyn Dingwell, Green Economy Post

As LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) enters the final stages of development, the Green Building Certification Institute (USBGCI) is accepting applications from professionals interested in taking the LEED AP Neighborhood Development exam between February 2 and February 12, 2010 – for free. This beta test is an opportunity to take the LEED AP Neighborhood Development exam at no cost and, upon final scoring of the results, potentially earn the LEED AP Neighborhood Development credential.

In order to apply for the LEED AP Neighborhood Development exam, you must meet the eligibility requirements (documenting professional experience on a LEED-registered project, within the last 3 years, with verification through LEED Online or employer attestation), complete the application, and submit the required documentation no later than December 15. Notification of acceptance in the beta testing event will occur at the end of December.

This is a great opportunity for professionals, especially those who are already familiar with the final version of LEED ND, to become among the first professionals certified in the rating system and save a few hundred dollars on examination fees.

LEED ND Updates

LEED ND is a rating system designed in collaboration between the US Green Building Council (USBGC), the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The rating system encourages smart growth by promoting the location and design of neighborhoods that reduce vehicle miles traveled and creating developments where jobs and services are accessible by foot or public transit. It also promotes green building and green infrastructure practices, particularly more efficient energy and water use.

The design of the LEED ND rating system began in 2004. A closed pilot of the rating system opened in 2007 and has certified 49 projects to date. At this point, the system is in its final version and is available for download online. The USBGC plans to open the rating system for new projects in 2010 as well as complete the certification exam so that green professionals can achieve the LEED AP Neighborhood Development designation.

Sophie Lambert, the Director of LEED ND at the USBGC as well as several members of the LEED ND Core Committee discussed significant changes and improvements to the system a few weeks ago at Greenbuild. Many of these improvements required changes to the pilot system, so make sure to review the final version which will not change again before registration of new projects opens in 2010. Here are a few of the more significant changes mentioned:

Green Building Requirement: The final version requires at least one building within the community be a certified green building. The requirement is met by LEED certification or through a green building rating system requiring review by independent, impartial, third-party certifying bodies as defined by ISO/IEC 17021.

Compact Development: The Core Committee received thousands of public comments on this issue. Some people wanted a more stringent density requirement while some believed that the standard was already too high. In the session I attended at Greenbuild, one of the audience members expressed concerns that the requirement was too low. The Committee felt that since density was so context specific, it was critical to make this perquisite flexible enough to include many different community locations. In the end, the Committee decided that 7 dwelling units per acre and .50 floor-area ratio (FAR) was not high enough for locations with ample transit services. The standard was adjusted and is as high as 12 dwelling units per acre and .80 FAR in certain locations in a transit corridor.

New Walkable Streets Prerequisite: This requirement is intended to make sidewalks safer and more appealing to pedestrians, leading to reduced vehicle miles traveled and improved public health. There are four basic components to this prerequisite: 1. for 90% of new building frontage, a principal functional entry on the front façade faces a public space 2. a minimum building height-to-street-width ratio of 1:3 must be achieved on 15% of street frontage  3. continuous sidewalks on 90% of the community 4. no more than 20% of the street frontages within the project are faced directly by garage and service bay openings. These requirements may be waived if they conflict with historic preservation requirements.

Mixed-Income Diverse Communities: The LEED ND pilot included two credits, Diverse Communities and Mixed Income. These two credits were combined into a single credit, Mixed-Income Diverse Communities, in the final version. The change is important because diversity of housing types is a structural way to ensure elements of affordability. Some of the income levels were adjusted from the pilot and a synergy point was added which allows an extra point for communities with a high  level of diverse housing units.

Wetland and Water Body Conservation Credits: This is a change that recognizes the importance of human connection with nature. The strict buffer size was relaxed to allow minor improvements within the buffer to enhance appreciation for the wetland or water. These include improvements such as boat launches, elevated boardwalks, and trails.

The LEED ND Scorecard Overview

The LEED ND Reference Guide is in draft form and will be available in early 2010. In the meantime, many details are available on the rating system and checklist.

Similar to the other LEED 2009 v3 rating systems, LEED ND has 100 possible points, plus 10 possible bonus points. Certification levels are as follows: Certified 40+ points, Silver 50+ points, Gold 60+ points, Platinum 80+ points.

Primary Categories:

  • Smart Location and Linkage (27 possible points): Encourages communities to consider location, transportation alternatives, and preservation of sensitive lands while also discouraging sprawl.
  • Neighborhood Pattern and Design (44 possible points): Emphasizes vibrant, equitable communities that are healthy, walkable, and mixed-use.
  • Green Infrastructure and Buildings (29 possible points): Promotes the design and construction of buildings and infrastructure that reduce energy and water use, while promoting more sustainable use of materials, reuse of existing and historic structures, and other sustainable best practices.

Bonus Categories:

  • Innovation and Design Process (6 possible points): Recognizes exemplary and innovative performance reaching beyond the existing credits in the rating system, as well as the value of including an accredited professional on the design team.
  • Regional Priority (4 possible points): Encourages projects to focus on earning credits of significance to the project’s local environment.

For more information, call 1-800-795-1746 or contact the Green Building Certification Institute via their web site

© 2009, Jessalyn Dingwell. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Jessalyn Dingwell (13 Articles)

Jessalyn Dingwell is an attorney and Green Building aficionado living in Washington, DC. A daring high school science fair project involving solar energy, an incredible amount of copper tubing, and a precarious rooftop fueled her lifelong curiosity and passion for renewable energy sources and building energy-efficiency. Jessalyn serves on several committees at the Women's Council on Energy and the Environment and frequently contributes to the Council's Water Committee programming. Prior to law school, she spent several years at the Corporate Executive Board providing marketing best practices to Fortune 500 companies in the US, then managing the European team based in London. Feel free to contact her at: jessalyn@greeneconomypost.com.