A new Mesa-based development company that specializes in super-energy-efficient buildings is ready to start its first projects. Called c.i. Development Group, the firm was formed in 2006 by partners Jason Savell and Eric Faas to build LEED-Gold and LEED-Platinum retail, office and mixed-use projects.
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a national standard developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for the design and construction of “green” buildings. The Gold and Platinum standards are the two highest ratings a building can attain.
Two of the three planned buildings are in line to receive the platinum rating and would be the first commercial buildings in Arizona to reach that standard, Savell said. One is in Surprise, and the other is in the Johnson Ranch area of Pinal County. Both will be mixed-use retail and office complexes.
A third project, a medical office building in Pinal County, will carry a gold rating, Savell said.
He said that only about 40 new buildings in the country have a platinum rating, and the only one in Arizona is the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe — an institutional research building.
“We want to make this kind of energy-efficient green building available for everyday uses,” he said. “This is the future.”
The Surprise project, called M Square, will break ground in about two weeks. The Johnson Ranch project, called San Tan Commons, at Hunt Highway and Valley View Road, is scheduled to begin construction in February. The nearby San Tan medical complex will begin in the third quarter of next year.
Among the features of the San Tan Commons center will be a photovoltaic solar-energy system to supply some of the building’s electricity, an advanced day lighting system that will direct natural light into the interior and eliminate the need for daytime indoor lighting, and high-efficiency insulation.
The medical building will have vegetation on the roof to minimize the structure’s heat island effect and eliminate storm-water runoff.
Savell insisted the cost of building green is no greater than conventional construction if the project is planned properly. He added that lease rates in the company’s buildings will be competitive with others in the market.
“We don’t need a premium,” he said. “The biggest cost that I see is poor planning. If it’s properly planned early on and you get a good grasp of how the whole process works … a lot can be done without big changes in technology or costs.”
So why haven’t more builders sought LEED certification? Savell said not many builders have experience with the techniques, and there are few incentives to build green in Arizona.
“Arizona is a market that wherever you build, for all intents and purposes, it will sell,” he said.
By building a few green projects, the developers hope to show that it’s possible to build such structures and still make a profit, he said.
Pinal County planning officials say they support LEED-certified projects, but having been burned by developers who have made promises in the past and then not delivered, they sought assurances that c.i.’s buildings will be created as advertised.
That led to some tensions during the zoning process, said Jerry Stabley, Pinal County deputy planning director.
The county wanted the developers to agree to a planned area development designation for the projects, which requires the properties to be developed as specified.
The developers opposed that, saying it would take too much time. Instead they just wanted a straight zoning designation, which could allow changes in the plan.
In a compromise, the zoning was approved after the developers submitted a letter assuring county planners that they would develop the land as promised.
That good-faith gesture “gave the (planning) board more comfort that they would do what they said,” Stabley said.