Hot Sheet

Denver’s green roof initiative surprises with narrow lead

Author: Adam McCoy - November 7, 2017 - Updated: November 7, 2017

(iStock image / ElenaSeychelles)

Considering the obstacles environmental activists faced in their organized efforts to mandate green roofs in Denver, Initiative 300 appeared a long shot leading into election night.

Nonetheless, Denver’s green roof initiative appeared poised to succeed late Tuesday by a narrow margin. As of 10 p.m., the initiative had garnered 51 percent of the vote (43,599 votes to 41,341), according to Denver election results.

The activists behind the Denver Green Roof Initiative faced formidable opposition and a steep 12-1 disadvantage in campaign spending.

Several Denver City Council members came out against the ballot initiative — which would require newly-built, large buildings to dedicate roof space to vegetation and/or solar panels — arguing it carried unintended consequences. Even Mayor Michael Hancock said it went too far and provided no flexibility.

Developers rallied around the opposition with large campaign donations.

All told, the organized opposition, the Citizens for a Responsible Denver, significantly outraised the Denver Green Roof Initiative, $250,000 to $22,000, according to the Denver Post.

Under the green roof ordinance, newly-built buildings larger than 25,000 square feet would be required to dedicate a portion (the portion will vary depending on building size) of their rooftops to vegetation or solar panels.

Organizers say green roofs will help reduce the city’s urban heat island effect. Rooftops absorb warmth from the sun, raising the city’s temperature by nearly five degrees, the citizens group behind the initiative said. However with a green roof, vegetation or solar panels are instead absorbing the sun’s rays, keeping buildings cool through a process called evapotranspiration.

Denver ranks third in the nation for urban heat island, according to USA Today, behind Las Vegas and Albuquerque. A cooler Denver would help reduce energy consumption in the city, the group said.

City Council members Kendra Black, Kevin Flynn, Stacie Gilmore and Mary Beth Susman opposed the initiative, arguing a green roof mandate carried with it unintended consequences including further driving up the cost of living in Denver and stymying development.

“Denver is becoming less and less affordable for our hard-working families,” Black previously said. “Let’s not make it any more expensive with the ill-conceived mandate for green roofs.”

Hancock said, “It goes too far too fast and provides no flexibility or opportunity for ‘carrots’ instead of ‘sticks.’”

Developers and business organizations like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce also opposed the initiative.

The Denver City Council could modify or repeal the green roof ordinance after six months but would require a two-thirds majority vote, according to Denverite.

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy covers Denver-area politics for Colorado Politics.