Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Downtown building owners: Overly restrictive code regulations have got to go

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Bob Beers

As the owners of the recently opened Mingo Kitchen and Lounge set about turning the former garage in Las Vegas’ downtown Arts District into a chic eatery, they hit an unexpected and expensive snag.

The aging block wall building, located at 1017 S. 1st Street, didn’t meet the city’s energy efficiency standards and would need insulation and drywall installed at a cost of $17,000 to comply with code.

But because of the open-air layout of the restaurant — the large bar straddles both the indoor and outdoor seating areas — co-owner George Harris said the insulation won’t do anything to lower the building’s energy consumption and was a “waste of money.”

Harris said he’s “angry” about the unnecessary costs, which totaled $34,000 on a total project budget of about $1 million, and thinks the high price of code compliance could hinder development downtown, which is littered with dozens of older buildings with the potential for rehabilitation.

Because of complaints from Harris and other downtown business owners, the city is looking into tweaking its energy standards to exempt older buildings from the requirements.

“At the end of the day we’ve got businesses that have been through the experience telling scary stories about having to invest their capital senselessly,” said Councilman Bob Beers, who is sponsoring a bill that would change the city’s energy standards. “That is going to lead to the next operator saying ‘Maybe I won’t do downtown. Maybe I’ll do it instead up in Summerlin or I’ll do it instead out in Clark County.’”

Beers is chief financial officer at Mundo, another downtown restaurant co-owned by Harris.

The city’s energy codes are similar to those in other local jurisdictions and are modeled off an international set of guidelines that have been amended to fit Southern Nevada’s unique climate and environment. The code governs windows, mechanical systems, insulation and other parts of the building envelope.

All new buildings must follow the code and any renovations or expansions to existing buildings must also meet the outlined standards, but only for the portion of the building undergoing construction.

Under Beers’ proposed bill, any building built before 2009 undergoing a renovation would only have to meet the energy code requirements at the time of initial construction, not the current, stricter guidelines.

The bill drew strong opposition during a hearing Tuesday morning from more than a dozen people, including green building consultants, energy auditors and architects, who called the bill “short-sighted.”

Loosening the energy efficiency standards would be a “giant step backwards” for the city after years of working to become more sustainable, said Randy Levigne, executive director of the American Institute of Architects Nevada chapter. Levigne said the current energy code is flexible and allows businesses to meet the standards in a reasonable and cost-effective way.

“Being an outstanding city does not come for free or by using cut-rate, backwards or short-cut methods,” she said. “In some instances the code requirements will cost more initially, however it’s important to remember the true expense is in the energy costs over the life of a building.”

The bill was approved by the Recommending Committee Tuesday on a 2-1 vote, with councilmen Bob Coffin and Stavros Anthony in favor and councilman Ricki Barlow opposed. It will come before the full council for a final vote on June 5.

Barlow said he thinks the city’s energy code can be improved to lessen the impact on businesses, but that he doesn’t want to see the modern energy standards thrown out entirely for older buildings.

“This is too big of a step in the wrong direction for me to support,” he said.

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