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Reference Publication: Vieira, Robin K., Jennifer L. Languell, Karen Childress, Cynthia Caterham, Eric Martin "Complying with Florida’s Green Land Development Standard: Case Studies and Lessons Learned," Presented at GreenBuild International Conference and Expo, Pittsburgh, PA, United Sates Green Building Council, Nov. 2003.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and are not intended to represent the views and opinions of the Florida Solar Energy Center.

Complying with Florida’s Green Land Development
Standard: Case Studies and Lessons Learned

Robin Vieira1, Jennifer L. Languell2, Karen Childress3,
Cynthia Caterham4, Eric Martin5

1Director, Buildings Research Division, Florida Solar Energy Center, 1679 Clearlake, Rd, Cocoa, FL, p(321)-638-1404, f(321)-638-1439
2President, Trifecta Construction Solutions, PO Box 402, Alva, FL 33920, p(239) 229-3177, f(239) 303-0738
3Environmental Stewardship Manager, WCI Communities, 24301 Walden Center Drive Bonita Springs, FL 34134 (p)(239)-498-8289, (f)239-498-8687,
4Architectural Design Manager, The Bonita Bay Group, 9990 Coconut Road #200, Bonita Springs, FL 34135-8488, p (239)-390-1133, f(239)-498-1193
5Research Engineer, Florida Solar Energy Center, 1679 Clearlake, Rd, Cocoa, FL, p(321)-638-1450, f(321)-638-1439



The Florida Green Building Coalition, Inc. (FGBC), developed a standard for green land development. It is the first voluntary, non-government standard of its kind to target an entire state. Other groups have created development standards that apply to just a local Home Building Associations (HBA) or a local jurisdiction. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is beginning a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEEDTM) for neighborhoods. To comply with Florida’s standard, a developer has to earn sufficient points among six categories:

1. Protect Ecosystems and Conserve Natural Resources: for example, surveys, conservation areas, wildlife corridors, wetland preservation and management
2. Circulation: for example, pedestrian walkways, road design, shaded parking, proximity to retail, schools and connections to other areas
3. Utilities: for example, underground utilities, and metering irrigation
4. Amenities: for example, community pools, Audubon International certified golf courses
5. Covenants and Deed Restrictions (CDRs): for example, encourage green construction standards, certified green homes and buildings
6. Education: for example, staff training, outdoor signage, community outreach

Each category of the standard has a minimum and a maximum point total that may be earned. This results in a reasonable amount of environmental stewardship across each of the six categories.

The standard was released in October 2002. Two of the projects that first applied for certification are located in southwest Florida (Sarasota - Naples). Each project was built adjacent to a sensitive river ecosystem. This paper uses these two case studies to illustrate the elements and flexibility of the standard. Discussion is included on how a land development standard can be used to augment vertical construction standards (LEEDTM and local standards) and can serve as a tool for local communities and government entities to reward sustainable land development.

Verandah, one of The Bonita Bay Group's (TBBG) communities, is located along a 1.75mile stretch of the scenic Orange River in Fort Myers. Accented by large oak hammocks, native sabal palms and the fragrant remains of an orange grove, Verandah provides some of the best atmosphere nature offers. Nearly 65 percent of Verandah's 1,456 acres will remain open space. Community amenities include a golf course and pro shop, restaurant, tennis and fitness center, nature center, and riverfront boathouse with general store all nestled into a canopy of oak trees. TBBG in this instance is the land developer and as such has seven preferred builders within the community. Each of the homebuilders is required to construct their model homes to FGBC green home standard.

The new Venetian Golf and River Club in Venice (south of Sarasota), a WCI Communities, Inc. (WCI) development, is situated adjacent to the designated wild and scenic Myaka River. Seventy-three acres of oak-shaded preserve for wildlife habitat and passive recreation line the riverfront at Venetian Golf and River Club, creating a natural buffer averaging 300 feet wider than required by local regulations. WCI, as both the developer and homebuilder, is constructing and certifying all the homes to the FGBC green home standard.


1.1 The Need for a Development Standard
Green building efforts need to begin with land development. Once the land is developed and buildings are placed on it you can never, for the most part, get it back. Many aspects of land development affect the eventual performance of the buildings as well as other environmental stewardship issues. For example, the street layout will often dictate or limit the building orientation. The selection of mixed-use activities and pedestrian infrastructure can greatly impact the mode of transportation and vehicle miles traveled. Tree preservation efforts by the developer will create opportunities for tree preservation by the site builders as well as influence the temperature in the neighborhood. Finally, the covenant and deed restrictions (CDRs) written by the developers can mandate green building practices or compliance.

At the inception of the Florida Green Building Coalition, Inc.(FGBC), four areas were identified as important issues: land development, home construction, commercial construction, and city and county guidelines (see Martin & Vieira, 2002). The Florida Green Building Coalition is a statewide non-profit group dedicated “to provide a statewide Green Building program with environmental and economic benefits.”

In Florida, as in many other high growth states, many acres of forest or agricultural land are converted to new developments. One study (Powers, 1990) indicated about 30,000 acres are developed each year in Florida. Florida developers seek permits for development plans that often exceed 1,000 acres and occasionally more than 10,000 acres. Historically, developments are designed to maximize buildable lots to maximize potential profit. This design strategy often compromises natural land features that enhance the community environment. Developments, as designed, remain a permanent fixture within a community and as such, significantly influence many aspects of overall regional environment.


The FGBC formed a committee tasked with creating a development standard would ideally apply to redevelopment, new developments, commercial developments, residential developments, mixed-use developments, large developments of many thousand acres, and small infill developments of a few acres. The standard would also apply for both coastal and inland areas, for horizontal developers only or for developer/builders. The committee had active participation from architects, engineers, builders, consultants, developers, ecologists, educators, energy raters, government agencies, landscape architects, planners, realtors, researchers, and water-management district personnel.

2.1 Where does the development standard end and a home or building standard begin?
When dealing with both developer/builders and developers only, it was necessary to identify a distinctive boundary between horizontal and vertical construction. Early in the standard development process it became clear that the development standard would cover all areas of environmental stewardship within the control of a horizontal land developer. Covenant and Deed Restrictions (CDRs), as they are most often established and enforced by the community developer, would be included as a development category since the CDRs greatly influence each community’s vertical construction. The development standard is applicable to any entity developing multiple parcels of land. A single permitted building site, even a multi-purpose building such as a retail/office/residential building, would not be appropriate for the development standard.

2.2 Other resources

At the time this effort began, there were few similar efforts. One effort was the “Build a Better Kitsap Developer Self-Certification Checklist.(HBA of Kitsap County, 2000)” This checklist included two categories – one for protection of resources and one for circulation. Another resource was a ‘Checklist for Sustainable Development, (Vieira, 1990)” which included many ideas, but not in the form of a scoreable rating system. A third resource was one started by the chair of the FGBC Green Land Development Standard Committee that included methods related largely to landscape protection of the sites.

In order to begin creation of a green land development standard for the State of Florida, the FGBC committee began to convene at regular intervals. Most meetings were conducted “on location”, within various Florida developments, both old and new, that displayed a variety of environmental qualities the committee was attempting to model. A core group of five committee members made most of the site visits.

As the FGBC development committee brainstormed the standard, six categories were identified as key areas for improving the environmental consciousness of land development. As with other FGBC green standards, a menu of items, each worth one or more points, were developed, categorized, and given appropriate weighed points. Weighting points across different categories and even within categories was difficult as quantifying relative environmental benefit was often impossible. The committee wrestled most with items in the protection of natural resources category as ecologists battled the importance of minimum widths for wildlife corridors and width of preserved uplands to surround wetland areas. Additional debates centered on the relative weighting of maximum points obtainable in each category as some believed the most credit should be achieved by long-term items such as natural resources protection and circulation while others wanted educational activities to obtain considerable recognition.


The standard consists of a seven-page document that includes items such as update cycles, who can serve as an FGBC evaluator to score submitted applications, and causes and methods for revoking designations. It also includes a 23-page reference guide that shows examples as well as details requirements to achieve points. A checklist application form is part of the standard as well.

3.1 Qualifying for the designation

There are 600-points worth of items available, however, there is a minimum and maximum in each category as shown in Table 1. The total of the maximums is 400 points, and 200 points are required for the designation. As described in the footnote of the table, the total points required for certification could be higher if the minimums in each category are not met. Some committee members quickly evaluated some typical new developments and found they scored less than 50 points.

Table 1. Minimum and Maximum Credit Points by Category for FGBC
Green Development Designation as provided on application form
Maximum points permitted   Credit points earned
Resource Protection
(must be > 30)
(must be > 15)
(must be > 12)
(must be > 5)
(must be > 8)
(must be > 15)
(must be > 200)*

*Add to 200 any points short of category minimums (if you score only 3 in CDRs, total points required will be 200+(8-3)=200+5=205.)

3.2 Components of Each Category
Protect Ecosystems and Conserve Natural Resources: Components consist of: Redevelop an already developed site; conduct tree, topographical, soil, and wildlife surveys prior to design; create conservation areas and nature parks; preserve the most valuable spaces for biodiversity; on-site conservation plan for a specific wildlife species; maintain or provide wildlife corridors; preserve upland buffers to enhance preserved wetlands; reserve or provide aquifer recharge areas in uplands; restore native wildlife habitat; develop management plan for preserved, created or restored habitats; reuse or recycle materials on site; treat storm water from neighboring sites or in pre-existing areas; conserve land via dry storm water areas that serve as amenities; community food plot, garden, passive parks; non-listed environmental benefit points.

Create a Green Circulation System: Pedestrian structure; road design; street trees; street lights; parking; connections; orientation; road/trail/parking construction materials; access; non-listed environmental benefit points.

Green Utilities Practices: Minimize disturbance due to utilities; deliver green power; supply irrigation system with storm or reuse water; irrigation meter system; water irrigation budget; submeter parcels by end user; non-listed environmental benefit points.

Amenities: Neighborhood parks; regional park; community pool; compost/much facility; golf course is Audubon International certified or excluded; landscape criteria and management plan for common areas and amenities; non-listed environmental benefit points.

Covenants and Deed Restriction: Green construction standards; no language that prohibits green practices; non-listed environmental benefit points.

Provide Educational Information to Help Achieve and Promote Green Living Practices: Staff training; dedicated on-site specialists for parcel owners; on-site “Green” buyer training; environmental education in marketing material; in-house green practices; demonstration green building; outdoor environmental education signs; green web site; monitoring program; non-listed environmental benefit points.

3.3 The Process
The developer has to be interested in developing a green project. That interest can be inherent within the person responsible for the development, it can be directed from the company president as part of a mission statement or policy, imposed by a local jurisdiction in order to receive some benefit, done as part of a marketing decision to receive favorable press and third-party recognition for the development, or accomplished by a skilled land planning team as part of their normal business without a directive from the developer.

The typical process includes the developer reviewing the standard and submitting a pre-application committing to the certification process. At this point there is a preliminary meeting with an FGBC evaluator, the individual responsible for reviewing the application. The team discusses any questions they may have and likely scoring interpretations. Then, the developer designates a person or team responsible for developing the application package including all submittal materials.

The FGBC evaluator reviews the materials, requests additional information or clarification from the development team as necessary, and depending on the stage of development, makes a site visit to verify information. Finally, a decision is made that a development achieves or does not achieve the Green Development criteria based on the objective evaluation of the submittals for the development. Once a designated green development is announced the FGBC presents a plaque or large sign to the development team at a media event.


The first two applicants for the FGBC Green Land Development Standard are from the Southwestern part of the Sunshine State, each along sensitive rivers. The Bonita Bay Group (TBBG), a land developer, is responsible for the horizontal development and design and construction of the amenities structures, but sells the residential lots to several preferred builders. WCI Communities, Inc.(WCI) is a land developer as well as the home builder undertaking both the horizontal and vertical construction. In these two case studies, the developments involved converted mostly agricultural lands to primarily residential property. Each had to preserve wetlands

4.1 Verandah
Verandah, The Bonita Bay Group's community, is located along a 1.75mile stretch of the scenic Orange River in Fort Myers. Accented by large oak hammocks, native sabal palms and the fragrant remains of an orange grove, Verandah provides some of the best atmosphere nature offers. Nearly 65 percent of Verandah's 1,456 acres will remain open space. Community amenities include a golf course and pro shop, restaurant, tennis and fitness center, nature center, and riverfront boathouse with general store all nestled into a canopy of oak trees.

One of the most significant environmental accomplishments was the restoration of a natural flowway to the site. Previous agricultural site activities had resulted in the addition of man-made ponds, trenches, and roads to allow for farming. These activities had basically bisected the natural flowway and drained the land quickly. TBBG restored the natural flow of water on the site allowing it to travel slowly so that the water could percolate and deposit nutrients prior to reaching the Orange River.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Aerial view of the Verandah property, before showing farm road bisecting (north/south) the community
Figure 2 Figure 3
Figure 2. Natural flow of water to the Orange River
Figure 3. Flow way follows natural wetlands
Figure 4
Figure 4. Master Concept Plan directing water through series of lakes to Orange River

Another major accomplishment was the preservation of open space totaling 1026 of the 1456 acres site which include wetlands (125 acres), uplands (84 acres), indigenous preserve (45 acres), lakes (291 acres), parks (31 acres), common areas (158 acres), trails (9 miles) and 291 acres of golf courses. Extensive site surveys were performed to design the master concept plan around the existing natural features. One example of this practice is at the community’s River Village. The amenity structures were designed as smaller individual buildings so that they could be nested among an existing oak hammock. In the instance where the design overlapped a tree, the tree was relocated on site. Over 200 trees weighing from 10,000 – 60,000 pounds were relocated to enhance the community design.

TBBG also uses native drought tolerant landscape to reduce water consumption and requires their builders to adhere to strict CDRs regarding environmental preservation. TBBG has trained all of their preferred builders for this and each of their other communities on green building and offers ongoing community outreach programs.

4.11 Lessons Learned
One of the most important lessons learned was that designcharrettes are necessary at the beginning conceptual stages of the planned communities. This ensures that designers, engineers, landscape architects, architects and builders are aware of the community goals and criteria. Several checks of adherence to the community standards are recommended at 50%, 75% and 100% design development so that targeted community goals are not inadvertently eliminated. The standard also required several fields of expertise so a team approach can expedite the certification and documentation process.

4.2 Venetian
The new Venetian Golf and River Club in Venice (south of Sarasota), situated adjacent to the designated wild and scenic Myaka River, is being developed by WCI Communities, Inc. Seventy-three acres of oak-shaded preserve for wildlife habitat and passive recreation lines the riverfront at Venetian Golf and River Club, creating a buffer averaging 500 feet wider than required by local regulations (see Figure 5). WCI will construct all the homes within Venetian Golf and River Club to the FGBC home standard.

The Myakka River with the adjacent riparian forest and the wetlands within the community (complimented by a family of sandhill cranes that frequent the property) were identified as the key elements for preservation. Early in the process, designers determined that the design would not impact the riparian forest and the plan would allow the entire 75 acres to remain as a natural preserve providing a one mile nature walk along the river. A dining facility will abut the forest and overlook the preserve but will not intrude into the area. A canoe launch and several picnic tables will provide space for passive recreation.

Out of the 1039 acres that make up Venetian Golf and River Club, all but 79 acres were disturbed pastureland containing damaged wetlands and drainage ditches leading into the river, a primary goal was to restore the wetlands and to provide a much higher level of water treatment for any water flowing to the Myakka River. Engineers worked with a non-profit environmental organization to restore the damaged wetlands and create a series of interconnecting lakes with liberal littoral buffers to pre-treat water flowing into the lakes.

Figure 5a
Figure 5. Site Plan for Venetian Golf and River Club

Tree population was sparse throughout the pasture, but of those which existed, more than 100 were relocated on the property. The several large specimen oaks within the pasture development area were preserved in their locations.

The plans for all Venetian models were reviewed according to the FGBC Green Home Standard by an authorized certifier and by an energy rater. The certifier made regular visits to the models during construction and the energy rater tested each building to verify the homes energy performance after construction. In addition, an “ultra-green” demonstration home is underway within the community. This model will demonstrate many more state-of-the-art features that focus on energy efficiency, indoor air quality and resource conservation. Green building awareness programs are planned for both school children and adults when the model opens.

4.21 The Application Process
Venetian Golf and River Club was already in development when the decision was made to participate in the FGBC program. Members of WCI’s planning team and the environmental stewardship manager met with FGBC to review the master conceptual plan for the community and all agreed, based on the review of the checklist against the master conceptual plan that designers of Venetian had already infused the ingredients of a sustainable community. .

The certification has been a much longer process than the certification for the home standards. This can be primarily attributed to the learning curve for the in-house staff carrying out the steps of the certification process and that it was an additional duty and not the sole responsibility of any individual. Furthermore, the leader was neither an engineer nor designer, therefore time lapsed as questions arose and answers and documentation were sought.

The purpose for the Venetian Golf and River Club applying for the FGBC certification was based on WCI’s commitment to support and promote sustainable development and compare the checklist method to the analysis method it was already participating with a different non-profit environmental organization. Both have proven valuable and each has brought greater understanding to individuals involved in all aspects of building a community.

4.22 Lessons Learned for Those Guided by an In-house Leader
Eyes are opened as individuals begin to participate in reviewing the requirements for a sustainable community. As in the case of Venetian, when the design has already been laid out and it reflects the principles of sustainability, designers, engineers and construction managers are pleased to continue looking for more ways to incorporate sustainable features and will likely carry that awareness into the next project.


5.1 Vertical Construction
The FGBC green development designation standard provides significant benefit to the developer for requiring green designations or practices. Requiring each home and commercial building to be certified rewards the developer with 40 points or 20% of their required points, as well as assures they achieve the maximum points in the CDR category. In addition the development standard provides credits for developers that use the CDRs to influence the home building process by making property purchasers aware of green home or commercial building standards (1 pt), encouraging them (2 pts) or providing tangible incentives (4 pts).

Green development designation standards can be a key influencer of the vertical construction that takes place via the credits or through discussions with the development team. Buyers who are attracted to the features of a green development may also be attracted to the features of a green home or commercial building so there is a natural marriage. In Florida, the overwhelming majority of planned green homes are in developments that are in the application process for green development designation.

5.2 Local Jurisdiction Interactions
In some instances the developer may be required, by local laws to meet criteria for which FGBC gives credit. FGBC allows the credit to be received because it is a state standard and FGBC does not want to penalize a developer for building in a location that has environmentally favorable laws. In other instances it may prove that the developer would have to fight to change or obtain waivers from local ordinances. FGBC recognizes that some of the circulation criteria for narrow road widths and easy access to mixed-use may make some criteria difficult in some localities. However, as these situations arise, it is hoped that light could be given to improved development concepts and local regulations could be waived or changed.

It is also envisioned cities and counties could create incentives tied to certified green development designation. Such incentives could include discounts on application fees, density bonuses, mixed-use zoning, or reduction in minimum lot widths. In some situations, such as land that is owned by a local jurisdiction, the local government may want to require such designation in order to obtain a permit. It may also prove to be one option on environmentally sensitive lands. Unlike any program developed in-house, a green development standard run by a third-party organization requires little to no effort on the part of the local jurisdiction in determining compliance and is not subject to constantly changing politics.

FGBC is currently working with three local jurisdictions on incorporating Florida’s green development designation standard. In one, the designation may be required for a County owned piece of property being bid out for development. In another situation it may be part of a requirement for a County-planned village concept in an environmentally-sensitive area. A third, pro-development city, is planning a financial reduction in fees for complying developments.


The green development designation standard is a great tool to educate land developers of their critical role in environmental preservation. Development activities in Florida impact thousands of acres of land each year. Providing guidelines, and a menu type approach allows developers to achieve general goals through varying yet specific tasks. This approach is important for adoption and applicability to the variety of developments that exist and are planned in the State.

Florida’s standard withstood the first round of applications and upon review has enough specificity to allow for timely objective evaluations. Developers found that achieving the designation from a post-design time frame was not easy as the standard requires significant stewardship in multiple areas in order to earn points. The standard proved flexible enough that although certain limitations prevented points from being achievable in a number of areas, there was sufficient credit available for other measures that would achieve the overall goal of the category. Over time, it is envisioned that the standard will be well recognized by the development community, realtors and the public. It is also hoped that the standard will lead to improvements in many developments during the planning process as land planning teams attempt to achieve the standard. Other state or local groups are encouraged to create green development standards both for improving the process as well as improving the quantity of green buildings via developer cooperation and persuasion. Cities and counties are encouraged to use available third party green development designations in ways that achieve their goals for sensitive lands or meeting growth while reducing environmental impacts.


Martin, Eric and Vieira, Robin, 2002 "Energy and Environmental Integration through a Green Municipality Designation." Presented at the International Green Building Conference and Exposition, United States Green Building Council, Austin, Texas, November 2002.

Powers, R. Thomas, 1990 “Real Estate & Construction,” Economy of Florida, Bureau of Economic & Business Research, University of Florida, 1990.

HBA of Kitsap County, Washington, 2000, Build a Better Kitsap Self-Certification Checklist,

Vieira, Robin K.,1990, “Designing Sustainable Developments,” Solar Today, September/October, 1990.