Typically, projects have already determined their site plan by the time the team begins considering LEED certification; if this is the case, you either have the credit or you don’t.
If your project location has not yet been determined, you can use the credit requirements as an environmental screening process when choosing your site. If the site is determined but the site plan isn’t set, consider whether the placement of buildings, roads, and other hardscapes on the site will tip you to compliance or non-compliance.
This credit is intended to protect sensitive land as defined in the credit language. It also encourages projects to use previously developed land, by allowing specific exemptions for the criteria on water bodies and floodplains. Portions of sites that have been developed, graded, or altered by direct human activities are considered “previously developed” for purposes of this credit.
Up until November 2011, portions of sites that had been "developed, graded, or altered by direct human activities" were considered “previously developed” for purposes of this credit—leaving open questions about whether agriculture or other human actions that left a mark on the landscape fell under the definition. A November 2011 addendum from USGBC made this definition more specific, however, defining previously developed as involving "paving, construction, and/or land use that would typically have required regulatory permitting to have been initiated." Furthermore, "current or historical clearing or filling, agricultural or forestry use, or preserved natural area use are considered undeveloped land."
Documenting this credit is relatively easy—in LEED Online, you simply check off several boxes signifying compliance.
Habitat for endangered species such as the whooping crane is excluded from development in this credit. Photo – Sammy King, USGS Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitActually verifying whether your project site meets the criteria can be a longer process, however. Check with the civil engineer on as many items as possible, then research any items that remain uncertain. The hardest items are generally determining if your land is prime farmland or considered habitat for threatened or endangered species.
International projects must follow the definitions provided in U.S. standards, but determining compliance may be much more difficult because the mapping programs used to determine compliance are not available.
For example, to determine whether a U.S. project is in the 100-year flood zone, you will need to use the mapping program provided on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website. International projects may not have the same definition of flood plain and may not have access to a similar mapping program, making it more difficult to determine compliance.
If your project site has not yet been selected, use the credit criteria to select an environmentally appropriate site that will comply with the credit. Research site options as part of your normal due diligence. Do not develop sensitive areas of the site, or areas bordering on sensitive areas.
Look for urban infill sites, which are most likely to meet the credit requirements and which can help you earn a number of other LEED Sustainable Sites credits (especially SSc2, SSc4.1, SSc4.2, and SSc4.4).
If the project site is already selected, start researching each of the credit criteria to see if any part of the development—buildings, hardscape, roads or parking areas—impacts sensitive areas as defined by the credit language. Refer to the sections below for each of the main credit criteria.
If your project does not meet all the criteria, check to see if the project footprint can be adjusted to avoid development in sensitive areas. For example, if a portion of your site is located within 100 feet of wetlands, do not develop on that portion of the site. Instead of having a larger building footprint, build up, with a smaller footprint.
It’s usually best to include this credit in the civil engineer’s scope of work, and include its requirements in the contract language. If the civil engineer does the permitting for stormwater, some of the same criteria will be researched, and the few additional items should not be difficult for them to assess.
According to the credit criteria, you must avoid sensitive areas such as:
Previously developed sites typically comply with the requirements of this credit and are exempt from meeting the requirements of flood-plain and water-body setback requirements.
For purposes of this credit, “previously developed” indicates a site on which at least a portion has been altered by human activity.
Typically, this is a no-cost credit, except for the research time needed to verify compliance, which will vary depending on the project.
Locating your project site outside of a flood plain can lower your property insurance rates.
If you develop in an urban or infill area on previously developed land, you will already have access to public utilities and may be near public transit. This can help your budget and offer a valuable amenity to building occupants.
Determine whether any part of the project development (buildings, hardscape, roads or parking areas) may impact sensitive portions of the site.
Check with the civil engineer, who may already know if your project meets the requirements. If the civil engineer can provide only a few of the answers, also consult the landscape architect and architect, who may have already done some of this research.
Finding existing information (rather than undertaking new studies) makes for the easiest documentation. The challenge is finding the information easily.
If the design team does not know all of the answers, someone involved in planning or environmental work in the local municipality may be the most helpful person to talk to. Seek out specialized municipal agencies for help on specific issues.
When an aspect of your project site is in question, check the intent of the credit and the referenced standards that apply to your situation, and realize that rarely are there exemptions for this credit. As always, check the LEED Interpretations page for past CIRs and other scenarios in which the GBCI has made a ruling.
GBCI Tip: For international projects, be sure to include a narrative describing any special circumstances and/or how the project meets the intent of the credit if there are conflicts or lack of alignment with the credit requirements.
If you find your project does meet all the criteria after reviewing each one, you are ready to document the credit. To do so, you’ll simply need to provide information on your project location and check off appropriate boxes verifying credit compliance.
Retain files and printouts documenting each of the credit areas for future reference.
Determine whether your project is located on prime farmland.
“Prime farmland” is defined by USDA in the United States Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Volume 6, Parts 400–699, Section 657.5 (citation 7CFR657.5): “Prime farmland is land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber and oilseed crops, and is also available for these uses (the land could be cropland, pastureland, rangeland, forest land or other land, but not urban built-up land or water). It has the soil quality, growing season, and moisture supply needed to economically produce sustained high yields of crops when treated and managed, including water management, according to acceptable farming methods.” For the full definition and description of prime farmlands, see the National Archives and Records Administration for the Code of Federal Regulations; search by citation. See the Resources section for a link to the appropriate regulation.
Not all farmland is considered “prime”—dry, western ranges, for example, are typically excluded. Even if a site is being farmed, check whether it is prime according to USDA definitions.
As an initial step, search for prime farmland on the USDA website for your state or county. Some states and counties have more information than others, but you should be able to find a map of your county that delineates prime farmland from other types of uses.
If you are still unsure whether your project is located on prime farmland, look at the USDA Web Soils Survey map program through the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). See the Resources section for a link. Follow these steps:
If you are unable to determine whether or not your site contains or is prime farmland, contact your local NRCS department for help. See the Resources tab for a link.
Document the status of your site, using information from whatever source you find most useful. You will not need to submit this documentation for LEED, but it’s worth having on file.
If your site has been previously developed, you can skip the floodplain requirement. However, it’s still good practice to consider site development and design strategies to mitigate your project’s risk from flooding.
If your site has not been previously developed, determine whether it is lower than five feet above the 100-year floodplain elevation.
The 100-year floodplain, defined by FEMA, is the elevation to which a flood has a 1% chance of reaching or exceeding in a given year. (It is not the level of the most significant flood within a 100-year period.) So-called 100-year floods can occur many times within a 100-year period.
As an initial step, search for the 100-year floodplain on the FEMA website for your project address. Some states and counties have more information than others, and a number of locations are not accessible through FEMA’s digital mapping program. See the Resources section for a link to the FEMA Map Viewer website.
Go to the FEMA website and use their mapping tool (Map Viewer) to help you determine whether your project is in Zone A (the 100-year floodplain). See the example of FEMA 100-year floodplain research in the Documentation Toolkit. Use the following steps:
If the FEMA website does not provide digital data for your project location, check with your local municipality or county to see if they have a mapping program or if they can provide you with guidance on where to look. For example, the city of Boulder, Colorado provides an eMap service for the 100- and 500-year floodplain. See the example of the City of Boulder’s 100-year floodplain research in the Documentation Toolkit.
Determine whether your site is considered habitat for threatened or endangered species. Many people assume that their project is not located on threatened or endangered species habitat; however, you must do the research, as this is more common than you may think.
According to the Endangered Species Act, “Endangered species means any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range other than a species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary (of the Interior) to constitute a pest whose protection under the provisions of this Act would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man…Threatened species means any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
As an initial step, search the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website. It provides a Species Report that lists all endangered (E) and threatened (T) species by state, including both plants and animals. See the Resources section for a link to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website, and see an example of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Report for Colorado in the Documentation Toolkit.
The list of endangered and threatened species will not provide you with any data specific to your site. The next likely place to start more detailed research is your city or county website, or a local conservancy or environmental group.
Each state also has a Natural Heritage Inventory program that records occurrences of important species and current habitat extents; these offices can usually create a site-specific report (typically for a fee) identifying species known to be present or historically spotted on your site. See the Resources section for a link to the NatureServe list of U.S., Canadian, and Latin American Natural Heritage Programs. In the Documentation Toolkit you can see an example of Colorado’s Natural Heritage Program site-specific report.
Determine whether your site has or is located within 100 feet of a wetland.
Do not develop buildings, hardscape, roads or parking areas within 100 feet of wetlands.
As defined in EPA Regulation 40CFR230: “Wetlands consist of areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.”
As an initial step, search the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website for the National Wetlands Inventory mapping program. Through this program, you can download digital data, use the wetlands mapping program, or view wetlands on Google Earth. See an example of the National Wetlands Inventory mapping program in the Documentation Toolkit. See the Resources section for a link to the National Wetlands Inventory mapping program.
Some small and site-specific wetlands may not be mapped. Look at the site with the civil engineer or ecologist to determine whether there are any wetlands located on your site.
If your site has been previously developed, you can skip the water bodies requirement.
If your site has not been previously developed, determine whether your site is located within 50 feet of any water bodies. Ensure that you do not develop in areas within 50 feet of a water body.
“Waters of the United States,” as defined by the Clean Water Act, are “all waters which are currently used, were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide; all interstate waters, including interstate ‘wetlands’; all other waters, such as intrastate lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, ‘wetlands,’ sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, or natural ponds, the use, degradation, or destruction of which would affect or could affect interstate or foreign commerce including any such waters which are or could be used by interstate or foreign travelers for recreational or other purposes; from which fish or shellfish are or could be taken and sold in interstate or foreign commerce; or which are used or could be used for industrial purposes by industries in interstate commerce; all impoundments of waters otherwise defined as waters of the United States under this definition; tributaries of waters identified [in] this definition; the territorial sea; and ‘wetlands’ adjacent to waters (other than waters that are themselves wetlands) identified in… this definition.”
To determine whether your project site is located within 50 feet of a water body (sea, lake, river, stream, or tributary), use the FEMA website mapping tool, USDA Web Soils Survey map program, or Google Earth. See a Google Earth example in the Documentation Toolkit. See the Resources section for a link to the FEMA and USDA websites.
Manmade ponds for stormwater and recreation do not count as “water bodies” for the purposes of this credit and are exempt from this requirement. However, manmade wetlands or water bodies developed for ecological restoration are not exempt from these requirements, and all development must be at least 50 feet away from these sensitive areas.
Determine whether your site, prior to acquisition for this project, was public parkland. Avoid developing land that prior to acquisition for the project was public parkland.
It should be easy to determine whether the land purchased for the project was previously parkland. If you’re not sure, check with the owner, developer, the relevant park authority, or the title history.
If the land was parkland in the past but was owned by an entity other than a park authority before it was purchased for your project, the site remains eligible for this credit.
Development by a park authority for park purposes is acceptable and does not preclude your project from earning this credit (subject to other criteria). For example, an educational center built on the park grounds by the park authority is still eligible for the credit.
If the purchased land was previously parkland, you may make a trade agreement for other parkland that is of equal or greater value.
If your project site as a whole does not meet all the credit criteria but you still intend to attempt the credit, begin by verifying that no portion of the site that will be developed is located in sensitive areas or is within the given parameters for limited development. For example, if you have wetlands located on your site, be sure that your development is at least 100 feet away from them.
If your project site as a whole does not meet all the credit criteria but you intend to attempt the credit based on special circumstances, be sure to include detailed project drawings delineating the sensitive areas and the development footprint.
Include detailed site drawings and terms in contracts to ensure that any sensitive areas will be adequately protected during construction.
Be sure the contractor understands the importance of any sensitive areas being protected, and your expectations for ensuring that protection.
Verify that sensitive areas are being protected throughout construction.
If your site does contain sensitive areas, be sure to provide a site map that delineates these areas. Ensure that any maintenance and grounds keeping does not infringe on these areas, and be sure to exclude them from any future building or development, even if not part of a LEED project.
Excerpted from LEED 2009 for Schools New Construction and Major Renovations
To avoid the development of inappropriate sites and reduce the environmental impact from the location of a building on a site.
Do not develop buildings, hardscapeHardscape consists of the inanimate elements of the building landscaping. Examples include pavement, roadways, stone walls, concrete paths and sidewalks, and concrete, brick, and tile patios., roads or parking areas on portions of sites that meet any of the following criteria:
During the site selection process, give preference to sites that do not include sensitive elements or restrictive land types. Select a suitable building location and design the building with minimal footprint to minimize disruption of the environmentally sensitive areas identified above.
You can search for prime farmland in your state and county.
This site provides links to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Centers for all states. If you cannot determine whether your property is located on prime farmland, contact your local center.
This site can provide you with information on prime farmland, soil types, and location of water bodies.
The Map Viewer allows you to type in the project address and create a map that shows if your project is in the floodplain. You can also use this map to determine if your project is near a water body.
This software company creates tools for geographic information systems (GIS) mapping. Its website includes an option to make a map of all flood areas within a user-defined location.
Provides maps of regional wetlands.
This website allows users to find the immediate wetlands contact for their region.
This website gives specific contact information by state and division of FEMA.
This document provides the definition and explanation of prime farmlands. An abbreviated version is provided under Checklists, Schematic Design, Prime Farmland.
This website lists endangered and threatened species by state.
This publication provides contact information for U.S., Canadian, and Latin American Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centers.
Flood terminology glossary from the Harris County Flood Control District.
NRDC uses law, science, and advocacy to protect wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment.
Verify that your site is five feet or more above the 100-year flood level using FEMA data sources, or county data sources, as shown in these examples.
Verify that the site is not within 100 feet of wetlands, as shown in this example, using verification based on National Wetlands Inventory data.
Depending on whether the site is previously developedPreviously developed sites are those altered by paving, construction, and/or land use that would typically have required regulatory permitting to have been initiated (alterations may exist now or in the past). Previously developed land includes a platted lot on which a building was constructed if the lot is no more than 1 acre; previous development on lots larger than 1 acre is defined as the development footprint and land alterations associated with the footprint. Land that is not previously developed and altered landscapes resulting from current or historical clearing or filling, agricultural or forestry use, or preserved natural area use are considered undeveloped land. The date of previous development permit issuance constitutes the date of previous development, but permit issuance in itself does not constitute previous development." or not, meet the credit critera for distance from a water body, as shown in this example.
Check whether the site is located on prime farmland, as shown in this example using the National Cooperative Soil Survey website.
Verify that the site is not habitat for endangered or threatened species, using data and analysis such as in this example.
Documentation for this credit can be part of a Design Phase submittal.
The following links take you to the public, informational versions of the dynamic LEED Online forms for each Schools-2009 SS credit. You'll need to fill out the live versions of these forms on LEED Online for each credit you hope to earn.
Version 4 forms (newest):
Version 3 forms:
These links are posted by LEEDuser with USGBC's permission. For more information, visit LEED Online and click "Sample Forms Download."
I have a school project that is actually the reconstruction of the school in the same site that it was previously located. This site limits with a river (the school auditorium is practically over it). Can I count the Site Selection credit in this case?
Gabriela, there is no exemption to the water bodies requirement for previously developedPreviously developed sites are those altered by paving, construction, and/or land use that would typically have required regulatory permitting to have been initiated (alterations may exist now or in the past). Previously developed land includes a platted lot on which a building was constructed if the lot is no more than 1 acre; previous development on lots larger than 1 acre is defined as the development footprint and land alterations associated with the footprint. Land that is not previously developed and altered landscapes resulting from current or historical clearing or filling, agricultural or forestry use, or preserved natural area use are considered undeveloped land. The date of previous development permit issuance constitutes the date of previous development, but permit issuance in itself does not constitute previous development." sites. I don't think you can earn the credit unless you move the building.
Tristan, thanks for your quick answer, but the credit requirements say "previously undeveloped land within 50 feet of a water body" and the site is, as I explained before, developed and homed the school prior to the earthquake that affected it and had to be demolished.
Oh gosh, you're right. I was thinking wetlands. Well, you have your answer!
If the project is located in a foreign country on a US Military Installation, is this considered to be within the US? Technically, the APO Zipcode is California.
Kendall, I think this could be argued either way. I assume you are asking because of the choice that U.S. projects have to use a local equivalent standard. Regarding that, I would say that if U.S. standards are relevant to the location, then I would use the U.S. ones, but if non-U.S. standards are more applicable, you have a good case for using them.
The 3.5 acre project site is wooded with mature trees. It was developed years ago, but all structures were demolished 40-50 years ago.
Should this site to be considered developed or undeveloped?
There is no time frame in regards to the previous development and your site has previously been altered by direct human activity. So I would define it as previously developedPreviously developed sites are those altered by paving, construction, and/or land use that would typically have required regulatory permitting to have been initiated (alterations may exist now or in the past). Previously developed land includes a platted lot on which a building was constructed if the lot is no more than 1 acre; previous development on lots larger than 1 acre is defined as the development footprint and land alterations associated with the footprint. Land that is not previously developed and altered landscapes resulting from current or historical clearing or filling, agricultural or forestry use, or preserved natural area use are considered undeveloped land. The date of previous development permit issuance constitutes the date of previous development, but permit issuance in itself does not constitute previous development.".
The intent of the credit is to avoid inappropriate site development. So as long as you meet the other criteria, I think you are following the intent.
I actually had a project on a urban site, which also had new tree development since the previous buildings were destroyed during the 2. World War. The local regulations required as to protect some trees but other than that the site was consider as previously developed.
USGBC has more specifically defined "previously developed" in its Nov. 2011 addenda. This is very helpful in terms of clarifying that some land alteration and human hands, like agriculture, is NOT considered development. Here is the definition:
Previously developed sites are those altered by paving, construction, and/or land use that would typically have required regulatory permitting to have been initiated (alterations may exist now or in the past). Previously developed land includes a platted lot on which a building was constructed if the lot is no more than 1 acre; previous development on lots larger than 1 acre is defined as the development footprint and land alterations associated with the footprint. Land that is not previously developed and altered landscapes resulting
from current or historical clearing or filling, agricultural or forestry
use, or preserved natural area use are considered undeveloped land. The date of previous development permit issuance constitutes the date of previous development, but permit issuance in itself does not constitute previous development."
I have reviewed the websoilsurvey site at nrcs.usda.gov and half of our site boundary includes prime farmland. The half that is in the prime farmland category is also where we have located the detention/wetland for the project. More importantly, it is an in-town site. Any advice on whether this situation is acceptable to meet the SSc1 requirements?
The requirement is that you can't develop hardscapeHardscape consists of the inanimate elements of the building landscaping. Examples include pavement, roadways, stone walls, concrete paths and sidewalks, and concrete, brick, and tile patios. on prime farmland. It sounds like you're not going to do that, although it depends on your stormwater design. Given what you've said so far, I'd say you meet the requirement.
We have a school project in Southern California. The FEMA website has a map designation for that area, but it is listed as Zone D (Undetermined risk). Calls to the local county public works dept. confirms the FEMA map for that area as Zone D. Many of the surrounding communities in that area are Zone D, and are not in any real danger of flooding. But this does not meet the credit requirements. What other options have people used to document their project is minimum 5 feet above a FEMA defined flood plain?
This seems like a tough one. Could you check with flood insurance folks to see if they have a sense of things? Though that could lead to a lot of phone calls with no answers. Another thought would be to see if there are areas nearby that have FEMA mapping and compare elevations. But USGBC/GBCI might not accept either of those options.
I would also consider whether it's worth the pursuit of the credit, especially if you don't need the extra point.
These steps can be used to document whether your LEED project site is classified as farmland or as floodplain relative to the requirements for SSc1.
Director of Sustainability
HSB Architects & Engineers
Sites located in dense urban areas also tend to not to be sensitive land subject to SSc1 restrictions.
If your site is a brownfield, it’s also likely that is not sensitive as defined by SSc1.
Urban properties are more likely to comply with SSc1 as well as have transit access complying with SSc4.1.
If there are ecologically sensitive areas on your site, but you protect them from development and disturbance, you are contributing to SSc1 as well as to SSc5.1 and SSc5.2.
Do you know which LEED credits have the most LEED Interpretations and addenda, and which have none? The Missing Manual does. Check here first to see where you need to update yourself, and share the link with your team.
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