Buyers Sue Green Developer: Not Eco Enough

When it first hit the market in 2008, The Riverhouse, or One Rockefeller Park, was marketed as the pinnacle of the new green-building movement: chic, modern, luxurious and sustainable, all wrapped up in one water-view building. It symbolized the departure from the 1970s version of the movement -- off-grid yurts and solar-powered treehouses that we previously associated with green -- and repositioned it as an urban lifestyle.

Well, thanks to a lawsuit by one couple, The Riverhouse may come to symbolize something else: the empty promises of pre-bubble eco-housing.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the owners of one three-bedroom, three-bath unit there are suing the building's former manager, Sheldrake, and its new manager, Centurion Real Estate Partners, for empty green promises.
Steven Gidumal and Allison Keeley paid $4.2 million for their condo in 2008, one which promised "twice-filtered air, filtered water and healthy building materials," according to The Riverhouse's own press materials. Proof of the eco-credibility would be attained when they received certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, It doles out LEED -- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- plaques in exchange for buildings that can certify that they're energy efficient; built with sustainable materials; promoting a healthy lifestyle (near transit, with bike parking, etc.); and have other green ingredients.

Since The Riverhouse does not yet have its LEED Gold certification adds fuel to the plaintiffs' fire, along with the fact that their engineers "found a deviation of 49 percent over the LEED standards in the cumulative size of holes and cracks allowing infiltration of cold air," reports The Journal, and "that air temperature for heating the apartment was too low, which the owners say is a sign that the building isn't maximizing energy efficiency."

In other words, they're being green by making it too cold in winter, not by using some alternative energy to keep it warm.

Does the couple have a case? It remains to be seen, although one lawyer stated that he is seeing more and more buyers who say that environmental efficacy claims were misleading -- otherwise known as "greenwashing" -- so that they can back out of contracts. Gidumal and Keeley bought at the height of the market, when green features were one of the only ways for developers to set themselves apart from the glut of luxury condos flooding the market. If green was all The Riverhouse had going for it, buyers are clearly hoping it's a deep green, not a faint one.

One thing we do know: Hundreds of buildings await the LEED seal of approval. There's a tremendous backup, not to mention a backlash, in the world of LEED. Even architect Frank Gehry recently decried LEED-certified buildings as a form of greenwashing (called "LEEDwashing").

So is anyone happy with his or her green home? Maybe those hippies in their yurts and solar treehouses, who have yet to file a lawsuit.

See homes for sale in New York, N.Y. and elsewhere at AOL Real Estate.
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