'No Flush' Urinal Controversy Could Sink Philly Skyscraper

A controversy over no-flush urinals may sink a Philadelphia developer's quest to build the nation's tallest "green" building.

Liberty Property Trust, which is developing the Comcast Center skyscraper, insists the devices are cleaner than traditional urinals.

"We've encountered no health or safety issues in any of our buildings with no-flush urinals," says Jeanne Leonard, Liberty's investor relations director.

"Our agenda is to create a building that's environmentally friendly and satisfies our customers' needs."

Nevertheless, Liberty is caught in a tug-of-war with the local plumbers union over whether to install state-of-the-art waterless urinals at the Comcast Center, scheduled to open by September 2007.

The urinals would help save an extra 1.6 million gallons of water a year. But the plumbers union wants to send the idea right down the drain. The president of Local 690, the union that represents plumbers in the city, did not return phone calls for this story.

In other cities, plumbers have also fought the idea of no-flush urinals, claiming that the devices were dangerous and could spread disease.

Not Easy to Go Green

A green tag for the Comcast Center would be golden for Liberty. The rating helps developers attract tenants in a highly competitive office market. Energy costs in such structures generally run about 45 percent below normal. Employers also believe that green buildings generate cleaner air, which helps reduce employee sick days.

Even without the eco-friendly commodes, the 58-story building will be Philadelphia's tallest and most environmentally-friendly skyscraper. But Liberty wants to take it one step further and obtain the title of the tallest "green" building in the country from the U.S. Green Building Council.

But to get it, Liberty believes it needs the no-flush urinals.

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