At Town Meeting in October, Westford voters will decide on whether they want to take the last step in becoming a “Green Community.” On Thursday, they learned what exactly that step will entail.
Town officials and members of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) were on hand to answer questions about the “Stretch Code” one of the five criteria required to be designated as a Green Community by the state, which would open up approximately $130,000 in base grants and possible additional grants from the state government for the town to pursue energy efficiency projects.
According to the presentation, approximately 110 communities across the have met the five criteria to become Green Communities under state law, with approximately 130 adopting the stretch code provision, which requires towns to enact building code regulations more environmentally stringent than baseline state requirements.
Nearby, all of Westford’s neighboring towns so far have adopted the current stretch code except for Groton, with Acton obtaining funding thanks to the Green Communities designation for cost saving retrofits in town buildings and an HVAC energy analysis at town hall.
While some towns have voted down adoption of the stretch code according to DOER spokesperson Joanne Bissetta , to her knowledge no town has voted to rescind the law once enacted.
With the stretch code becoming more stringent every three years due to evolving building codes, Bissetta told the audience that if passed, updated stretch codes would be automatically adopted by the town unless specifically prohibited by voters.
If passed by Town Meeting voters, a six month concurrency period would begin on January 1, with the stretch code becoming town bylaw on July 1, 2014.
Town building inspector Matt Hakala told those in attendance that the new bylaw would not add much to his workload, but also stressed to the crowd that if it was not passed at Town Meeting, the stretch code requirements might change before being approved by voters, and that the current stretch code could potentially become the future baseline code: mandating Westford follow the more stringent current stretch code guidelines without access to state grant money.
Presenters also indicated that the new building code requirements, which would only apply to new construction, renovations and new additions to homes and new construction and additions to commercial properties, would result in significant savings and incentives from companies like National Grid for most properties following initial additional investments.
Although there was not much discussion from members of the audience, resident George Murray was skeptical as to why a state law had to be made encouraging towns to set their building code policies to stretch code levels given claims of economic benefits
“The numbers are pretty convincing. If this is such a great idea, why does it take legislation to accomplish it?,” said Murray. “Why not just tell people they’d save so much money and have them do it on their own?”
To that question, presenters said that was that initial investment costs scared many homeowners from making the move to improvements like more energy efficient windows, with other presenters saying the pushback to stretch codes are nearly non-existent from commercial developers.
According to Assistant Town Manager John Mangiaratti, the town has already achieved or is in the process of the other four criteria for meeting the Green Communities designation.
More information on the stretch code proposal and law surrounding DOER’s Green Communities law is available on the town website.