To the Editor:
A significant Green Communities designation requirement is for the Marion Town Meeting by a majority vote to adopt a state approved “stretch building code.” Marion now uses a standard state building code, “the base code,” for construction and remodeling administered by the Town’s building inspector. This more restrictive and stringent building codes purpose is to promote energy efficacy through use of design, materials and construction practices. Thus the term “stretch building code” is used since the town’s adoption of this higher building code standard would be voluntary. It’s a check the box exercise on the EMC’s Green Communities’ agenda.
This, at first blush, seems to be a wonderful idea that Marion promotes energy efficiency. There are significant issues with this concept to be considered. The new stretch building code would become a new mandatory building code standard for Marion. All construction and remolding requiring a building permit would have to conform to the new and higher energy efficiency standards.
The basic philosophical question to be asked is: should Marion through the EMC be dictating “how green” residents should build or remodel their projects? It’s a basic question of government intervention into a person’s right to make their own decisions regarding how green they want to build or remodel. The Town Meetings of Carver, Duxbury, Fairhaven, Wellfleet and Sturbridge have all recently turned down the adoption of stretch building codes on the very issue of town intervention into private decision making as to building choice.
Cost and necessity are two obvious drivers in a person’s decision on how green to build. In remodeling a seasonal summer cottage, maybe it’s not necessary to install high thermal pane windows and high R value insulation. Maybe the economic cost savings payback of a particular project for building “extra green” does not warrant the extra expense of a higher green building standard. This should be an individual decision and not a town-mandated decision to satisfy the EMC’s check the box on its list of Green Communities’ designation criteria.
A Marion stretch building code can be expected to drive up building costs from between three to six percent and in certain cases as high as 12 percent. This means a premium of $3,000 to $6,000 in additional costs for each $100,000 in construction or remodeling costs over Marion’s base building code costs can be expected.
The town’s capital costs for future new construction and renovation will increase. For example, $12 million in new construction and renovations can be expected to increase capital expenditures from between $360,000 to $720,000. Affordable housing costs, too, will increase. Assuming there is $4 million of new affordable housing budgeted, a stretch building code, if adopted, would increase costs from between $120,000 to $240,000 over the base code. Thus, aggregate town capital costs increase from $480,000 to $960,000 as the result of adopting a stretch building code.
The impact of a stretch building code on casualty insurance cannot be ignored. Most homeowners carry replacement value property casualty coverage. In the event of a loss such as a fire, the insurance cost to replace or rebuild is impacted by the building code. If an insurance policy reimbursement is calculated on base building code replacement rates and the insured has to rebuild under the stretch building code costs, the insured will face an insurance coverage gap the difference being the cost between the base building and stretch building codes. A stretch building code adoption will require all Marion residents to review the adequacy of their insurance coverage. A green building code insurance endorsement too may be necessary for covering the building code cost gap. Bottom line, insurance premium costs go up, reflecting the green building premium.
All of a sudden, the economics of a green stretch building code are not particularly attractive for Marion.
The interrelationship between the required Town Meeting actions regarding a stretch building code and matter of right zoning and expedited permitting cannot be overlooked. If the Town Meeting rejects a stretch building code, then Marion will not qualify for the Green Communities’ designation. This will mean Marion does not need to adopt matter right zoning and expedited permitting zoning changes. The EMC agenda for changing the Town’s zoning before adoption of a stretch building code leaves Marion’s zoning protections vulnerable should the stretch code fail to pass at Town Meeting. The EMC is attempting to put the zoning “cart” before the stretch building code “horse.”
The next letter will review the remaining Green Communities’ criteria.
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