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Amherst TM replaces zero-energy bylaw with new version

  • Amherst Town Hall



Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

AMHERST — A zero-energy bylaw adopted by Town Meeting last fall, over the objections of town officials who worried that its language was so stringent that it would make constructing new municipal buildings impossible, has been replaced.

At the fifth session of Town Meeting Monday, members overwhelmingly agreed to a compromise bylaw that will give more flexibility to Town Manager Paul Bockelman and town staff in how they meet the bylaw’s goal of having new town buildings produce as much energy as they use.

Both a new Department of Public Works headquarters and fire station in South Amherst were expected to be affected by the bylaw passed last November, possibly making it impossible for Bockelman to sign contracts with architects and design companies

Bockelman said Tuesday that he is pleased a subcommittee of the Select Board and representatives from Mothers Out Front, which brought forward the original petition, created a new bylaw that maintains the integrity of the original while improving it.

“It gives us better clarity as we more forward with these projects,” Bockelman said.

Three concerns he had with the original bylaw is that there was no way to prove compliance with the bylaw before a contract was signed, there was no relief valve if the site chosen for a project didn’t have enough space for solar arrays and other equipment needed to meet the zero-energy principles, and that it lacked definitions.

Christopher Riddle, a retired architect and Precinct 2 representative, said the new bylaw continues to apply to all new buildings and additions built by and for the town, that renewable energy must supply all of the building’s energy needs annually, with some minor exceptions, and that, for the most part, no fossil fuels may be burned for building energy. The project that would have most immediately been affected by the bylaw is the North Amherst Library, where $50,000 is being spent to design various accessibility and interior improvements. If those renovations exceed $1 million, this would have triggered the bylaw. The new bylaw raises that threshold to $2 million.

While Carol Gray of Precinct 7 tried to amend the article to keep the $1 million threshold in place, Riddle said that is not an ideal project to demonstrate the zero-energy idea, since it is mostly a renovation, which is exempt, and that only an elevator and stair addition would be subject to the bylaw.

Riddle estimates a 10 percent premium on construction costs to create efficiencies and use renewables in these buildings.

The bylaw passed in November remains in effect until the attorney general’s office reviews the article.

Bockelman said identifying sites for both the DPW and fire station projects, and determining whether those sites could support the elements for zero-energy, remains the primary task for the DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee.

With zero-energy remaining an important topic for Mothers Out Front, the organization will lead visits to four large zero-energy projects in Amherst on June 9. These will start at 9 a.m. at Crotty Hall, 411-417 North Pleasant St., continue at 10:30 a.m. at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, 845 West St., move on at noon to the Kern Center, on the Hampshire College campus and finish at 2 p.m. at the South Congregational Church, 1066 South East St.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.