Martha's Vineyard Commission proposes more stringent DRI energy review
In the future, the Martha's Vineyard Commission is expected to factor in energy use and environmental design when deciding whether to permit a project under review as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Martha's Vineyard Commission officials said that while the new policy is expected to add to the cost of building projects, the higher standards would result in long-term energy savings.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft energy policy on Thursday, Dec. 4. If adopted by the Martha's Vineyard Commission, the policy (available at mvtimes.com) would be used to evaluate and set energy-efficiency targets for projects referred to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for DRI review.
In the past, the powerful land-use permitting body has placed great emphasis on a project's impact on traffic, the environment, and Island character when weighing its benefits and detriments. If the policy is approved, energy use would be added to the list of criteria the Martha's Vineyard Commission uses when considering whether to approve, disapprove, or approve with conditions a DRI.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission draft policy states, "The aim is to ensure that projects are designed to minimize fossil fuel use, by employing energy efficiency techniques and by renewable energy sources. It also seeks to encourage use of environmentally sound "green-building" design techniques."
In explaining the need for action, the draft report quotes NASA climatologist James Hansen and his prediction that we have 10 years in which to make significant changes in order to avoid a devastating rise in global temperature.
The report states that in the future, the Martha's Vineyard Commission could move to adopt standards intended to meet the "2030 Challenge," which suggests that, "at a minimum, as existing buildings are renovated, that they meet a fossil-fuel, energy consumption performance standard of 50 percent of the regional average for that building type through innovative design strategies, the application of renewable technologies and/ or the purchase of renewable energy."
Immediate regulatory guidelines now under consideration include a requirement that buildings be designed and constructed to exceed the energy efficiency standards in the Massachusetts Building Code by at least 20 percent, and if so determined by the Martha's Vineyard Commission, also meet the standards of the federal Energy Star program.
In addition, the policy would require that all non-residential projects with a total floor area greater than 3,000 square feet, and residential projects of four or more units, should be certified by Energy Star.
According to background information included in the draft Martha's Vineyard Commission policy, Energy Star certification provides a comprehensive set of energy objectives and requires project certification by a third party.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission policy also would require that projects with a total floor area greater than 6,000 square feet and residential projects of 20 or more units to meet the standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) created by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED system rates projects according to performance criteria in five areas of human and environmental health, and requires certification after completion.
"Since it is possible for a project to achieve LEED certification without meeting very high energy standards, this policy's use of LEED is in addition to meeting energy standards," the Martha's Vineyard Commission notes.
How it evolved
Martha's Vineyard Commission senior planner Bill Veno, whose responsibilities include energy initiatives, said he worked with the energy subcommittee, chaired by commissioner Peter Cabana, in crafting the policy starting in 2007. Other subcommittee members included commissioners Susan Shea, Paul Strauss, Richard Toole, Kathy Newman and West Tisbury architect and former commissioner Kate Warner, an alternative energy advocate and founder of the Vineyard Energy Project.
Mr. Veno said Ms. Warner took the initial draft of the policy to town planning boards for review in the summer of 2007.
Ms. Warner was the only architect on the committee. Asked what efforts were made to include the wider Island building trades and architectural community, Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London pointed to his conversations with architect Chuck Sullivan. "We talked about how the proposed policy might be applied and what techniques were realistic on an operational basis, so that the whole thing would be designed to not be overly burdensome on builders," Mr. London said.
"This has had input from about as wide an Island-wide basis as you can get," said Mr. Cabana.. "What makes this important to the Martha's Vineyard Commission is this is an energy policy statement - it is a specific energy policy statement that has to do with residential construction, and it should be a guideline that the towns may want to follow or not follow."
Moreover, he added, "Yes, it does cost money, but the towns don't have to put building inspectors on it - they don't have to do anything."
John Abrams, president of South Mountain Company in West Tisbury, is a building contractor who also specializes in alternative energy. The energy subcommittee tapped him as one of Martha's Vineyard's veteran environmental and energy activists for input on the policy.
"I think it's a great step in the right direction - it's only a step," Mr. Abrams commented after his initial review of the draft policy. "There's a tremendous amount of the type of development that is happening to which this does not apply. I do think it's a good forward step, and once people get used to it, it won't be too rigorous."
Not many years ago, applying for a building permit required nothing more than filling out and submitting a form, Mr. Abrams said. "Now, we have to make sure through that process that buildings comply with the Mass energy code, and everybody's used to that," he added. "In a way, anything that pushes us to put more up front into our buildings, that gets us to reduce long-term operating costs, is going to pay back in spades and more than we ever imagined, I believe."
As for added costs, Mr. Abrams said, "It all depends - many people are building at or close to this already. If they're not doing a good job, many may be unhappy at the level demanded."
Mr. Veno said the new policy would raise the level of environmental awareness for applicants who would be free to follow it or not. The commission will evaluate the applicant's efforts in that regard when weighing its benefits and detriments, he said.
During the commission's DRI review of the YMCA's proposed new facility in 2007, the Y leadership offered to pursue energy initiatives to achieve a silver-level LEED certification for the project.
As the owner of Baumhofer Builders and the YMCA's vice president and facilities committee chairman, Mark Baumhofer is very familiar with LEED requirements.
Asked for comments on LEED costs when the Martha's Vineyard Commission initially drafted its policy, Mr. Baumhofer estimated that administrate LEED work might run about $100,000 on a commercial year-long project. "That's just the paperwork - not inspection - not a dime one going into cost of materials you use," he said. "The Y is putting a dollar figure of 5 percent of the total cost of the project for doing those initiatives - depending on the cost of your project, it could go to 10 percent."
Mr. Veno said the energy subcommittee ultimately decided that although LEED is very involved, it really addresses the gamut of energy and resource conservation issues. "That pertains or applies to only the larger projects, recognizing that LEED is involved and there is a cost to that, but with the larger projects, the costs can be recovered," Mr. Veno said.
The December 4 public hearing starts at 7:45 pm in the meeting room at the Martha's Vineyard Commission's offices on New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Comments may be submitted in writing before the hearing, or until noon on Monday, December 10, to the Martha's Vineyard Commission, P.O. Box 1447, 33 New York Ave., Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
Depending on the amount of public testimony and whether the hearing is concluded on December 4, the Martha's Vineyard Commission has scheduled its deliberations and decision on the policy for 7:30 pm on December 18.