Massachusetts Municipalities Continue Building Code Reviews Pending State Next Steps | Holland & Knight LLP


Much of the recent information on climate-influenced building codes has come from California, where the California Energy Commission announced the adoption of revisions to its building energy efficiency standards, also known as California Energy. Code, likely to have an impact on new construction from 2023 if adopted. by the California Building Standards Commission. Despite the lack of headlines, Massachusetts is revising its building code to reflect Commonwealth climate goals and implement climate adaptation strategies.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker enacted Chapter 8 of the Laws of 2021 on March 26, 2021, a law creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy (the Climate Act), solidifying the status of the Commonwealth as a leader in action to combat climate change. Among the provisions (Section 101) was the requirement that the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) adopt, in consultation with the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS), a specialized municipal voluntary extensible energy code that includes a definition a zero-building network within 18 months of the adoption of the climate law. Massachusetts already has a “stretch code” first adopted in 2009, when it became the first state to adopt an above schedule to the “basic” building energy code. The current extensible code, which emphasizes energy performance, as opposed to prescriptive requirements, was designed to result in a cost-effective construction that is more energy efficient than one built to the “basic” energy code. As of June 15, 2021, 296 Massachusetts communities have adopted the extended BBRS code.

The climate law requires the DOER to hold at least five stakeholder meetings as part of the development process. This expanded process and timeline for stakeholders was the result of advocacy by NAIOP Massachusetts and other groups. To date, however, in the five months since the climate law was passed, neither DOER nor BBRS have published any plans to meet the statutory deadline.

Municipalities take their own measures

The lack of progress on the state plan contrasts with the actions of municipalities, which are trying to establish their own building code regulations using the Massachusetts legislative process. These include the City of Arlington, which is seeking permission in H.3750 to use local zoning to restrict new construction or major renovation projects that are not considered “fossil fuel-free buildings.” “, Defined as” an entire building or condominium unit that supports its operation without the use of coal, petroleum, natural gas, hydrocarbon fuels, including synthetic equivalents, or other fossil fuels. Likewise, the City of Lexington is seeking authorization in H.3893 to restrict new fossil fuel infrastructure in certain buildings. Some members of the Massachusetts legislature advocate in H.2167 that every municipality pass fully electric building and house ordinances.

The City of Watertown, on the other hand, has adopted “environmental performance” design standards urging the implementation of sustainable design and construction practices that incorporate technological innovation, green building practices and green site design. for new constructions along the main corridors (article 155-5.17 of the Code zoning by-law). Additionally, when reviewing the site plan (section 155-9.03), proposed developments will be assessed for their use of energy efficient technologies and renewable energy resources. These provisions do not prohibit the use of fossil fuels, but encourage the use of renewable energy resources.

Holland & Knight’s real estate and environmental lawyers will be monitoring these developments closely to see if municipalities succeed in their legislative endeavors or if DOER and BBRS adoption of a specialized energy code materializes.

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