After months of back-and-forth discussion about the potential costs and benefits of adopting the in Needham, Town Meeting members opted Monday to stretch out the discussion indefinitely—voting 111 to 96 to refer the issue back to the Board of Selectmen after just 30 minutes of debate.
Later in the evening, on the first and only night of Needham's fall special Town Meeting, another item of discussion—the funding plan for a new senior center—also followed an abbreviated form, with Town Meeting approving the $8,075,000 project after just a few short presentations from the proponents. No one spoke against the plan, which was approved with a two-thirds voice vote.
The Stretch Code subject, however, did draw some debate.
While the issue had the support of a majority from the , Planning Board, Finance Committee and Green Communities Studies Committee, several people spoke out against adopting the code, which would require major renovations and new construction in town to be approximately 20 percent more energy efficient than under current building code, according to Selectman Jerry Wasserman.
Approval of the code is one of several steps toward earning Needham designation as a Massachusetts Green Community.
Precinct H member Lois Sockol was the first to stand in favor of the issue, but she was one of the few who felt the Stretch Code should pass.
Sockol said the new code “speaks to the realities of our town” and that “this innovative code enables us to become more energy efficient, more energy independent and less energy pollutant” and would help Needham’s builders and contractors to stay ahead of the curve.
“The stretch code speaks to the needs of our immediate future. I urge you all to support it,” Sockol concluded.
But others said the town should wait to implement the code, studying it further, seeing how it plays out in other towns and allowing the 2012 Massachusetts Building Code—which would already introduce more energy efficient regulations—to go into effect.
After proponents noted that 98 communities in the commonwealth, including all of the towns around Needham, had already passed the Stretch Code, Precinct E member Michelle Ardani said that that argument was like that of a teenager “who wants to party and drink just because all his friends are.”
“It can be extremely dangerous to pass certain laws just because they passed elsewhere,” Ardani said.
Others referred to the overhead slide showing which towns had adopted the code as “the lemming map.”
Precinct A member Mary Keane-Hazzard said she had never risen to speak in her 10 years at Town Meeting but that “my constituents demanded it” on the Stretch Code issue. She said the code would be most expensive to owners of smaller, older homes who just wanted to do a few renovations and would lead to more teardowns. She asked whether those types of projects could be exempt from the code.
Wasserman said it was a state option and that Needham couldn’t “just take the part of it that we want.”
Several other Town Meeting members echoed Keane-Hazzard’s concerns about the cost to small homes.
Others said it was an issue of choice—whether to demand that homeowners and builders follow this special code or to let them make decisions about energy-efficient features on their own.
“I think the market does a very good job of prodding people to make the right choices, and people are making those choices as a natural consequence. We don’t need another layer of regulation on top of that,” said Bill Zoppo, a member of Precinct F.
Around 10:30 p.m., after about a half hour of debate, Precinct E member Bill Supple made a motion to refer the issue back to the Board of Selectmen for further study.
After a voice vote on the matter proved too close to call, Town Moderator Michael Fee had tellers count a hand vote.
The final vote was 111 in favor of referring the issue back to selectmen, 96 against.
Look for more coverage of the special Town Meeting this week on Needham Patch.