CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town may become a Green Community and benefit from state funds that will allow it to become more energy efficient.
James Barry, Green Communities coordinator for Western Massachusetts, and Lauren Gaherty of Berkshire Regional Planning Commission at Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting went over the state program that provides towns with funds to implement green and efficiency projects.
"This is completely voluntary and there is money available at the end of the tunnel if you want to go through the tunnel," Barry told the Selectmen.
The board has been toying with becoming a state-designated Green Community for some time now but has been hesitant to go all in because of some requirements.
Since the passage of the act in 2008, some 210 municipalities have been designated as Green Communities and have had access to more than $39 million in grants. Adams, Clarksburg, Lanesborough, North Adams and Williamstown are all Green Communities.
Barry said the first two criterion are often more controversial in smaller communities. He said they ask towns to adopt zoning that would make them more business-friendly toward green endeavors – such as renewable or alternative generating facilities, research and development facilities or manufacturing facilities.
"You have to have it in your zoning or overlay where it is less of a pain in a neck to start a business in green energy," he said. "It doesn't have to be everything in the universe.You don't have to say yes to wind, yes to solar, yes to nuclear. You pick a place and something that makes sense to the town."
Barry said green businesses would not need a special permit to locate in these designated areas, but the town can still maintain some control by setting up a process and possibly designating land the town owns.
This still caused town officials some pause and Planning Board Chairwoman Donna DeFino felt that allowing any solar or wind by right could be a slippery slope.
Selectwoman Carol Francesconi agreed and was concerned that adopting this zoning would negate the town's recently established wind and solar bylaws.
Barry said the bylaw change would only be an amendment and would not overturn everything the town has on the books. He added that the town does not have to pick solar or wind production but could zone the area for manufacturing or research related to green energy.
"We can structure it so it meets our minimum requirements in Boston but still does what you need it to do in terms of control and not messing with zoning you already have," Barry said.
DeFino said the zoning could even coincide with the new light manufacturing district the town wants to set up on Route 8.
Barry added that the zoning amendment would still be subject to a town meeting vote.
The third criterion would ask the town to assess all its buildings and their energy use and develop a plan, with the help of BRPC, to reduce this amount by 20 percent.
"It doesn't mean you have to fund the plan ... we are just asking you to take a serious look at your buildings," he said. "Make a list of what you would do to save energy if you had the money."
He said the town would receive a minimum of up to $125,000 to implement the plan. He added in the coming years, the town can apply for more money for projects the state deems worthy.
Barry then went on to criterion four, which asks the town to adopt a policy to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles where possible, however, this really does not affect the town because it does not cover safety or Department of Public Works vehicles.
The last criterion is the stretch code, a more stringent building code that stresses efficiencies, and Barry said currently it is not far off from the state code.
"The stretch code is not that much of a stretch anymore," he said. "It used to be a challenge, but it is no longer. It's the standard code but just bumped up a little."
Building Inspector Gerald Garner said he had no issues with the stretch code and said it was common in other communities.
Selectman Edmund St. John IV asked if the stretch code changes, would the town have to adopt it?
Barry said, yes but if it gets to a point where the town wants to opt out, it can without any penalties.
The Selectmen said they would take the information under advisement and would like to meet with Barry in the near future.
"It really isn't as scary as I thought it would be," Chairman Robert Ciskowski said. "This could be a real benefit."
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