17 September 2019
A newly-proposed bylaw would prohibit installation of new gas or oil piping in major construction, defined as new developments and significant building rehabilitations or additions. This would prevent developers from installing appliances reliant on fossil fuels, including certain boilers, furnaces and cooktops.
“When we make a new investment in gas heat, gas hot water and other gas appliances, we are lighting fires that burn on and off for decades,” said Town Meeting Member Jesse Gray, who is petitioning the warrant article.
Speaking at a community feedback session Aug. 22, he cited the town’s goal to be emissions-free by 2050: “In Brookline, we’ve said that these fires have to be put out by 2050. So if we continue to put in new fossil fuel infrastructure in Brookline, our goal would require it to be ripped out, potentially prior to its useful end-of-life.”
Retrofitting could be more expensive and more of a hassle than just installing electric appliances to begin with, he said.
He called the proposed bylaw an “essential step” in achieving zero emissions in Brookline’s building sector.
“If we assume that half a percent of our building stock is built or rehabilitated every year, then this bylaw alone could result in 15 percent of our buildings operating climate-neutral by 2050,” Gray said.
Even with those goals, the warrant article has a ways to go before it becomes Brookline law. The proposed bylaw will be filed with the town by Aug. 29, when the warrant for the November special Town Meeting closes. TM members will then debate and vote on whether to amend the town’s General By-Laws.
In two community feedback sessions, one on Aug. 20 and one on Aug. 22, developers, property owners, building trade professionals and members of the public were invited to ask questions and make suggestions. Many questions focused on how the bylaw would be implemented, and what technology could be used in the process.
Some attendees also raised concerns about how the ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure would impact restaurants reliant on gas cooktops and stoves.
“A lot of people who are skeptical about cooking without gas haven’t tried induction cooking,” Gray said, adding, “It’s essentially superior to gas cooking and it’s been embraced by a lot of famous chefs in the area, including Ming Tsai and Barbara Lynch.”
Not only is induction cooking safer for kitchen staff, he said, it also keeps kitchens cooler and heats water faster.
Meanwhile, Chestnut Hill Realty’s Marc Levin expressed concerns about the bylaw’s impact on property owners and leasing companies.
“In the end, I think that a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis should be done, that this feels ... as though there hasn’t been a significant analysis of what the costs would be, what the economics would be and what the other heavy consequences may be,” he said.
Zoe Lynn, Brookline’s sustainability program administrator, acknowledged it is still early on in the process. “We’re early on in our climate planning, but we’re also early on in the warrant article,” she said.
Still at hand is the matter of exemptions — whether to allow certain projects to go around the bylaw, and which buildings to exempt.
According to Lynn, some analysis have made it clear that the bylaw may need to exempt large units that require a lot of hot water heating, such as homes or commercial buildings. The technology, she explained, isn’t cost effective. This would exempt, for example, Chestnut Hill Realty’s upcoming mixed-use Waldo-Durgin development, she said.
This is being put to vote on 11/19/19, November Special Town Meeting Begins!
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