Given the climate crisis, the next 10 years may turn out to be the most important decade of the 21st century. Massachusetts is setting ambitious goals and legally binding targets to drastically cut carbon emissions by 2030, on the way to zero net emissions by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change
Cities and Towns must participate in this work to ensure success. This undertaking will bring not only challenges but also tremendous opportunities as they strive to transition away from fossil fuels in a just and fair way that benefits all residents.
The Planning Board will play an increasingly important role in our response to climate change. Buildings produce over 1/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings and land use choices have long lives. How, where and what we build now will set our trajectory for decades.
Each question is followed by the answers as submitted by each candidate. We have also provided each candidate’s complete responses in separate PDFs for your reference.
1) Buildings represent up to 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing the climate crisis requires transitioning to net-zero buildings and increasing the resilience of our built and natural environments. What are your priorities for the Planning Board to help achieve those transitions?
As I stated in numerous Zoom meetings and during my Needham Cable Interview, the time to act is now. Every building built will exist for the next 50 to 100 years and every blade of grass covered will likely never see the day of light again.
- All new public buildings need to be as close to Net-Zero as possible. The money we invest in our building’s efficiency creates resiliency and will ultimately prove to be a wise economic investment, plus the environmental benefit.
- Needham needs a Tree Bylaw, like towns around us, where developers can not clear cut a lot of all trees without consideration of what trees can be saved. Homeowners would also have restrictions as well regards to tree removal.
Just because that is the way it has been, does not mean that is how the process should continue. That is in fact one of the reasons we are in this environmental crisis.
- All commercial buildings over a certain size should be LEED Gold Certifiable.
All residential buildings need to be pushed to a higher standard than present.
- Permitting processes should not make building to these standards a more onerous task.
I would support a study of creating incentives for ‘green zoning’ giving us the ability to craft local zoning bylaws that emphasize investment in better, more energy – efficient buildings. For example, a ‘density bonus’ could incentivize developers to exceed the normally allowed floor-to-area ratio.. This would allow for denser residential housing developments in exchange for complying with energy-efficient building standards like LEED, green roofs or other net zero technologies. I support looking at all the options and engaging with Town residents on measures that they would support.
I would advocate for the town to set the highest building performance standards, driving down carbon footprint and being Net Zero ready (allowing conversion to all electric buildings when readily available), for ALL the public projects they undertake, from schools to public service and administration buildings, including new and renovation projects. This should be the standard that the private sector should also follow for the work in town, which includes commercial, multi‐family, single‐family and other possible building types. We should adopt the new net zero energy code as soon as it becomes available.
2) Massachusetts is developing an opt-in net zero energy code. While the specifics are still under discussion, there is a growing consensus that requiring new construction to be fossil-fuel free net zero energy should be a requirement. Would you support this requirement? Are there other elements you feel should be included (or not included) in the final net zero code? Will you support Needham adopting a net zero code if it meets those requirements?
- I support the concept and goal, but it is not as simple as saying all buildings should be built to be fossil-fuel-free.
- To be fossil-fuel free the building would have to either be producing all its own electricity, via solar, or have sourced its electricity from a Solar Farm.
- Almost all electricity currently supplied to commercial or residential buildings use fossil-fuel as the power source. This means that even if the building used NO fossil-fuel on site, it is in fact using fossil-fuel.
- It is highly unlikely that any commercial building will be able to produce all its own electricity on site.
- In order to have enough Solar Farms to offset all fossil-fuel reduction we might very well have to cut down a lot of trees or cover a lot of open fields, farm land, etc. Both of these options have some negative environmental effects.
- The state keeps using the word Electrification, which has its benefits. The problem is that the states regulation for solar makes it impossible for any homeowner to produce enough electricity to power their house, if they converted to heat pumps, completely via solar.
- As stated in the main heading of this question, the specifics are unclear and so it is hard to say what should come out.
- This Opt-In Net Zero code would have to lift the Net-Metering Limit and the Net Cap for solar in the state.
- Though Air Source Heat Pumps are beneficial, Ground Source Heat Pumps have a greater capacity to power a house with less electricity. The Opt-In Net Zero code should have further incentives for Ground Source Heat Pumps.
- The ONLY way any building can approach Net-Zero is with very strict insulation codes, which I am highly in favor.
I encourage the development of an opt-in net zero energy code and would explore adding an incentive to encourage developers and homeowners to increase the probability of participation. Fossil-free energy should be incentivized further and I believe that the town should explore the many ways to go about that through an open, deliberative process. I think it is important that Needham lead on these issues and look forward to working with other parts of the town government and with Needham residents and business owners to develop solutions.
I think this is an important decision that will need a good information campaign and robust community engagement to fully understand the advantages for the Needham community relative to neighboring towns. This could be a positive differentiator for Needham to consider. It will be important to see what a new administration and the Commonwealth climate initiatives will target as appropriate thresholds for all‐electric implementation so we can achieve the 2050 net zero goal.
3) Installing solar parking canopies currently requires a special permit. Would you support making this important clean energy option as-of-right?
There is NO reason why Solar Canopies should require a Special Permit. As-Of-Right makes perfect sense and then they just have to meet normal building setbacks.
I certainly support making solar canopies more accessible so in theory, yes. Each project has a unique set of circumstances and impacts, requiring a thoughtful response which is the purpose behind the special permit process. A more thoughtful response requires additional information of the scenarios because there are multiple impacts that must be considered.
I think this is a good idea that I would like to thoroughly consider, understanding lessons learned locally (Newton Library and Newton North High School) and regionally. I would advocate for a comprehensive presentation to the town for discussion, and potentially a vote, on by‐right versus special permit.
4) Transit-friendly zoning is a tool that can help address climate change and create more diverse and affordable housing. Needham will have to meet the DHCD Multi-Family Zoning Requirement for MBTA Communities. How should Needham implement these zoning requirements?
- I think the obvious answer is that Needham needs to analyze exactly what percentage of our current housing falls under the meeting part of the requirement.
- There are four train stops in Needham, it may very well be the fairest to spread the acreage requirement over those four stops. It will not likely be equally spread, but it needs to be part of the discussion.
With 175 separate zoning authorities in the MBTA region, each operating in a prisoner’s dilemma environment around issues of traffic, density, infrastructure, school costs, and other perceived burdens, individual cities and towns are not going to solve this regional shortfall of housing acting on their own.
Constructive engagement is called for, both by Needham directly and in working with other communities to address this housing shortage. For Needham, meeting the draft guideline standard may be workable with moderate increases in density. This must be a town wide effort that extends beyond the planning board.
Needham, meeting the draft guideline standard may be workable. We have 14 acres that meet the standard already. With moderate increases in density, the draft mandate is obtainable.
This MBTA law is going through a final comment phase and should be issued this summer. I think Needham will need to see the final law, get clarity on our status as either a bus or commuter rail community, and get feedback from DHCD on how they will apply their discretionary approvals when evaluating Needham’s existing multi‐family housing projects and MF zoning districts. This new law is a real opportunity for Needham to address a significant lack of housing choices with more variety of sizes, prices and housing types. Needham has diverse housing needs that are not being met for our current and future residents, our residents with disabilities, and our seniors. I believe the Needham community needs to analyze how best to reform our zoning by‐laws to allow this by‐right multi‐family housing. This will go a long way to allow Needham to solve its own housing challenges and to contribute to the greater regional housing shortage.
5) Teardowns and the size and scale of residential construction are concerns to many Needham residents because of impacts on quality of life, affordability, equity and sustainability. Do you share those concerns? How would you approach addressing this challenge in a way that is fair to all stakeholders?
- I have shared those exact concerns for 20 years or more.
- How to address the problem which is fair to all stakeholders is the million-dollar question.
The town of Wellesley implemented a Large House Review Board, in which if a house went over a certain size, the house plan went before the board and low and behold there house sizes reduced. The thing is if Needham implemented a similar Review Board I do not see that remediating the concerns of affordability, equity, quality of life and sustainability.
- Needham can increase setbacks and FA ratios which would likely have NO impact on selling price. Unfortunately if the house sells at the same price and then is replaced with a new house, even if that house is smaller than what current zoning allows, equity and affordability concerns will not be addressed.
- Related to the question of fairness:
To the existing homeowner looking to sell, fairness, might be defined as maximum selling price.
To the neighborhood fairness might be defined as fitting in with the existing houses, at least not doubling the house size, which is what is happening now.
To the affordability concern, it would be nice if all buyers, not just developers, had a shot at buying the house.
- If a developer is looking to increase housing units on a lot the Planning Board could insist on an Affordability requirement.
- As I stated, this is the million-dollar question. If the community cares enough to create more equity in
Teardowns are a very complicated issue, one many towns in our area are facing. It is important to support homeowners to make individual choices while also being cognizant of how development impacts neighborhoods and the community. For many homeowners, their house is their largest individual asset, and I don’t want the town to be in a position to harm the financial wellbeing of the residents. I support the planning board looking into the current levels of development and best practices so that we can balance growth and development while preserving the character of the town.
This is a complex issue and there is no silver bullet. We can absolutely see the impact of teardowns has created a diminishing supply of starter homes of reasonable size in town. Rules that curtail or influence the nature of teardown activity are worth exploring to understand the pros and cons relative to our homeowner concerns and the building community. Teardown activity does have a clear negative environmental impact that destroys a marketable small home and usually sees a property lose many, if not all, of the mature trees, replacing them with new construction. Mindful of the desire of most sellers to maximize the sale price, I believe we need to understand what other communities have done with large home dimensional controls on coverage, setbacks and maximum building area (FAR). We should find creative ways to incentivize sellers so that these smaller, more affordable homes get a fair chance in the marketplace without risk to the homeowner to sell at market price.
6) The harms from climate change will fall disproportionately on those who can least afford it. The “Just Transition” is the term used for ensuring that those communities and individuals participate in and benefit from the transition to a net zero economy. Creating more and varied affordable housing is arguably the most significant contribution Needham can make to the “Just Transition” and is also a community priority. How will you advance the creation of more affordable housing in Needham? What specific kinds of housing are your priority?
- I am currently on the Community Preservation Committee, where a year ago we put a priority on funding more Low-Income Housing. We are in fact bringing articles to Needham’s Town Meeting for this exact purpose.
- Creating Community Support for Needham Housing Authorities Capital Plan of increased Deeply Affordable Housing and rehabbing existing housing stock will bring some much-needed dignity to the residence in that housing and will help define Needham as a community with increased commitment to diversity and equity.
- That Deeply Affordable housing stock needs to be of the highest efficiency and as close to Net-Zero as possible.
- My first priority would be to aid in any way to help the Needham Housing Authority achieve there Capital Improvement vision and this will need educating the Needham community of what is needed why it is needed and why the community should care.
- There is talk of adjusting the bylaws of the ADU’s Accessory Dwelling Units to be less restrictive. Any change will have small incremental changes.
- I am a huge believer in Multigenerational Living. If being less restrictive on the ADU bylaws increases the possibility of Mutigenerational Living I would look favorably on it. I am however NOT in favor or removing single family zoning in Needham, as I do not believe that is the best approach to develop a more equitable community in Needham.
- Any new developments should have increase 40b percentages and perhaps even redefining the 40b definition lower income requirement.
Zoning changes do not create large-scale change in a bubble. In terms of important issues such as housing availability and affordability, zoning is a small piece of a large complicated equation. The planning board should examine the problem, look at other towns, and study how others in the region are updating and modernizing their zoning laws to reflect the needs of their community.
Currently, the Planning board is evaluating this through the housing working group and I am excited for the output from the group.
ADU’s are one example of a partial solution – it is of small impact but something that the planning board and Town Meeting can do on its own to work towards more flexibility in housing choice and options. I support an evaluation of the current zoning and exploring an option to expand the allowable uses. Increasing affordable housing stock will take a whole-town effort and I look forward to working with residents and town government to create solutions that move the needle forward on this important issue.
Needham needs to consider this issue and determine what kind of community it wants to be. The range of “affordable housing” needs in Needham covers a wide spectrum from deeply affordable subsidized housing to the subsidized housing in 40B developments that are at the upper end of the affordable range. Needham is experiencing increasingly stressed households with an affordability gap (spending more than 30% of income on housing needs). The housing needs assessment just released by the Needham Housing Plan Working Group has highlighted housing challenges for a number of resident groups like our seniors, children with disabilities (who are aging out at 22), and people seeking homes in the Needham Housing Authority serving more deeply affordable households. The long-term financial benefits of more energy efficient housing have been demonstrated and usually with no increase to the initial costs. Multi-family housing has the added advantage of greater energy and land‐use efficiencies that benefit the whole community. The long-term financial benefit to households living on the edge of the affordability gap is perhaps the most compelling reason to target the housing needs for our underserved and more financially at‐risk residents.
7) Please address anything else you’d like to include or to let voters know how your service as a Planning Board member would further sustainable practices in the Town of Needham.
- I am a believer in true transparency where Planning Board members may not meet in closed door meetings with developers where there is no public record of minutes or recording. People may ask what that has to do with “sustainable practices.?”
- For real progress to be achieved the community must have full trust in the process. They must believe what they are being told by the Planning Board without compromise.
- Closed Door meetings can break that trust, which means any decision by Planning Board to further any goal whatsoever will be met with some doubt.
- Any Doubt increases the possibility of failure.
Addressing sustainable practices is a multifaceted complex issue. I believe it starts with the individual, and I take my commitment to combating the climate crisis personally. I take pride in having solar panels on my home and in driving an electric vehicle. There is no simple solution – it will take a whole town, a whole community and frankly the entire state coming together to make incremental changes to “business as usual” to achieve measurable results. I am in this for the long haul and am committed to doing what I can to ensure my children inherit a livable planet.
I would immediately advocate that we fully engage the broadest representation of our Needham community to present and discuss what a Green community commitment requires – this may be coordinated with the climate action plan outreach? What are the challenges and opportunities we face and the necessary actions we need to consider taking? We need to fully understand the facts and examine examples as a community to confirm this as a collective goal that will underpin so many other decisions we face as a town.
I think our transportation ecosystem also needs to plan for the environmental and community benefits of an electric future and the possibility of enhanced, town‐wide alternative modes of transit. Some of the benefits could include greater convenience for residents, particularly our transit challenged residents, and to drive down GHG and our vehicular dependence and ultimately drive us toward being better stewards of the environment.