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‘Green’ label may be costly; Town will vote on stretch code

Town officials eager to jump on the state’s “green communities’’ bandwagon are pushing new, eco-friendly construction rules that builders around the state say will drive up the price of commercial and residential development – by as much as $10,000 for the typical three-bedroom home.

“We have some serious concerns that it will add on some additional costs when the market can least support it,’’ said Tamara Small, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, which represents about 440 companies.

“It’s a challenging time for the real estate industry, and to add on more costs is not the way to go,’’ she said.

But Milton officials, and other advocates across the region, say the extra costs will be more than made up in lower utility bills for individuals – and in extra aid from the state, a rare occurrence in these recessionary times. And, they say, it’s the right thing to do.

“I see it as the wave of the future,’’ said Milton’s building inspector, Jay Beaulieu. “We’re trying to reduce our carbon imprint, and this is a positive move in that direction. It will cost more, but I believe there’s a payback – a cash return in energy savings.’’

At issue is the new “stretch code,’’ which lays out specific and stringent energy-saving rules for construction. Adopting the stretch code is one of five requirements for a municipality to be named a “green community’’ and eligible for state grants that can be used for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects.

The state announced the first 35 “green communities’’ – including Dedham, Hanover, and Kingston – in the spring and said they would share $8.1 million in grant money.

Milton officials say they’d like to be part of the next wave of “green communities’’ so the town can get some of the expected $8.1 million in new grants. A special Town Meeting in September will decide whether to adopt the requirements needed to be included.

Milton already meets three of the criteria, said Town Administrator Kevin Mearn. The town is buying energy-efficient cars, is conducting an audit of its energy consumption, and is committed to reducing its energy use by 20 percent during the next five years, Mearn said.

Communities that want the “green’’ designation – and its associated cash – also need zoning rules that automatically allow “green community initiatives,’’ such as solar panels and wind turbines, in specific spots in town. Milton plans to build a wind turbine on town-owned land next to the Granite Links Golf Club and would use that site for the zoning requirement, which needs Town Meeting approval, Mearn said.

Town Meeting also would need to approve the remaining requirement: adoption of the “stretch code’’ for building in town.

The code, which has been adopted by more than 40 communities so far, requires specific energy conservation measures in construction, things such as thermal doors and windows and high levels of insulation. An independent inspector would rate the energy efficiency of the finished work – at the homeowner or developer’s expense.

The rules, which would supplant the current state building code, would apply, with some exceptions, to commercial and residential construction, new buildings, renovations and additions, said Beaulieu.