Chelmsford Making Progress to Meet Key Climate Action Goals

By Jim Riordan, Cassidy Yates, and Bella Purdy Tisel

In 2010, Chelmsford, Mass. became one of the first six municipalities in the Commonwealth to receive a Green Community designation. This means that the town has pledged to meet the criteria of the Green Communities Act by reducing municipal energy usage by 20% over five years. The town is also committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 in alignment with the Commonwealth’s goals from the Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap.

To lead the way, the Chelmsford Select Board formed the Chelmsford Clean Energy and Sustainability Committee (CEAS) in 2021. CEAS is a volunteer committee that is tasked with making recommendations for specific actions to achieve net zero. These are laudable and challenging goals for the town, so the select board also asked the CEAS to recommend intermediate targets through the creation of a Clean Energy and Sustainability Action Plan. Weston & Sampson is currently drafting this plan.

The plan recommends two initial actions:

  • Development of a sustainability checklist to be submitted during the site plan review process for new and redevelopment projects.
  • Adoption of the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Stretch Energy Code.

A list of sustainability topics.

Sustainability Checklist

The Sustainability Checklist is intended to foster discussion around the use of sustainable design principles that applicants for site plan review must consider. The checklist includes an overall project narrative regarding sustainable elements, an energy system narrative, and a series of other sections with questions pertaining to a variety of building and site elements.

Specialized Stretch Energy Code

The Stretch Energy Code is an optional element of the Massachusetts building energy code that allows cities and towns to establish certain energy efficiency standards for new residential and commercial buildings as well as for some renovations. Chelmsford had previously adopted the Stretch Energy Code.

Plan improvement recommendations infographic.

At the end of 2022, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) plans to release updates under the Municipal Opt-In Specialized Stretch Energy Code, which are based on the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2021.

Additional Actions for Long-Term Implementation

Proposed actions were developed based on a sustainability audit of Chelmsford’s existing regulations and policies. To execute the sustainability audit, guiding questions were developed for a range of topics including but not limited to buildings, energy systems, public right-of-way, streets, and transportation.

As a result of this process, the following opportunities were found that have additional potential to advance the town’s goal of net zero emissions:

  • Develop a green infrastructure (GI) guidance document that shows how to incorporate GI with other design approaches (e.g., multifunctional landscaping, parking lots, complete streets, eco roofs, cooling urban areas, renewable energy, water conservation, etc.).
  • Advance the town’s Complete Streets Policy by updating zoning, subdivision rules and regulations, general bylaws, procedures, policies, and guidelines relevant to Complete Streets.
  • Consider options to partner with regional organizations to enhance public transportation opportunities that will reduce car use and help promote higher-density development.
  • Streamline the permitting for development that meets net zero and sustainability goals.
  • Review codes and regulations for consistency to encourage the use of GI.

Jim Riordan, LEED AP is team leader of the Urban and Environmental Planning Group; Cassidy Yates, EIT, LEED GA is a climate resiliency engineer I; and Bella Purdy Tisel is a climate resiliency specialist and urban planner, at Weston & Sampson.

This article was originally published in High Profile, November 2022.

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