SALEM — A new green building ordinance seeks to transform construction projects around Salem, but it's likely to trigger debate among elected officials.

The set of rule changes, affecting both new construction and certain renovations, is now before the City Council's public health committee. 

Jenna Ide, the city's capital projects manager, said the new regulations, if passed, will help the city move closer to its 100% renewable energy goal. Councilors passed a clean energy resolution in 2016. 

"The overall goal is to improve the buildings of Salem to get us toward climate neutrality," Ide said.

The ordinance was largely drafted by the city's Sustainability, Energy and Resiliency Committee (SERC).

The rules, if approved, would accomplish the following:

n All projects for commercial, multi-family or city-owned buildings with at least 5,000 square feet of new construction must follow an "Integrated Building Design and Construction Goals" checklist and draft reports after every phase of the project showing adherence to or departure from the checklist, scope, and schedule of the project;

n All projects must strive for at least a silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, which provides benchmarks for green construction projects. Any project developer failing to get LEED certification "shall owe the city a penalty"; 

n Commercial or multi-family buildings with 20,000 square feet of space or more must go for a gold rating under LEED;

n Any building roof undergoing major construction must be covered either in solar panels or a green roof system (except "building conversions with insufficient structural load capacity");

n Anybody selling residential property in Salem must give the city building department and buyers a MassSave energy assessment completed before the sale, as well as documents showing the property's "most recent two years of yearly/monthly energy costs and use."

Jeff Cohen, co-chairperson of SERC, expects some push-back on the ordinance, and he wants to see it vetted in "a really extensive public hearing."

"There will also be an opportunity for environmentalists and the youth — who are really much more into the environment than older generations — to testify about the value of it," he said. 

But the ordinance is critically needed, he explained.

"We obviously have a lot of issues facing Salem, but we really have two significant crises," Cohen said. One is "the housing crisis, but because the housing crisis has taken up so much oxygen, people aren't as focused on the environmental one."

Those remarks were echoed in part by Councilor Meg Riccardi, who filed the ordinance last week.

"Raising our standards to make buildings more sustainable and efficient should be a goal of everyone," Riccardi said. "Salem is in a vulnerable position where we see the climate crisis literally at our doorstep with each major storm."

Setting minimum standards, she said, "should be a starting point. I'm looking forward to the conversations that this drafted ordinance will start."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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