January 2020
Utility Subcommittee Pushes Forward On Initiatives 
By Russ Leonard and Mark Leff, Co-chairmen

The HBRAMA Utility Subcommittee of the Government Affairs Committee has been extremely active over the past six months with considerable success to report on several initiatives. It held one-on-one meetings with National Grid and Eversource, and participated in two meetings of the Department of Public Utilities Interconnection Working Group. These initiatives are as follows:

  1. Web Based Work Flow Portals. After participating with National Grid to design and implement a new work order portal for electrical installations, the Utility Subcommittee is pursuing similar portals for National Grid gas service (anticipated in early 2021), and an integrated gas and electric portal from Eversource (anticipated by the fourth quarter, 2020). Response to the National Grid Electrical portal has been very positive, and lets builders and electricians monitor job status on-line. This transparency initiative is vital. HBRAMA members will influence the design of the coming portals.
  2. Utilizing Sleeve Piping In Subdivisions. National Grid has agreed to develop specifications that will allow builders to install sleeves in their subdivisions for lateral home services crossing roadways which will be paved with binder prior to gas main installation. This will hopefully mean that we do not have to dig up newly laid pavement for lateral pipe installation. Eversource stated that it works to perform all gas work prior to paving, but does have specifications for sleeve work if required.
  3. Early Cost Estimates & Pre-Construction Meetings. Both National Grid and Eversource have agreed to provide cost estimates early in the development process for home builders based on conceptual or preliminary plans. These estimates will be within a 25% +/- range, but allow our members to understand utility costs well in advance of commencing construction work. In the past, the utilities would only provide costs based upon signed and recorded subdivision plans. This is a major concession that will benefit HBRAMA members. In addition, both companies have agreed to pre-construction meetings with their engineers to improve communication about work expectations and phasing.
  4. Verizon Pole Sets. The DPU invited Verizon to its January 7, 2020 Interconnection Working Group meeting to begin discussions about streamlining the pole set process. As you may be aware, and at HBRAMA urging, National Grid, entered into an agreement with Verizon on pole sets within its territories, and this agreement has dramatically reduced wait times on pole sets. HRBAMA will be seeking similar progress in Eversource territories, and the DPU’s involvement has brought Verizon to the table. There has also been a discussion on reducing double poles, as this has sometimes delayed municipal approvals of our developments due to towns’ concerns on this issue.

The DPU has not determined final regulations on requiring PE stamps for gas installation work. It is unclear the extent to which these requirements will affect home builders. It does seem clear that PE stamps will not be required for simple residential connections. HBRAMA will continue to work to make sure that the PE stamp process does not result in further significant delays on installations.

Many thanks to the individuals who have served on our Utility Subcommittee. Our National Grid team includes Brian Lussier of Comfort Homes, Jeff Rhuda of Symes Associates, Marc Ginsburg of Marc P. Ginsburg & Sons, Scott Miccile of Toll Brothers, and Kevin O’Brien of O’Brien Homes. Our Eversource team includes Bill Marsh and Don Poyant of Eastward Companies, Ben Stevens of Trask Development, Scott Miccile, Fred Tonsberg of High Pines, LLC, Jeff Rhuda, Charles Aggouras of GFC Development, and Tom DiPlacido of DiPlacido Development Corp. We have been so well represented in these discussions by home builders with great commitment to improving our issues with the utility companies.

SJC Grants Further Appellate Review in Murchison Case
We are pleased to report that thanks in part to the Amicus Brief filed on behalf of the HBRAMA by Benjamin Fierro of Lynch & Fierro, the Supreme Judicial Court on December 23, 2019 granted the plaintiffs' request for Further Appellate Review in the case of Murchison v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Sherborn.  The Appeals Court in Murchison on September 30 issued a decision that would significantly erode the standing requirement in zoning appeals, would turn the courts into super-zoning bodies, and would make development across the Commonwealth more expensive and slow at a time when we are in a housing crisis. With the SJC recognizing the significance of this case, HBRAMA is being asked to file an amicus brief to support the homebuilder’s position in Murchison, and the the SJC scheduled to hear arguments on the case in March, 2020. See the Appeals Court Decision here and the Amicus Brief Filed with the SJC here.

Housing Choices Bill Advances to Ways & Means Committee
As a sign of slow but steady progress, on December 23, 2019, the Housing Choices bill (H. 3507) was reported favorably by the Joint Committee on Housing and has been referred to the committee on House Ways and Means. The Housing Choices bill remains a top priority of the Administration, with the hope on final action before the end of the legislative session.  This effort continues to be picked up by newspaper editorial boards and other local media calling for the need for more housing. Your Association continues to advocate with other real estate associations as well as the Massachusetts Municipal Association for passage of the Housing Choices bill.

HBRAMA’s Variance Bill Favorably Reported Out of Committee
The HBRAMA is pleased to report that H. 1799, An Act relative to variances, which is the HBRAMA’s bill designed to toll the one-year period to exercise the rights of a variance while awaiting an appeal, had been approved by the Joint Committee on Municipalities and referred to the Senate. Read more about H. 1799 here. Click here to view the HBRAMA letter sent to Representative Speliotis.

Municipal Efforts to Ban Natural Gas Hookups Gathering Momentum; Attorney General Yet to Weigh In
As recently reported in numerous news outlets, more than a dozen cities and towns are proposing plans to ban new natural gas hookups for homes and businesses, despite complaints that the efforts are illegal. In November, 2019, Brookline became the first community in the state to ban new gas hookups. Its bylaw, approved at Town Meeting, prohibits the installation of oil and gas heating systems in new construction beginning in 2021. The Attorney General, which approves local town bylaws, has yet to weigh in on the proposed Brookline ban. Other communities — including Cambridge, Newton, Arlington and Lexington — are reportedly weighing similar bans. In response, both utilities and others, including the HBRAMA and others are actively monitoring these efforts. At least one legal opinion from the Cambridge City Solicitor concerning a proposed Cambridge natural gas hookup ban ordinance has raised concerns over state preemption of local natural gas bylaws and ordinances, given that the state regulates building codes and gas utilities. If local ordinances or bylaws interfere with state regulations, the argument is that state laws take precedence. Given that in 2018, about two-thirds of the state's energy came from natural gas, these types of local bans would significantly impact not only residential housing, but also commercial development, in those municipalities pursuing a natural gas hookup ban. The proposed efforts to ban natural gas hookups appears to have first arisen as a new trend initiated in California. HBRAMA is actively keeping a close eye on these recent efforts, and will report on any new activity by the Office of the Attorney General. See news article below:
  1. Communities weigh closing off gas hookups
  2. These Cities Want to Ban Natural Gas. But Would It Be Legal?
  3. No more fire in the kitchen: Cities are banning natural gas in homes to save the planet
City of Boston Adopts New Wetlands Ordinance Designed to Address Climate Change
In yet another effort to effect national policy via home rule, the City of Boston, on December 23, 2019, adopted a local wetlands ordinance which not only regulates traditional wetland resources, but also is designed to address climate change through adaptation and building resiliency. Specifically, the local ordinance now regulates what is called the Coastal Flood Resilience Zone, or CFRZ, which is “the area of land beyond the current boundary of land subject to coastal storm flowage [100-year flood plain] or land subject to tidal action that the Commission demines has a reasonable probability of becoming subject to future coastal storm flowage or tidal action due to sea level rise (SLR) within approximately the next 50 years.” Additionally, the ordinance creates a new Inland Flood Resilience Zone or IFRZ, which is “the area of land beyond the current boundary of land subject to flooding [caused by the 1%-chance storm] that the Commission determines has a reasonable probability of flooding as the strength, duration or frequency of precipitation events increase within approximately the next 50 years.”  Procedurally, the Ordinance requires the Commission to “explicitly consider climate change resilience and impacts” in its decision to approve or deny a permit, by measuring the potential adverse impacts to wetland resource areas both as they currently exist and as are reasonably expected to exist “based on the best available data on the projected impacts of climate change.” There is no doubt that we will start seeing other municipalities copying these efforts under the guise of climate changes, with significant potential impacts to the homebuilding industry. See the new ordinance here. If you would like to read more about the ordinance click here.
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