Net Zero Letter to Cambridge City Council & Planning Board

Mr. Hugh Russell, Chair
Cambridge Planning Board
344 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139


Dear Chairman Russell,

On behalf of the members of A Better Cambridge, I am writing to ask you to vote NO on the Connolly Net Zero proposal.

While we wholeheartedly agree with the goal of eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels in Cambridge, we believe that the Connolly Net Zero zoning currently being considered by the City Council and Planning Board would do more harm than good in our community:

  • Net Zero affordable, multi-family housing is untested - There is no practice-based evidence that carbon-neutral, multi-family housing can built in a cost effective manner that keeps housing affordable to all Cambridge families. The proposed net zero zoning will hurt our ability to create the kinds of higher density, mixed residential and commercial buildings we need to sustain a diverse and affordable city.

  • Net Zero in Cambridge only ignores the reality of our carbon footprint - Every hundred square feet of development in Cambridge is a hundred square feet not going up along routes 128 or 495. To the extent that this proposal moves new construction away from Cambridge, with its high standards on sustainability, and into surrounding areas, it runs a substantial risk of actually raising the very emissions it proposes to contain.

  • Keep our Money Local - Under this proposal, developers could meet net zero requirements by paying out-of-Cambridge and out of State energy companies to offsets their emissions -- missing the opportunity to direct more funding to local programs like subsidies for conversions of existing buildings and smaller residences.

Our full statement on the Connolly Petition is available on our website.

A better Cambridge is a net zero Cambridge; however, we need to make sure we do it right. We believe that a viable approach to serious energy efficiency in Cambridge relies on a multi pronged strategy that address what we require of new development and how we adapt existing buildings, with a focus on multi-modal transportation throughout:

  • Provide additional subsidies to finance energy efficiency upgrades and the use of renewable energy in existing building stock;

  • Require more aggressive energy efficiency standards for buildings that phase in fossil fuel reductions and acknowledge the need for market transformation, using standards such as Architecture 2030;

  • Develop an integrated multi-modal transportation network, connecting our neighborhoods together more effectively and reducing dependency on cars;

  • Work towards reducing urban heat island effect by implementing zoning and building codes that allow for more cool roofs, green roofs, and urban landscape strategies in Cambridge;

  • Work towards increasing water retention on building sites, sidewalks, streets, and open spaces to reduce impact of flooding and storm water runoff; and

  • Increase coordination with adjacent cities and communities on developing sustainable transportation networks.

 A key achievement of a multi-pronged approach including the elements above would be that carbon emissions are reduced within our city through construction of better and more efficient buildings, without at the same time exporting emissions to communities outside of our borders. 

A Better Cambridge thanks the proponents of the Connolly Petition for challenging our community to take this important look at our carbon footprint in Cambridge. Unfortunately, we believe that the proposed Net Zero zoning takes a far too narrow approach that may effectively stall the very type of development we need to actually reduce emissions while addressing key housing/community development needs here in Cambridge.

Please vote no on the net zero petition.