Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ballston Solar Panels 2/2

It won't always be like this, but the blog has a definite Ballston feel today.

Below, there's talk of the ongoing bookkeeper saga. Here, we'll take a look at how the town may change its zoning laws regarding solar panels.

First, a brief synopsis for those who haven't seen the print product:

Some residents were concerned about a half-dozen solar installations that were built in their deed-restricted neighborhood, which prohibits things like clotheslines. They questioned the Town Board about how that was possible given the deed restrictions, but the Town Board told them that it has no control over the deeds. It's only concerned with the zoning code and those solar panels are perfectly legal. The deed issue would be a matter for small claims court, they said, but they would examine possibly tweaking the zoning code because solar panels are becoming more popular.

More after the jump.

I talked to Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett, who went through a similar situation in his town last spring. He told me that building a solar panel was a lot like building a shed. As long as the project met the town's setback requirements and was built to code, it was good to go. They changed that, though, and planning board approval is now necessary. Here's the text of the rule revisions:
(3) Solar Arrays: Ground or pole mounted solar arrays:

Factors to be considered by the Planning Board in determining the siting requirements for solar installations under this section:

(a) The setbacks proposed and available in relation to other applicable setbacks for the zone within which the installation is proposed.

(b) The proposed height, width and dimensions of the installation and housing structures, and whether the proposed installation is compatible with adjacent uses in terms of scale, siting, design, lighting and noise generation.

(c) The maximum surface area of the proposed installation in relation to the available lot size for the host parcel.

(d) Energy load of the primary residence or buildings to be powered by the installation.

(4) Additional Design Standards for Ground and Pole Mounted Solar Arrays.

(a) All installations shall be screened with an appropriate combination of natural vegetative buffer, landscaping, or other such screening as the Planning Board shall determine, and installations shall be sited so as to minimize significant adverse visual and/ or auditory impacts.

(b) The Planning Board may require visual simulations sufficient to determine potential visual impacts during the review process, as well as other information and reasonably necessary in the Board’s discretion.

(5) The Planning Director may waive the requirement for a Special Use Permit in all Residential zones for a Ground or pole mounted solar Array of less than 325 Sq. Ft. Cumulative panel area, upon good cause shown, and upon such terms and conditions as he or she shall determine.
There's really nothing in there that would make it exceptionally more difficult to install a solar panel, Barrett said, but the town did want to install an additional buffer layer. Those special use permits don't apply to things like shed building, he said. 

Ballston is mulling enacting a six-month moratorium on pole-mounted solar panels while it reworks its zoning code. Barrett said he thought Clifton Park went to a moratorium, but couldn't remember.

Some town officials are saying the moratorium could be shorter, while Supervisor Patti Southworth doesn't think one is necessary at all.

It was proposed because some town officials feared there would suddenly be a run on the building department with people hurrying to install the panels. There have been a couple of applications, she said, but not an influx.

She thinks the Town Board should just bite the bullet and get it done. No need to pass the moratorium if it can get a plan in place in a few weeks, she said.

Lisa Doan, who lives two doors down from the controversial solar panels in Ballston, sent me the following message. The Hainses are Brian and Christa, the homeowners who built the panels:
Almost all of the Long Creek residents were quite surprised that the town did not honor the deed that the town helped craft, and hope that no other neighborhoods in the town of Ballston are ever blindsided with this issue again. Their attendance at the meeting underlined the expectation that zoning codes need to be updated to meet the demands of the times and that the actions of the Board make a difference, which can be positive or negative.

There are smaller more compact solar systems on the market today with twice the energy efficiency than (the homeowners) installed. They are installed all over Europe. It’s quite surprising that Adirondack Solar didn’t sell the Haineses a system that suits the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

I don’t think the moratorium for Ballston should have been seen as the halting of “solar”. On the contrary, it should have been about questioning large industrial installations in a residential neighborhood and how long will it take to put up-to-date zoning codes in place to match the demands of the times for alternative energy installations. There are incredible incentives being offered right now. If the Board made a commitment to put a plan of action in place by say April 15th, then a moratorium may not have been a necessary consideration.

Planning Board Chairman Dick Doyle presented new zoning codes as a comprehensive plan that he had submitted to the Board about a month ago. The plan includes standard review procedures, necessary safety requirements, vegetative screening for residential communities, plus research of how several surrounding communities have already addressed the needs of their communities. The Board has all the tools necessary to wrap things up. I don't think there are two sides to this issue. I think the community clearly wants this Board to remedy the situation now.
There was a public hearing on the moratorium Tuesday. Most of the speakers, though, said the moratorium was a bad idea. The only five people who spoke in favor of it, Southworth said, were Haines' neighbors. She completely understands their concerns about their property values.

Haines said the couple's energy costs have gone down, though he fears his neighbors may sue him to take down the solar panels. Whether that materializes remains to be seen, but Haines said he hopes the Town Board acts appropriately.

Looks like it'll be a good meeting Tuesday.

Until next time,




Blogger leland said...

personally after installing a lot of these systems over the last 5 years i would say ground generally work much better. There easier to maintain the solar panel installations and replace damaged or stolen parts.

February 10, 2012 at 1:34 AM 

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