The City Council has dropped the most contentious provision from an ordinance regulating the installation of solar panels. Residents no longer need a special-use permit to install the panels if the panels face a street.
The council’s recent decision rebutted the Planning & Zoning Commission’s May vote to keep the special-use permit.
City Councilwoman Rita Wright Oujesky said that she personally does not like solar panels but she was elected to support residents’ wishes. She said politicians and politics “get messed up” because politicians tend to vote personal agendas. “That’s not what we should be doing,” Oujesky said.
Councilman Scott Turnage called it a homeowners’ rights issue.
“I can’t tell my neighbors that they can’t paint polka dots on their house if they want to,” Turnage said. “I may not like it. … But most of our neighbors in this city will be allowed to do that.”
Solar advocate Lori De La Cruz said after the vote that city officials need to recognize that residents do not share their opposition to solar panels. “We won,” she said.
Councilman Tim Barth, who cast the dissenting vote May 18, said he believes the city needs more discussion on the issue. He said residents who oppose the panels may now come forward.
In December, the council voted to require a special-use permit before residents could install roof-mounted solar panels that face a street because of aesthetic concerns. The special-use permit process, which can take 30 to 45 days, requires that neighbors be notified of the project, a notice be published in a local newspaper, and that public hearings occur before the Planning & Zoning Commission and City Council.
The council can refuse to issue the permit. A special-use permit typically costs $582, though the council waived the fee for solar panels in January. Residents installing panels not facing a street needed the much-less-cumbersome standard permit.
Solar energy advocates almost immediately began organizing against the ordinance. They collected more than 800 signatures by January calling for repeal or a referendum. The city followed the petition with a survey.
The results showed that 13 percent of the petition-signers and 20 percent of those who did not sign the petition wanted to be notified only if the panels were visible from the street. Another 14 and 21 percent respectively wanted to be notified only if the panels were visible from their yards, while 4 and 12 percent of respondents respectively wanted to be notified regarding any roof-mounted system.
But 70 percent of petition-signers and 47 percent of non-petition signers said they should not be notified about any roof-mounted system for an average 61 percent of respondents, according to the city released results.
The December vote included other provisions, such as one requiring ground-mounted solar systems to be screened by a fence. These less-controversial rules will remain.