Solar panels in Blue Springs will have fewer regulations than other rooftop machinery, but will not be allowed on the street-facing side of homes and businesses.
The City Council, in a series of split votes, this week passed regulations for solar panels following a proposal to amend the original bill and much discussion.
The final ordinance passed by the council prohibits property owners from installing solar panels on the primary street-facing side of their property. The ordinance exempts solar panel installations from the standards other roof-mounted machinery must follow, such as airflow units, but requires that components such as wires and support posts be concealed.
Council Member Galen Ericson suggested three amendments to the regulations. Previously, the ordinance did not require panels to be concealed from view, and Ericson’s proposal required panels to be screened at least 50 percent from view and would not allow them to be placed on the street-facing portion of a property. Only the amendment prohibiting them from being installed on street-facing sides was passed.
Opponents of the amendments, including Council Member Ron Fowler, said the amendments were too regulatory for residential housing.
“This seems to be going a bit too far,” said Fowler, pointing out that homeowners associations could choose to regulate the aesthetics of the solar panels if they chose.
Council Member Kent Edmondson worried the restrictions would prevent homeowners from incorporating renewable energy into their homes.
“We’re trying to be responsible, we’re trying to encourage people to recycle and make use of alternative sources and now we’re putting restrictions on them,” he said, stating that doing so would eliminate a large portion of houses. Edmondson said he’s spoken to a few homeowners who have incorporated solar energy, and said that while there’s a significant startup cost to solar energy production, they’ve seen a return on their investment within the second month of having it installed
“If you start restricting that, the returns are going to drop, and it’s going to get to the point where there’s not enough return incentive to make them want to do this,” he said.
Ericson’s proposal was supported by Council Member Susan Culpepper, who said she’s received complaints from constituents regarding the aesthetics of solar panels on street-facing rooftops.
“I’m all in favor of solar, but I’m also in favor of protecting everybody’s rights, if you will. I’m just not in favor of putting them on the face of houses,” she said. “As you go down Main Street, I am not in favor of them facing the main street. You have three other sides of your house, so I’m just not in favor of that.”
Ericson said he understood his proposal was restrictive, but shared Culpepper’s viewpoint of maintaining a home’s aesthetic value.
Council Member Chris Lievsay countered that he didn’t see an aesthetic problem with the panels, pointing to a photo of a residence with street-facing panels supplied by Council Member Jerry Kaylor.
“I think from a practical and economic standpoint you have to allow street-facing panels to be placed otherwise it doesn’t make any sense to do it,” Lievsay said, agreeing with Fowler’s point that homeowners associations can make restrictions in regards to aesthetics, and said it wasn’t the council’s role to be restrictive in this manner.
A motion was seconded to split Ericson’s proposal into three parts:
• Requiring solar panels to be screened as detailed in the amendments.
• Disallowing panels to be mounted on street-facing sides of a house or property
• Requiring panels to be screened from view on all sides, equal to at least half as high as the tallest structure on the roof.
It was pointed out that the first amendment was contingent on the third passing. They were kept separate, to allow the third amendment to be altered and changed in the future on it’s own.
Mike Mallon, assistant director of community development, confirmed another line in the ordinance, separate from the amendments, that allows city staff to alter requirements and make adjustments for properties that can prove compliance with the regulations would make solar panel installation impractical. This was section I in the ordinance.
With that in mind, the council voted on each amendment separately.
• The first amendment failed, with Edmondson, Kaylor, Lievsay, Fowler and Mayor Carson Ross voting against it.
• The second amendment, forbidding panels on the street-facing side of a property, passed, with Edmondson, Lievsay and Fowler voting against it.
• The third amendment, requiring panels to be screened from view also failed, with Kaylor, Lievsay, Fowler and Edmondson voting against it.
Culpepper noted she voted for the third amendment specifically because of section I, allowing staff members to make discretionary allowances for specific cases.
The ordinance was then voted on with the single amendment of panels not being allowed on the main side of a property. Lievsay stated he could not support the overall bill due to what he felt was too dramatic of regulations.
“I would rather go back to the drawing board,” he said.
The overall ordinance passed with Lievsay, Fowler and Edmondson voting against it.