West Hartford Declares Moratorium on Certain Solar Installations

The size of this ground-mounted solar installation in West Hartford has raised concerns among neighbors. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Permits will not be given for ground-mounted and pole-mounted solar installations in West Hartford for the next six months while revisions to the existing ordinance are made.

The size of this ground-mounted solar installation in West Hartford has raised concerns among neighbors. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The size of this ground-mounted solar installation in West Hartford has raised concerns among neighbors. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

When the West Hartford Town Council adopted an ordinance in October 2014 allowing certain alternative energy systems, they did not not anticipate installations that would fill an entire yard.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to declare a six-month moratorium while they consider revising the ordinance to ensure that future systems are kept to a scale that is in balance for the size of the property.

Complaints from neighbors about a large pole-mounted solar tracker in a resident’s modest-sized corner lot were part of the impetus for looking to amend the ordinance.

The ordinance currently specifies that: “Ground and pole-mounted solar energy systems shall not exceed the height limitation for accessory buildings in the zone where they are located.” In most cases that is 15 feet, Deputy Corporation Counsel Pat Alair said.

“There are ardent supporters [of alternative energy] who think nothing is wrong, and equal number who think what we did is let people go too far, said Alair.

The pole-mounted system that concerned neighbors was originally designed so that the solar trackers would follow the sun and alter the angle of the panels for maximum exposure. At their fullest angle they were out of compliance, Alair said.

Although the system has been modified so that it is now in compliance, it’s still a large installation for the property, said Alair. He said that the resident who installed the system lives near an elementary school and thought it would be a great opportunity for kids to learn about alternative energy.

“Clearly that was not the sentiment of the neighborhood around this one,” said Alair. The ordinance revision was recommended to avoid future installations that would be considered obtrusive.

Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said that changes to the ordinance will not impact roof-mounted solar panels, which can still be installed after obtaining a building permit.

“We didn’t expect someone to build something like this. This is clearly, in my opinion, too large a structure for the size of the lot,” Van Winkle said. “We are going to come back with something that provides a better idea of how this will fit within the neighborhood.”

Minority Leader Denise Hall said that she found the large installation startling. “While I am in favor of renewable energy we want to protect home values,” she said.

The moratorium will allow the Town Council time to reevaluate the zoning ordinance to better support the neighborhoods while ensuring that West Hartford residents can still have solar installations, Van Winkle said.

“We’re going to come back with something that is going to balance it better,” said Alair.

Mayor Scott Slifka said that the Town is “not backing away from clean energy,” but rather is just balancing it.

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  • Interesting turn of events. I am wondering when people (in general) will start taking climate change seriously and recognize that renewable energy is currently the only safe path forward to secure our children’s future. I don’t find the picture to be any more startling than someone who chooses to cover their lawn in inflatable holiday decorations, or store unused cars on their property.

  • The town zoning department needed to do its homework regarding the various types of solar installations that would be made available to buyers. I don’t see this as a pro/anti solar issue. Rather, a town decision on what can and cannot be permanently affixed to WH home owners property. Slifka and Wan Winkle are the last people who should be surprised. They did not conduct proper due diligence.

  • As a resident of this neighborhood who has to stare at this monstrosity every day, I can assure you this teaches children nothing other than what an inconsiderate resident will do when allowed. Roof mounted solar panels would have sufficed without wrecking neighbor’s property values if solar education truly was the intent. The healthy energy saving trees that were cut down in order to accommodate this thing send a very conflicting message. Its shameful this was ever approved without knowledge or understanding of what was really going up.
    I applaud and support alternative energy solutions and take climate change seriously. And there are ways to pursue this in a way that respects and preserves property values. This homeowner has created a huge, horrible eyesore that will hurt property values. I hope more of our town’s leaders see this in person and move quickly to change the regulations that will force this homeowner to remove or significantly downsize this awful mistake.

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