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.
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.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!