Sunday, March 13, 2011

Solar Arrays Cause Neighborhood Uproar

As the solar panel trend moves to Ohio, zoning regulations have not caught up.

Hog farms, gravel pits or noisy neighbors have always stirred up the emotions of residents who turn to the chant, “Not in my backyard.”

But, solar panels?

A Warren County, Ohio couple has caused a stir in their wealthy neighborhood with the placement of two large solar panel arrays in their yard.

“Not in your frontyard,” is what some residents are saying in the Calloway Farms subdivision in Turtlcreek Twp., just outside of Lebanon.

Constructing solar panels for an alternate source of energy has become popular in the West, but as the trend moves to states like Ohio, zoning regulations have not caught up.

The residents who erected the arrays were denied a zoning permit by Warren County, but because of an error, the county building department issued a building permit for the solar panels.

Donna Jones said she and her husband, Jamie Jones, have lived on Natalie Drive in the subdivision for nearly four years. She is a vice president of a company in Milford that manufactures solar panels and she said her family began looking at the idea of installing solar panels last year on the roof of their home.

However, their home faces east and west, and southern exposure is necessary to get the maximum performance, she said.

After taking various measurements, she said it was determined the large arrays, which stand 15 feet tall and about 11 feet wide, needed to be placed in the frontyard for maximum sun exposure and to avoid possible obstructions from other homes or trees.

The panels were erected Feb. 14.

Gary Bock, who lives in another part of the subdivision, said the location of the solar panels is near the only entrance to the community and feels it will devalue the other properties there.

“We’re not against saving energy. We’re all for it,” Bock said. “But we don’t want to see them.”

Bock said there are covenants and other restrictions as a condition of buying property there.

“People can’t do what they want,” he said. “But the (rural zoning) codes are there for a reason.”

The Jones were denied a zoning permit, but they were issued a building permit by the county building department because zoning officials were not checked with, according to Mike Yetter, county zoning officer.

The county zoning code for R-1 rural residential does not permit structures to be constructed in side or front yards of homes. Structures must be at least 150 feet from the public right of way.

Yetter said the code, which was last revised about 30 years ago, does not address solar panel arrays. The code is under revision and is being updated to current needs, he said.

Steve Hartjes, a Natalie Drive resident, said one of the selling points for him was the underground utility lines.

“It’s (the solar panel arrays) a monstrosity to see something like this. It’s disheartening because I’ve lived here for 10½ years,” he said.

Bob Stump, another Natalie Drive resident whose home is linked with an access drive that goes right past the solar panel arrays, said he and his wife were contacted last October by their neighbor about plans to install the arrays.

“We don’t want to be painted as the bad guys and we don’t know if this will devalue our properties,” he said. “But it’s dividing the neighborhood.”

Jones said she received state and federal grants to install the arrays that will provide about half of the 8,900 kilowatts their home uses in a year.

She said the costs to install the arrays vary because they are customized for each property.

“Never in a million years did we think it would come to this,” Jones said. “We hope we’d inspire others.”

Jones said the fallout has her family thinking about moving elsewhere with more land so they can install their arrays.

“Ultimately we’re going to do what’s right for our family and the neighborhood,” she said. “We don’t want a long, drawn out procedure. In the end, I’m sure we’ll find a good solution for our family and the community.”

Yetter said “this was a fluke” that the county made a mistake. He said the Jones’ have recently picked up an application for a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Yetter said he expects to see more solar panel arrays and wind turbines constructed in the future.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a trend,” he said. “We’re planning on it in the new zoning code.”

“In my opinion, it’s hard to restrict people from doing this because it’s an alternative energy system.”


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