It may soon be a bit easier for residents to go through the approval process for adding solar panels to their homes.
A proposal to give the building department the first look at submitted applications was fielded at a joint Law and Land Use Committee meeting Feb. 26, and Trustee Jane Veron, chairman of the Land Use Committee, said the goal was to reduce the workload for the Board of Architectural Review.
Building Inspector Frank Diadati said he spoke to members of the BAR, and while there were some things the committee didn’t want to give up, such as reviewing applications for decks and gazebos, the BAR did come up with a checklist of criteria for solar panel applications.
Diadati said he also met with the Conservation Advisory Council to come up with a set of criteria that would be applied to the checklist to make the process more streamlined.
“It streamlines a solar application that comes into the office and gets the general information,” Diadati said.
The information includes the color, shape and size of the solar panels that may be installed, as well as the contractor information.
It might sound straightforward enough, but if a resident’s application doesn’t meet the criteria, he or she would have the option to change the design and come back to the building department, or to go before the BAR to get the design approved.
“If we can get something that’s uniform, it wouldn’t need to go before the BAR, but it has to meet all the criteria,” Diadati said.
Trustee Carl Finger, chairman of the Law Committee, said the crux is for aesthetics and to create uniformity. Panel edges should be aligned and continuous, and the color of the panels and the mounting hardware should be no more than 18 inches above the roof’s surface.
“This allows a change to be made administratively and avoids the need for a statutory change,” Finger said.
One of the most talked about points that was brought up was the question of neighbor notification.
If an application is submitted to the building department and it meets all of the criteria, no notification would be sent to the applicant’s neighbors. However, if an application is bumped to the BAR for review, the neighbors are notified, and they can speak out for or against the installation.
“I appreciate the thought of sharing information with neighbors, but if we notify neighbors and they don’t need to go before the BAR, the neighbor would just be able to phone in a complaint,” Finger said. “I’m satisfied this criteria, properly administered, will allow solar panel installations.”
Trustee Justin Arest had a few reservations about the checklist, especially when it came to the aesthetics of the panels. He suggested having an interim step with the community before a code change is final and done.
“Part of the reason for the BAR is to safeguard the aesthetics of the community,” Arest said. “The BAR gives the ability to comment and potentially make the design look better.”
The purpose of the committee, he continued, is to safeguard the aesthetic of the neighborhoods.
Although Arest’s personal feelings on the look of solar panels is that they’re not aesthetically pleasing, he did say he sees the value and importance of alternative energy sources.
Trustee Lena Crandall said there’s a need to find other ways to generate electricity and she sees each property as unique.
If residents continue to go before the BAR with a neighbor notification in place, Crandall said she believes more weight should go in favor of the applicant.
But, like Arest, Crandall said she too was concerned about the aesthetics, especially when it came to the historic houses in the community.
“Historic preservation is important to our community,” she said.
Another major point that was discussed was front/street facing panels compared to the rear of the house.
Trustee Seth Ross suggested there might be looser standards for panels on the rear of a house, or separate criteria altogether.
Dan Finger, a member of the BAR, said when he first joined the committee, the protocol was that panels on the front shouldn’t be considered, but it’s come a long way since then.
“If they’re the way they should be, the panels are fine as long as they meet the other criteria,” he said.
Former BAR member Farley Baker said he believes this checklist could work for the village.
“I think if you’re going to do it, do it right,” he said. “I think there needs to be some tweaking, but it can work.”
The board of trustees voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on solar panel installations and the approval process at the board of trustees meeting March 12 at 8 p.m.