Trustees vote 6-1 to ease solar application process

The line to discuss solar panels was long.

A public hearing at the Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees meeting March 12 gave residents a chance to air their views regarding a proposal to change the solar panel application process. The vast majority of those who spoke were high school students.

“We care about the planet and what it’s going to be like when we have kids,” said Kylie McRobie, a Scarsdale High School senior who spoke with a reporter for the Inquirer during the meeting. “We want a planet that’s sustainable and livable. We want the same opportunities as others.”

McRobie said the public hearing was an opportunity for people to voice their concerns and ideas regarding solar panel applications.

“We want to come together to make a difference,” she said. “You have to start somewhere. If I can voice my opinion, I can be a part of democracy. I’m making an effort.”

McRobie was one of a number of high school juniors, seniors and even a 12-year-old Scarsdale student who voiced support for streamlining the solar application process through the building department.

Many of the other students who spoke out were members of a City 2.0 class at SHS. The teacher, Emily Block, said her students rarely agree during discussions, but streamlining the solar panel application process was one topic about which they all seemed to be on the same page.

The students who spoke at the meeting talked about placing more emphasis on the environmental benefits of solar energy and less on the aesthetics.

“Millennials and Gen Z children are maturing and having children, which means more parents will come to Scarsdale for the schools,” SHS senior Ezra Levine said.

He said younger generations are more concerned than ever about the environment and are looking to find ways to make things better. Levine said the code change would not only benefit the environment, but make the village a more attractive place to live for young families.

A vast majority of the adults who voiced opinions about the proposition were in favor of the change, echoing many of the students’ sentiments to focus on  environmental protection over village aesthetics. Only a handful had reservations about the proposal.

Darlene LeFrancois-Haber, the co-chairman of the Scarsdale Forum’s Sustainability Committee, said she understood the desire to protect aesthetics, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“Solar panels can be our badge of honor,” she said. “We should try to allow the homeowner to capture that energy when and [however] their house is exposed to the sun.”

Moved by residents’ call for action, the trustees voted to streamline any and all solar panel applications via the building department rather than the Board of Architectural Review, no matter where the panels would face.

A working group of members of the Conservation Advisory Council (Michelle Sterling and Ron Schulhof), building inspector Frank Diadati, deputy village manager Rob Cole and Dan Finger from the BAR met multiple times to “figure out if we’re not sending solar applications to the BAR, what will go through the building department,” Sterling said.

The group developed a checklist for applicants to fulfill before their panels would be approved, such as having the edges of the panels line up, having a maximum panel height of less than 18 inches and having anti-reflective coating on the panels.

The board asked about preserving the aesthetics of historic houses that don’t have an asphalt street-facing roof. Sterling said those residents would need to go directly before the BAR for their solar panel application approvals.

“This is an extremely conservative checklist,” she said.

If a resident’s panels don’t meet the checklist expectations, that applicant will be referred to the BAR.

Under the revised code, residents will submit their applications to the building department And the new checklist will be an administrative section that village staff may change when needed.

Considering concerns about the board not having control over the checklist, Sterling said she is confident the changes would reflect needs as solar energy technology evolves and changes.

With that, the trustees voted 6 to 1, with Trustee Justin Arest dissenting, to change the law.

Arest said he supports alternative energy solutions, but he wasn’t happy with the process of how the proposition was brought to a vote.

“I’m concerned and disappointed by what happened here tonight,” Arest said. “It’s hard for me because I try to stand for process, regardless of whether I agree with [the proposed law] or not.”

A few residents at the hearing said they disagreed with the code change altogether.

BAR member Sabine Bochner said she has heard from residents who don’t want to see solar panels.

“I think we can consider the aesthetics and consider the panels,” she said.

Sterling wasn’t sure the trustees would vote on the proposition at that meeting, so the unexpected outcome was a step toward change in Scarsdale as well as other parts of the county, she said.

“Many municipalities in Westchester already have this streamlined process in place,” she said. “I feel like we caught up.”

Information about the checklist can be found within the board of trustees’ March 12 agenda on scarsdale.com.

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