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Proposed ordinance permits ground-mounted solar arrays in all zoning districts

In residential districts, arrays would be regulated in same way as garages and sheds

January 11, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — After months of debating how to regulate ground-mounted solar systems in Hagerstown, city officials found a middle ground Tuesday.

The city council will vote to introduce a proposed ordinance on Jan. 25 that would permit ground-mounted solar arrays in all zoning districts.

In residential districts, the arrays would be allowed as accessory uses limited to 900 square-feet of coverage, with a 10-foot height maximum that meets all setback requirements.

That treatment matches how the city currently regulates sheds and garages, according to city documents.

City Planning Director Kathy Maher said ground-mounted solar in residential districts was the only sticking point in the proposed ordinance.

Planning staffers drafted the ordinance so the city would have regulations in place before residents and businesses began installing alternative energy generators.

In addition to solar arrays, the proposed ordinance would provide regulation for wind generators.

Despite its general support for the spirit of the proposal, the council disagreed with city staff and the planning commission about where to allow ground-mounted solar systems.

Initially, the planning commission recommended only allowing building-mounted solar systems in residential districts, arguing that ground-mounted solar systems were not appropriate for the zoning.

Previously, Maher said city officials had been advised that building-mounted systems were the most cost effective and practical solar power solution for a home.

The council asked city staff in November to revise the proposed ordinance to allow residents the option of installing ground-mounted solar, within reasonable limits.

On Tuesday, the council offered very little additional discussion on the issue.

Councilman Forrest W. Easton said he felt the solution proposed by the staff was "a great compromise."  Councilman Lewis C. Metzner agreed.

Easton, however, questioned if the proposed ordinance gave residents an adequate avenue for appeal.

Maher said the proposal would allow residents to take issues involving wind generators to the Board of Zoning Appeals and that the staff could expand that to include solar generators.

Once adopted, the proposed ordinance could still be amended, Maher said.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood suggested that, after the ordinance is in place, a discussion could be started to educate the city Historic District Commission on how it would affect historic properties.

The council will vote on introduction during its 7 p.m. meeting on Jan. 25.

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