Riverside law encourages solar panels for homes

Now could be allowed on front and sides of residences

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By BOB UPHUES

Riverside's village board on May 21 expanded the ability of residents to mount solar panels on their homes, voting 6 to 0 to amend the old law, which allowed solar panels only if they couldn't been seen from the street.

The intent of the law is "to encourage the responsible development, installation and construction of solar energy systems within the village," according to the ordinance.

The final draft of the law is the result of months of back-and-forth between the Plan Commission, which drafted the legislation and the village board. The version of the law passed on May 21 is the result of amendments made by the Plan Commission upon the recommendations of the village board, which suggested tighter controls for solar panels in some cases, back in November.

"We tried to strike a balance," Paul Sterner, a member of the Plan Commission told trustees on May 21.

Residents now have the ability to mount solar panels on the front or sides of their homes or to any other accessory structure, like a garage, where they can be seen from the street.

In fact, according to Riverside's building director, Bob Caraher, there's already a solar panel installation moving forward because of the new law. A resident on Addison wanted to put a solar panel atop his detached garage, but previously couldn't because the panels could be seen from the street down the driveway.

Now the solar panels can be placed on the garage as long as they conform to the other regulations in the code.

If a homeowner wishes to place solar panels on the front or side of his residence, however, he'll have to jump through a few hoops before that can happen.

Unlike rear-mounted or ground-mounted systems, solar panels placed on the front or sides of residences must receive the approval of the village board via the Plan Commission's special use process.

Getting special use approval is not necessarily easy or cheap. The hearing process costs $1,000 and the plan has to be recommended by the Plan Commission and then officially approved by the village's Board of Trustees, a process that can take months.

The intent of the legislation is to allow solar panels on the front and sides of residences, but to steer homeowners to solutions that appear more organic and not simply tacked on to the home.

When the village board discussed such a procedure in November 2011, some trustees felt like requiring the special use process might seem like legislating aesthetics. However, that debate was not resurrected on May 21.

"[The Plan Commission] really struggled to find a compromise," said Trustee Ben Sells, who had previously worried about the prospect of the special use process being used as an aesthetic review.

With regard to homes that are local or national landmarks, installation of solar panels would still be subject to the village's laws regarding changes to historic structures. Any changes to such structures must receive approval of the village's Preservation Commission.

While a handful of residents voiced support for the new law, not everyone did so. Riverside resident Nick Cariello continued to vociferously oppose the provision allowing solar panels to be seen from the public right of way, claiming that property values would drop if they're allowed.

But Scott Jansen, Riverside resident and pastor of Riverside Presbyterian Church, came down on the side of the village, saying the time had come for encouraging the use of solar panels.

"Value is in the eye of the beholder," said Jansen in reference to Cariello's comments.

"Values shift from generation to generation. ... I think that for many people, seeing that the neighbors care about the environment makes the property more valuable. Maybe some people are more likely to want to move to that place that prizes [the environment] and maybe generationally Riverside is getting ahead of that curve."

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