The village of Riverside could soon allow solar panels to be mounted on roofs, regardless of whether or not they are visible from the street and on separate structures in backyards.
Trustees, at a series of village board meetings in recent months, have been batting around proposed changes to the current code, which restricts solar panels from being placed on roofs, at the same angle of the roof and without being seen from the street.
However, whether solar panels would be allowed on building faades or in the form of window awnings is still up for debate. On Nov. 7, trustees kicked a proposed ordinance to regulate solar panels back to the Riverside Plan Commission, which has been crafting the new law for the past six months.
The commission is expected to rewrite the section of the new ordinance that allows faade-mounted solar panels and solar panels used as awnings after some village trustees expressed reservations about those kinds of uses.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine suggested that if the village were to allow faade-mounted or awning-style solar panels or ground-mounted solar panel systems, it would do so only through a special use process, which would entail additional costs and public hearings for homeowners wanting to do so.
“I would rather see the ancillary structures and faades done under a special use and separate it differently than roof-mounted systems,” Ballerine said.
Trustee Lonnie Sacchi also expressed ambivalence about faade-mounted solar systems, except if the system were integrated into new construction as an integral part of the building’s design.
“These things are big,” Sacchi said. “To me, to put an ugly doorbell on the front of your house isn’t something you want to regulate, but to put a 300-square-foot solar array on the front faade of the house is something I have a real hard time with, unless it was an integrated system.”
But that view drew flak from trustees Ben Sells and Jean Sussman, who said that sounded an awful lot like trying to legislate aesthetics, something the village doesn’t generally do. The village can’t tell you what color to paint your house or what style of awning to use.
“These are essentially aesthetic, personal taste issues,” Sells said. “And there’s no way I can imagine you could put something like that in the ordinance. … Just because you have a problem with it from an aesthetic standpoint isn’t to me sufficient reason to not allow a homeowner to pursue this technology.
“There’s no way of getting around the fact that what you all are trying to do is imposing your aesthetic viewpoint in a legal setting.”
For Trustee Mark Shevitz, the question came down to simply whether solar panels should be treated any differently from other building features, such as skylights.
“You get into, ‘Well we’ll let you put a skylight here because a skylight looks good,'” Shevitz observed, “but are we letting people do something with solar panels that they couldn’t do with anything else? If not, then in my mind there’s not a lot to discuss.”
While the new law would allow solar panels on street-facing roofs, it would not supersede laws already on the books regarding changes to structures designated local or national landmarks.
Any work done to the exterior of a landmarked home in Riverside must receive approval, in the form of a certificate of appropriateness, from the Riverside Preservation Commission.