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Flower Mound considers new solar regulations

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The Town of Flower Mound is struggling to make a decision about how it’s going to support “green” energy alternatives, or not.

The May 12 Planning & Zoning Commission public meeting was to consider adding new regulations for the construction, use, maintenance and abandonment of solar energy systems.

A staff presentation by Town Planner Chuck Russell outlined guidelines, following previous workshops about solar energy held in November 2013 and March of this year. The proposed standards outlined specifics for size, height, location, roof set-back, screening, installation, code compliance, maintenance and nuisance abatement.

Concerns have been expressed by Flower Mound residents about the impact of solar panel systems installed on single family home roofs and in backyards on ground mounted arrays, according to Russell. Concerns include the appearance and size of the systems as they are viewed from neighboring properties.

Russell said that the proposed guidelines were partially based on the reviews of such benchmark communities as Southlake, Carrollton and Allen. Also considered were the standards for wind-power. The most restrictive standards were presented as a starting point for public response.

The presentation created more questions than answers, even from the P&Z commissioners. The strongest objections to the guidelines the town staff presented dealt with the minimum lot size and height restrictions for ground-mounted panels, the restriction for street-facing roof-mounted panels and limitations on the amount of energy generated.

Since 2009, 22 homes in Flower Mound have installed solar panels; 21 roof-mounted only, one with both roof- and ground-mounted panels. The recent advances in solar technologies and financial rebates from the federal government are certain to generate more interest in the future of residential solar energy.

Every four minutes, a small business or homeowner is going solar, according to Cyrus Wadia of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“What’s missing are ‘guiding principles’ on whether Flower Mound is going to be proactive for solar and ‘green’ energy like Denton, Austin and San Antonio,” said resident Mary Strickland.

A number of North Texas solar-related professionals also attended the meeting, including Texas Solar Energy Society Board Member Larry Howe of Plano and James Orenstein of Argyle. He spoke about assistance on zoning regulations through the Solar Ready II Program, which is part of the SunShot Initiative under the U.S. Department of Energy.

Chairman of the North Texas Chapter of the Solar Energy Society, Jim Duncan of Azle spoke about a 2011 report on residential property valuation in California, the state with the highest solar power residential usage, which showed that homes with solar energy arrays had a higher comparative resale value than non-solar homes. In addition, California regulations now state that new homes must offer a solar option.

Joseph Willix, president of SWG Energy in Dallas, spoke about current solar technology and addressed various concerns, including a question about glare from solar panels affecting flights from DFW International Airport.

“Solar panels use anti-reflective glass, so there’s no ‘glare-factor’ around airports,” said Willix. “In fact, Nellis Air Force Base [in southern Nevada] has one of the largest solar arrays in the world. Also, large airports such as Denver, Indianapolis and San Diego, among others, all have arrays; glare is not an issue.”

Denton resident Richard Gladden lives on West Oak in the city’s historic district. The Denton City Council recently voted unanimously to overturn a denial for solar-panel installation on his roof.

“Oak Street is a one-way street and– unless a driver looks back, or drives the wrong way– that side of my roof can’t be seen,” said Gladden. “It’s not like hanging dirty laundry on a line up there. In the 1950’s, people started putting TV-antennas on their roofs and, as a cell-phone user, I’d like not to see telephone poles and wires all over; things change.”

Public information opportunities to learn about current and future alternative energy technologies and rebates would allow town residents to base their opinions on facts. It was suggested that a town-wide survey should be conducted for citizen direction about residential solar usage.

“The town is participating with the Council of Governments on things like this [alternative energy guidelines],” said Flower Mound Town Manager Jimmy Strathatos. “One of our main goals is to ensure safety standards for the installation of solar panels. Beyond that, it’s not certain anything further will be adopted.”

Guidelines for any community are set, not for the majority of citizens who are considerate of others, but for those who “push the envelope” on either end of an issue.

“What I hope to see are guidelines that provide the residents of Flower Mound the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of solar power, without creating a nuisance to their neighbors, or jeopardizing surrounding property values,” said Planning & Zoning Commissioner David Johnson.

Residents who live in HOA-affiliated developments will continue to follow the restrictions outlined in the covenants they signed when they moved to that neighborhood, as long as those standards are within the town’s guidelines.

The P&Z Commissioners tabled any action on the amendment until an updated staff presentation at the June 23 public meeting.

 

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