Pitkin County solar regs ready for P&Z review
ASPEN – New regulations that slightly boost the allowed height of ground-based solar panels in unincorporated Pitkin County – part of a comprehensive set of proposed land-use rules to govern efforts by property owners to tap the sun’s energy – will see the light Tuesday.The county Planning and Zoning Commission will take up the code amendments, which have been in the works since late last year, when county commissioners shot down a proposal to up the height limit for free-standing solar panels from 10 feet to 16 feet.Commissioners split 2-2 on the height issue last December, with Commissioner Rachel Richards absent. Staffers were directed to address the matter as part of a broader set of code amendments regarding the size and placement of solar panels.The proposed regulations allow ground-mounted panels to reach 12 feet in height, a slight boost from the current 10-foot limit to accommodate the accumulation of snow below the panels. The rules would also require earth-tone colors for poles and other items associated with the panels.Glare, an issue that Commissioners Jack Hatfield and George Newman both wanted addressed in the code amendments, could require mitigation under the proposed new rules.”That’s a really tough one to deal with,” said Mike Kraemer, planner with the county’s Community Development Department. “We obviously understand that glare is an impact with solar.”The county has been advised it cannot simply reject solar installations over the glare issue, he said. Instead, the starting point for discussion of the issue is a brief provision in the proposed code amendments that reads: “Glare shall not be an unjustified off-site impact to the surrounding area. If glare creates an unreasonable off-site impact, vegetative screening or repositioning of the panels may be required to mitigate that impact.”The proposed rules for roof-mounted systems allow the panels to be raised up to 4 feet above the height of the roof but they aren’t to protrude above the ridge of the roof or a ridgeline.Roof-mounted panels of less than 400 square feet would need a zoning officer’s review; systems of more than 400 square feet would trigger notification to other property owners within 300 feet of the property where the panels are proposed. A P&Z review would result if someone objects to the installation.Neighboring property owners would also be notified when a ground-based solar system is proposed.The proposed regulations also address neighborhood and commercial solar farms, in which the panels are the primary use of a property. A solar installation serving a neighborhood or subdivision would require a one-step review by the P&Z, while a commercial solar farm would get review before both the P&Z and county commissioners. Kraemer said he isn’t sure where cooperative solar farms – commercial ventures that let homeowners buy into an off-site solar array – would fall under the code.Annual reports would be required of solar farms, detailing their power input, complaints and praise regarding their operation, and other pertinent information, according to the proposed code amendments.The P&Z is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Plaza One meeting room, located in the courthouse annex firstname.lastname@example.org
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