Since solar panels have been steadily popping up on both commercial and residential properties in Montgomery recently, the township committee, Planning Board and Zoning Board have devised an ordinance to better control the use of these alternative energy sources.
The issue initially arose because all and any wind, solar, or photovoltaic energy systems were considered as regular land accessories and were treated with the same zoning rules as swimming pools, detached sheds, or any other land accessories that residents in Montgomery wanted to add or build on their properties, officials said.
Township Planner Rich Coppola and Planning Director Lori Savron were both present at the meeting to explain the ordinance and discuss any issues or concerns that the committee had.
Since the new ordinance is essentially tweaking the original ordinance they had in place to incorporate some new provisions, Savron explained the minor differences and how they’ll help the committee, Planning Board and Zoning Board govern the implementation of any future energy sources in Montgomery.
“Right now, any resident in Montgomery that wants to put a ground array in their yard or on their roof has to come for a building permit and go through zoning. That’s already taking place,” Savron said. “The issue that we have with some of them is there are no specific provisions for solar panels, and what we found was the height was pretty high – we have a 25-foot height regulation for accessory structures – so by having regulations, they still come in for an accessory building permit and the review is the same, but we now have specific regulations that will protect the neighbors with setback requirements.”
Although the township hasn’t run into any serious problems with residents or businesses regarding these energy sources, the Committee, Zoning Board, and Planning Board wanted to tweak the existing ordinance so that these sources would have to be more than just “inherently beneficial,” which is the only regulation and state-mandated law that the current municipal land use law in Montgomery encompasses in regard to these energy systems.
Coppola further explained that the existing ordinance defines “inherently beneficial” to include all schools and hospitals, but now will add all energy facilities so that the same rules that apply to schools and hospitals will apply to all of these energy sources.
“With this ordinance, it becomes a much higher hurdle to prove to a Board that they (an applicant) are not violating the zone plan that you already have,” Coppola said. “That’s a big thing, and I think it will strengthen your ability at every level – planning or zoning – to protect the laws.”
The ordinance will also include enhanced standards and specific guidelines for solar panels, including the new provision to have them located 40 feet from the applicant’s property line instead of 15 feet like the existing ordinance states, according to Savron.
“Not only are the panels on the roof, but there is equipment that’ll be on the ground, so the ordinance pays attention to the equipment,” she said. “We consulted with your landscape architect and had those provisions in the ordinance as well, which will include making sure they’re screened, where they can be located (not right in the front yard), and those kinds of things.”
After going through six drafts and gaining approval from several town committees including the Open Space Committee, Shade Tree Committee, and Historic Committee, the ordinance was officially adopted.