Belmont’s planning officials and staff said they are well on their way in writing a groundbreaking alternative energy bylaw placing minor restrictions on the installation of solar panels and wind generation units.
To his knowledge, Planning Coordinator Jeffrey Wheeler told the board that no other community in the state has a similar bylaw and only a few have wind energy restrictions.
“We don’t know how far we can push this,” Wheeler said about his initial draft of regulations on the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy at the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 11 in Town Hall.
“We could be the first community to have one,” he said, pointing out that Carlisle has been looking into writing its own bylaw but has not yet adopted it.
Currently, Massachusetts law prohibits communitiues from imposing zoning ordinances that would place "unreasonable limitation" on solar power units. Rather then risk potential legal action by homeowners or companies, communities have been reluctant to establish rules on solar panels.
Yet Wheeler and Planning Board Chairman Sami Baghdady have been working on their draft alternative bylaw that would allow rooftop photovoltaic panels over the expanse of a roof but limit them to no more than three feet above the adjacent roof pitch.
The rules would be somewhat different for freestanding solar arrays that might require special permitting equipment but – even so – could not be placed in front yards and not more than eight feet above the adjacent grade.
Should residents and businesses need relief from those regulations, the Planning Board would allow them to seek a special permit through the Zoning Board of Appeal.
The draft bylaw would also allow a building commissioner to revoke the homeowner's solar permit if it is determined any photovoltaic panel has been "abandoned" for a year or becomes hazardous. The property owner would be responsible to remove the panels.
Planning Board members will review the draft proposal and send their comments to Wheeler leading up to the board’s next meeting on Oct. 25.
The board also plans to hold public hearings on the proposed bylaw, as well as one for wind generation, in early November.