Saratoga County

Ballston Town Board to debate cap on solar displays

After months of debate, the Town Board will hold a public hearing next week on restricting some sola

After months of debate, the Town Board will hold a public hearing next week on restricting some solar panel displays.

The town’s proposed Solar Collection Code is up for a public hearing at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, before the 7:30 p.m. Town Board agenda meeting.

The board is expected to vote on the measure at the following meeting, Aug. 7.

While roof- and building-mounted solar panels would still be allowed with a building permit and some height restrictions, ground-mounted arrays couldn’t be installed in a front yard and would require a special permit if they’re more than 10 feet tall.

That permitting process requires neighbor notification and approval of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Currently, solar panels mounted on poles sticking out of the ground are treated like a shed or other accessory structure — they can be built with a simple building permit as long as they’re less than 40 feet tall, at least 50 feet from the front property line and at least 15 feet from the side and rear property lines.

The legislation was proposed after some residents in the Seelye Estates West housing development off Blue Barns Road were unhappy last fall that they didn’t get a chance to be informed of and comment publicly on six pole-mounted solar panels that went up in their neighbor’s side yard at 44 Long Creek Drive.

The panels stand nearly 14 feet high.

Brian and Christa Haines said they installed the panels to cut their electricity bill to virtually zero, and they were baffled at the neighbors’ reaction.

In March, 30 of the residents filed a lawsuit against the couple in state Supreme Court in Saratoga County, contending that the panels violate the development’s deed restrictions.

Judge Stephen Ferradino ruled against them June 12, saying that because the deed restrictions didn’t specify that solar panels or solar collectors were banned, owners have the right to have solar panels.

The 30 residents appealed that decision July 9 to the court’s Appellate Division, Third Department.

Nearby Clifton Park had a similar situation last year with a family installing a large, free-standing solar display and neighbors complaining about it. That town amended its zoning law to require pole-mounted displays to get a special use permit.

Seelye Estates resident Lisa Doan is glad there’s finally going to be a law in place, but thinks Ballston should have moved faster than the eight months it’s been since the residents first complained about the solar panels.

“It’s just so irresponsible to let these things go on and on,” she said.

Councilman Bill Goslin said to his knowledge, no one else erected residential solar panels in town in the meantime, so the delay didn’t harm any other neighbors.

“I think it did take longer than anyone had expected,” he said, but added he’s satisfied with the outcome.

Town Supervisor Patti Southworth isn’t. She thinks Ballston’s proposed law sends government’s reach too far into homeowners’ personal business.

“I don’t think we should be regulating solar energy,” she said.

Also, she said, solar experts met with town officials as they were drawing up the proposal and said putting solar panels on shorter pedestals would limit the benefits for property owners.

“They were cautioning us against doing that,” Southworth said.

She said as it’s written now, she’s likely to vote against the legislation.

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