Thirty people have sued a neighbor who installed large free-standing solar panels in a high-end housing development.
The residents filed suit March 9 in state Supreme Court in Saratoga County, alleging that Brian and Christa Haines’ solar installation violates the subdivision’s deed restrictions and reduces their property values.
The deed restrictions don’t specify solar panels, but do prohibit recreational vehicles, garbage cans, propane tanks and construction materials from being stored in the front or side yards. Also, prefabricated storage sheds are banned and automobiles may not be stored on the properties.
The court complaint seeks to classify the solar panels under the construction material restriction, said Charles Harding, a Niskayuna attorney representing the residents, who own 17 homes in the Seelye Estates West development off Blue Barns Road.
“It certainly violates the intent of those restrictions,” Harding said. “It … has upset everybody in the neighborhood.
“I don’t think anybody ever anticipated this particular event,” he said.
The suit also says homeowners have lost 10 percent of their property values because of the panels.
One man who recently sold his house was directly affected by the green-energy installation, Harding said.
“The real estate broker told him that he lost $25,000 from the sale.”
Residents seek a court injunction to remove the panels from the side yard, and want relief from any drop in their home values.
The residents who filed the lawsuit are Gary and Josephine Faler, Robert and Christine Marro, John and Rita James, Richard and Lorraine DePuy, John Kempf, Kevin and Nancy Radigan, Kevin and Ellen Boyle, John and Holly Rogers, Susan Sweeney, Michael and Julie Prezioso, James and Lisa Doan, Ivan Darryl and Annette Botsford, Daniel and Carolyn Walsh, David Albright, Richard and Lori Litwa, Marc Stofle, and Richard and Jessica Rzeszotarski.
The Haines erected six pole-mounted solar panel installations in their side yard at 44 Long Creek Drive in October.
Brian Haines said he informally mentioned it to some neighbors at a party before doing the project, and they seemed interested and had no objection.
But after the panels were installed, several people complained to the Town Board, compiling a 73-signature petition with people concerned about the way they looked, and asking the town to consider banning or restricting pole-mounted solar panels.
Haines was shocked that people had such a strong reaction to the panels, which he said will save his household 100 percent of the power bill for lights, computers, TVs and the furnace fan.
The six installations are each made up of 10 smaller panels connected. Assembled, each of the six pole-mounted large panels stand nearly 14 feet high.
Pole-mounted panels are more obtrusive than panels attached to buildings and roofs, but they can capture more sunlight by tilting more than the other type.
Currently, the panels are treated as an accessory structure, like a shed, and in most cases require a building permit from town staff but no review by the town zoning or planning boards.
The Town Board in January considered enacting a moratorium on pole-mounted displays while officials considered changing the town’s code, but then decided against the moratorium.
Residents also complained to the town about the deed restrictions, but town officials said the town doesn’t enforce deed restrictions, and the only way to resolve issues with them is through the courts.
Clifton Park had a similar situation about a year ago with a large free-standing solar display on a residential property. The town then amended its zoning law requiring such pole-mounted displays to get a special use permit.