Sunny side up: Proposed Allen Land Development Code amendments to include solar panels
One minute after the polls closed on Election Day, Chairman Robert Wendlund called the Nov. 6 Allen Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to order. Two minutes after that, he turned the agenda upside down.
The land development code was the reason for the change.
"It is our custom and certainly with the support of our fine staff to revisit the Allen Land Development Code [ALDC] on a semi-regular basis," Wendlund said, "to address those matters that need to be addressed as circumstances change or new improvements in planning and other matters arise."
Proposed amendments to the ALDC include outdoor lighting, residential driveway access, front yard patios, driveway cuts, street lights, a simplified fees structure, and adding a new section regulating solar panel installations.
"Currently in the land development code there is no mention of solar panels - it's not addressed at all," said Lee Battle, assistant director of community development. "It wasn't contemplated when this code was written 10 years ago, so there is no guidance.
"What we need to do is put some regulations in place to make sure installations are, first of all, safe ... but also mitigate any potential impacts that these installations may have on adjacent properties."
Some of the requirements are that the solar panels may be installed in any zoning district but on rooftops only, and they must be inset at least 2 feet from all roof edges. Residential systems cannot face the street; commercial, flat-roof installations must include screening walls around the panels.
In all cases, the regulations stipulate that the systems must be installed by licensed technicians and cannot be free-standing structures easily accessible by people or pets.
"We are dealing with electrical generation," Battle said, "and we do know that even if the solar panel system is completely disconnected from the grid, it's still generating electricity and it does have the potential to be an electrical hazard, and there are stories out there of people being electrocuted from disconnected solar panels."
Jeff Cocking, vice chairman, wanted to consider possible future provisions for "ground-based installations" as well as for solar shingles.
"Especially potentially for front-end use, because a lot of properties don't have front use, and the new solar shingles ... they just look like shingles, and they're not the gigantic boxes of electronics we normally think of when we think of solar cells," he said.
Other items on the night's agenda - the ones moved to the top - included public hearings to consider requests for: a residential replat for Cumberland Crossing Phase 4; a preliminary plat for Cumberland Crossing Phase 5; amending the concept plan and development regulations for the Villas at Cottonwood Creek, Phase 2; and a specific use permit.
That SUP request, for Allen Assisted Living, is identical to one approved in November 2010 and will be considered at a public hearing at the Nov. 27 Allen City Council meeting. The board also voted unanimously to recommend approval and send the proposed ALDC amendments forward to the same meeting.
"We consider the land development code to be somewhat of a working document," Battle said. "There are always situations that arise that cause us to need to re-evaluate the code and take a look at things. Sometimes it's new technologies that come forth that we need to accommodate. Sometimes it's just changes in the market and development trends that we need to make sure are addressed. So we're always trying to make the code better, [by] bringing forth various amendments in an effort to do that."
May be installed in any zoning district
Rooftops only; cannot face street
Cannot be free-standing
All wiring done by licensed electrician
Weight, wind load taken into consideration
Nuisance prevention measures included