BY FREDA MIKLIN
Last January, a GV couple complained to City Councilmember Dave Bullock about the appearance of a neighbor’s large ground-mounted solar array that was installed with a proper city-issued permit that did not require it to be screened from neighbors’ views. At Bullock’s request, the GV council began discussing and debating what they could do to satisfy the concerns of the unhappy resident. That residents attended a city council meeting earlier this summer, where The Villager asked her if she had ever discussed her concerns with the neighbor who had installed the solar panels. She had not.
Discussions at city council study sessions over the past months first focused on how might limit the size and height of ground-mounted solar installations. Unable to make a decision, in June the council passed a three-month moratorium on issuing permits for new so- lar arrays. Despite
numerous attempts to settle on a pol- icy, when the moratorium expired in September, no decision had been reached. Based on the one-hour discussion held at GV’s study session on September 13, it now appears likely this the council will not finalize an ordinance about this issue before the November 2 election.
Bullock shared at the September 13 session that he did not think GV residents were concerned about this issue because, “Out of 1,300 homes in our district, if this were really a contentious issue… I would have gotten a flood of letters and I did not.” Councilmember Anne Ingebretsen responded, “I’ve gotten a whole lot of comments. A lot of people want to know what we’re doing. There’s a lot of concern.” Bullock asked Ingebretsen to “define what a lot means.” Ingebretsen said, “I’m not going to give numbers, Dave. I’ve been on this council a long time (12 years). I know when people are upset. They’re up- set.” Bullock then criticized an article on the subject that appeared in the Denver Post that day, saying it was inaccurate.
Next, Councilmember Dave Kerber, who like Ingebretsen, represents GV district two, said, “People are upset. They’re upset about something that isn’t an issue. They’re upset that we hate solar. That’s just not true.” Ingebretsen begged to differ, saying, They don’t think we hate solar. They
think we’re trying to limit solar. There’s a difference. I haven’t had any- body say we hate solar.” Kerber retorted, “Well, I have.”
Along with size and height restrictions, the council had discussed the possibility of requiring screening of solar arrays, then got bogged down in the amount of screening they would require. At the September 13 study session, the council looked at renderings of what the staff said constituted various percentages of screening of solar arrays but they could not agree on what would be the right percentage.
Then individual council members had their say. Tom Dougherty pointed out that it’s impossible to measure the percentage that landscaping screens an object. Kerber wanted to know how the screening landscaping would look from different floors of adjacent homes. Donna Johnston questioned what would happen if trees planted to create screening subsequently died. Judy Hilton said, about one of the definitions of screening presented by staff, “I just think that there’s too many words in here,” and to Bullock, she said, “I don’t share your opinion about having percentages. I think it’s too arbitrary.” Libby Barnacle asked the staff to address the difference between the terms adjacent property, adjoining property and neighboring property.
After listening to all the back and forth, the city attorney proposed the language that ground-mounted solar arrays “must be screened with dense landscaping plantings of sufficient height and mass to effectively conceal the solar energy system from adjacent properties.” It seemed that
the council had finally found an answer on which it could agree.
Then Mayor Lantz asked, “Do we need staff to give us some additional information like what this definition that (the city attorney) just came up with…what would it look like?” Bullock responded, “Let’s do a little more home- work cause we’re not in a hurry to get this done. We want to get it
right as opposed to just getting it done.”
Before they could move on, Ingebretsen and Dougherty both made it clear that they did not agree with the term “effectively conceal” in the city attorney’s proposal because it implied 100 percent screening and they both favored the lesser standard of “reasonable screening.” Kerber
disagreed, saying that he was against the concept of reasonable screening because, “Everybody’s got a different view of reasonable,” thus “A reasonable standard is no standard at all. It’s arbitrary.”
Then Jerry Presley informed his fellow council members that, “The word reasonable or reasonably appears in our municipal ordinances, in our municipal code, 155 times. I don’t think that we’re at risk by having the staff make the determination of what reason- able is.” That did
not sway Kerber or Bullock who made it clear that they did not trust the staff to determine what was reasonable.
Next, Hilton asked the city attorney and the community development director to “see where that term is used in (155) other instances where there might be applicability to this issue and see if that would help us with a little bit more wordsmithing of the language.”
At that point, Mayor Lantz stated that another study session would have to be scheduled when there was available time to do so. The city manager said more work needed to be done by the staff to come up with a definition of screening ground mounted solar arrays “somewhere above reasonable, yet beneath completely, centered on mostly.” While that statement got laughs from the council members, it accurately described the circular discussions that had been going on for nine full months without the council coming up with an answer to a question that every other jurisdiction that GV staff had researched (Littleton, Lone Tree, Cherry Hills Village, Englewood, Aurora, Castle Rock, Parker, Thornton, Westminster and Denver), did not even believe need to be addressed. None of those cities require any screening of ground-mounted solar arrays. Given the city council meeting calendar between September 13 and the November 2 election, it is extremely unlikely that this council will pass
any law or rule concerning ground-mounted solar arrays before six of the eight incumbents face the voters.
The actions of the council in that study session, combined with prior discussions over the previous eight months, drew comments from four citizens at the start of the regular meeting. None were complimentary. Here are excerpts from three of them.
Roger Freeman, chair of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association (COSSA), said, “I appreciate that staff is focused on the reasonable screening issue…But I want to emphasize that no one else… is regulating this issue… It just seems like a solution without a problem. I don’t know why you didn’t get your neighbors together to go over what you just reviewed in the study session, what makes sense, what’s feasible. Had you done this, I’m not sure you’d need to go through this divisive, time-consuming process and you might be able to table it altogether. If you still want to proceed with reasonable screening, we understand that, but the height restrictions and the size restrictions are inappropriate. They don’t fit solar and they certainly don’t account for the future. I look around this room and we are getting older, but our youth, the folks in this community and in this state are incredibly concerned about climate and they overwhelmingly support solar. They want to have the opportunity to add electric cars. All the big companies are increasingly focused on electric vehicles and we need the opportunity for the size of solar to match what’s needed in the future as we power electric cars… (Our youth) are vitally concerned not with the types of issues you’ve been debating but with electric vehicles, charging stations, providing more solar and storage. I encourage you to reach out to your community. Talk to the youth and ask them, do they want to see you spend all your time debating how many trees fit into what corner or do they want you to come up with programs for more solar and storage? The future of solar is here and the more you support it the more this community will prosper.”
Margaret Griffes, longtime GV resident of city council district two, said she had listened to the study session discussion and, “I am very concerned. Solar is part of the utility and function of a building system and as such needs to be designed… to attain the best performance outcomes for each individual home, same as gas, electric, water, etc. Only professionals with qualifications should be making these decisions…There is no one-size-fits-all as I think you all have been struggling with. Requiring trees or other long-term options could have an unintended consequence. Technology is changing so fast… Do any of you remember solar dishes?” Noting that current solar panels might be obsolete in 20 years, Griffes pointed out that, “Then these trees that were planted might become undesirable shade on both owners’ and neighbors’ lots… This ordinance is a significant step which goes against current and future residents who are planning to adopt the best responsible choice for their homes to be energy efficient, healthy for themselves, community, and the world. We need to face these and focus on the future. This is our legacy. I request you to kill this ordinance and allow the professionals to work on designs about screening and aesthetics case by case. I would like to see the leadership in Greenwood Village put the green in Greenwood Village.”
Next to speak was Bob Doyle, another longtime resident of city council district two, who talked about the much-discussed topic of reasonableness, asking, “Why is it that until now reasonable screening has been a good standard for everything else? Solar comes along and now it’s not effective, it’s not sufficient. Screening is really about interrupting the view. It’s not about blocking the view.” He ended his remarks by pointing out that, “Council has continued to make the statement that they support solar. I believe that in a way you do. But the fact is this council has done nothing to support solar. I can’t see a single thing that you’ve done to encourage people to use solar on homes in Greenwood Village. In fact, when faced with that opportunity here at City Hall or at the new Public Works building, you dismissed it.