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Residents weigh in on solar panel issue

Woodbury Planning Commission members Frederick Gillespie and Nancy Remakel heard feedback from residents Monday on a possible provision of the city's draft alternative energy ordinance that would block homeowners' associations from prohibiting solar panel installations on homes.

One sentence buried in a three-page legal opinion relieved some Woodbury residents who were worried an alternative energy ordinance will limit their homeowners' association rights.

An attorney told city planners that a section of their proposed ordinance blocking homeowners' associations from prohibiting the installation of solar-energy systems cannot apply to existing associations. It only can apply to future associations or additions within existing associations.

"It is our opinion that the city does not have the authority to retroactively amend what are, in essence, contractual documents between homeowners..." city attorney Mark Vierling wrote in a letter released Monday.

That change preserves existing associations' ability to set their own alternative energy use guidelines, said Al Rudnickas, who leads the Wedgewood development homeowners' association.

Rudnickas was among the nearly two-dozen homeowners who showed up for a Monday planning commission hearing concerned about how the ordinance could affect their associations.

"They got here and realized, 'false alarm,'" said James Dailey, an Evergreen Countryhomes Association resident and solar-power advocate. He urged commissioners to remove the solar-energy provision from the ordinance, but advised associations to continue exploring the issue because the use of solar energy systems in homeowners' association developments could be spelled out in a future state law.

There still is a need for a solar energy provision in the local ordinance because Woodbury is not yet fully developed, Woodbury senior planner Melissa Douglas said. Only 60 percent of Woodbury is developed and most of the future development will be residential.

Plus, she said, the proposed ordinance would apply to the 30 percent of Woodbury households that are not in a homeowners' association and any future residential association development.

The city's draft ordinance is based on Arizona solar-rights laws, Douglas said. Twenty states have adopted similar statutory language.

The planning commission is expected to complete the draft alternative energy ordinance by Sept. 21. Creation of the ordinance started after School District 833 expressed interest in constructing a wind turbine at East Ridge High School. The use of solar-energy systems in homeowners' associations arose in a June community hearing and planning commissioners wanted more public input.

Planning officials are grappling with how to abide by the city's pledge to promote alternative energy development and recognize associations' covenants guiding land and property use.

"We really are trying to promote alternative energy and not to inconvenience anyone else in the process of doing that," Woodbury Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Remakel said.

That balance still concerns Rudnickas, who said he is worried that the ordinance could make it difficult for existing homeowners' associations to govern the placement and appearance of energy systems.

"I think there's a way to give people what they may want to have," Rudnickas said of alternative-energy proponents, "and address the concerns about how it's