ROBERT ALLEN
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May 31, 2010
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Blue River resident challenges town's solar policy, philosophy

BLUE RIVER - A Blue River property manager is challenging the town government's denial of a residential solar-panel application based on appearance.

Michele Tonti had planned to install a pole-mounted, 16-foot by 16-foot photovoltaic panel outside a property her company manages along Highway 9. When the town turned down the proposal earlier this year, she filed a lawsuit.

Town trustees said the installation, which would be mounted to stand nearly 20 feet tall, was in contradiction with town architectural guidelines, out of proportion with the home and not "aesthetically pleasing," according to a court filing by town attorney John Dunn.

Tonti said the alternative would involve installing fewer panels on the home's roof and cutting a stand of mature spruce trees.

"Aesthetics is a pretty vague reason," she said of the town denying her project, "especially when you look at the Dumpsters on Highway 9."

The one-story, 1,096 square foot home at 0034 97 Circle is next to the highway.

As for the lawsuit's status, Dunn said the town filed a brief last week, and the plaintiff has 15 days to reply to that answer, "then it will be ripe for decisions by the judge."

Town Trustee Rob Theobald said the panels would be "taller than the house" and "bigger than the roof with the house. It's the vertical projection of a two-car garage on a pole," according to Dunn's filing.

Town officials also have concerns that the array could interfere with traffic on the winding, two-lane highway.

Sean McPherson, project manager with Innovative Energy - the Breckenridge company Tonti selected to install the panels - said the 3.5 kilowatt installation was planned to be ground-mounted for the highest efficiency.

"It was the highest capacity and smallest footprint possible," he said.

He also said the panels were planned to be installed on an 8-foot mount - totaling the height near 20 feet - because if it were any lower, a fence would be necessary to keep out vandals. The height would also help keep snow off the panels.

"The position we chose is within all the setbacks. Nothing about it is outside of the town code, as far as how it's written," he said. "It depends how you interpret it."

State legislation approved in 2008, to prevent unreasonable restrictions from solar-panel installations, has been used to prevent homeowner's associations from prohibiting the panels. The town attorney's filing argues that the town's restrictions are reasonable, and that the plaintiff hasn't shown that alternative locations on the property would be more expensive and less efficient.

McPherson said Innovative Energy installed about six pole-mounted solar panel applications in Summit County last year.

"The real thing is that Blue River is not traditionally a sunny place," he said. "There are very few properties to begin with, that have any solar access on roofs or even the possibility for ground mounted."

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.


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The Summit Daily Updated Jun 1, 2010 06:01PM Published May 31, 2010 06:49PM Copyright 2010 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.