Members of the Breckenridge Planning Commission will be deciding if, when and where to allow solar panels in the historic core of town tonight.
It's one of the first steps in the process of tightening town policies on solar panel installations in downtown Breckenridge, an issue that has sparked controversy among residents in recent years.
"We're trying to balance the issue of the character in the historic district with the use of sustainable resources," planning manager Chris Neubecker said.
The key question before planning commissioners will be whether to allow freestanding solar panel arrays for commercial and residential use in downtown Breckenridge, which are not currently prohibited by the town planning codes.
Current town policies regarding solar panels were put in place several years ago, but town leaders at the time primarily considered the issue of panels being installed on historic homes and didn't go into the question of arrays on or near larger buildings.
"We really thought this through when we did it originally," said planning commissioner Eric Mamula, who was on the town council when the solar panel policies were initially adopted. "But stuff always comes up. We didn't really even think of the larger buildings with flat roofs. There's some new territory we're covering now."
With approval from the planning commission the draft of revised solar panel policies will go before the town council for discussion as a new law.
The proposed policy changes call for flush-mounted solar panels to be allowed on sloped roofs, even if they are visible from a public street or alley. But solar devices on flat roofs and detached stand-alone arrays would be allowed only if they were not visible from nearby streets or alleys.
Town officials say they hope a community solar garden planned for the McCain property north of town will provide an alternative for business owners and residents in downtown Breck who want to use clean energy, but can't get solar panels approved on or near their own property.
"We think that would be a viable option for property owners almost anywhere to buy into solar and renewable energy without having panels on their property," Neubecker said. "That would give them an option to use renewable energy and get credit, but not have any visual impacts on their property."
The solar panel discussion was renewed last fall when the owners of the Lincoln West Mall, on the corner of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue applied to install the devises on the flat roof of the building.
The mounting structures and panels themselves would have been visible from nearby Ridge Street, prompting the town government to review the existing rules.
The application was latter withdrawn.
The issue of solar panels in the downtown historic district gained attention two years ago when the Breckenridge Town Council considered a proposal to install solar arrays on several town-owned facilities including the Riverwalk Center and Breckenridge Golf Club, eliciting a wave of outrage from community members who considered them to be too ugly for the carefully protected core of town.
The town later killed the proposal.
"I'm a big supporter of solar panels, but I think the place needs to be appropriate," Councilman Mark Burke said at the time. "Councils long before me have created codes to maintain the historic beauty of Breckenridge. Solar panels will never be historical."
But the council took no action at the time to amend the town's codes or laws to ban solar panels on private structures in the core of town.
The planning commission is slated to discuss the issue at 7:15 tonight in the council chambers at Breckenridge Town Hall.