MONTGOMERY – Homeowners and businesses that plan on installing solar panels, wind turbines or any other renewable energy system will now have to go through a more rigorous application process before receiving zoning board approval.
With few residents in attendance, the Township Committee unanimously passed a zoning ordinance that establishes more rigid and specific requirements for solar energy projects within Montgomery at the June 6 public hearing.
The ordinance was reviewed and approved by the Planning Board on June 4, which found the criteria to be consistent with township Master Plan.
Before, the zoning board could only look at solar energy devices as basic accessories such as a shed or a pool. Because the state has ruled solar, wind and photovoltaic energy devices are inherently beneficial to towns, it made it nearly impossible for the zoning board to prohibit any solar facility projects.
”Up until now, it would have been difficult to restrict or regulate such applications since our zoning plan does not address them,” said Mayor Ed Trzaska. “This hasn’t caused a serious problem yet, but by proactively adopting clear standards, this new ordinance helps protect Montgomery from future unwanted uses of these devices.”
People will still go in for accessory permits, but now the zoning officer has different standards to review the applications. For example, the average height and setback of the structures will now be considered and private and commercial properties are prohibited from placing any solar facilities in their front yards.
The town received a $2,500 grant from the New Jersey Association of Environmental Commissions to create this ordinance. It then went through over four drafts by an active committee made up of township Planner Richard Coppola, Planning Director Lori Savron and members from the Planning Board, the Open Space Committee and Shade Tree Committee and the Environmental and Landmark commissions.
The committee created criteria that safeguards possible visual impacts, safety problems and existing environmental provisions against particular solar projects.
”With the ordinance in place, it becomes a higher hurdle for people to prove they are not violating the zoning plan of the town,” said Mr. Coppola. “That’s a big thing and it will strengthen the ability of the planning and zoning board levels to protect the town.”
Committeewoman Patricia Graham expressed concern about the construction of large wind turbines, particularly on preserved farmland, which is permitted under a state statute.
Under the ordinance, a turbine height can’t be higher than 120 feet and requires a setback from the surrounding streets, property lines or houses to be 1½ times its height.
”The concern is that they may fall and the idea is that it shouldn’t hit any house or go over a property line,” said Mr. Coppola. “With that in place, it doesn’t say you can’t have the turbines – but it really limits where they can be.”
Although the state continues to give financial incentives to those who install renewable energy structures, the mayor said this new blueprint is a step in the right direction to get a handle on them.
”At the end of the day, if we did nothing we would be in a much weaker position to prevent the uses of energy sources we deem inappropriate,” he added. “This ordinance gives us a stronger hand to regulate what we want versus what we don’t want.”
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