Mount Washington residents criticize plan to build solar panels in the neighborhood

A proposal to build solar panels on a historic property in Mount Washington has drawn criticism from neighbors who believe it will be an eyesore for some nearby houses.

The Chimes, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, plans to put solar panels in a grassy area between two Victorian houses it owns in the Dixon Hill neighborhood of Mount Washington. The panels would produce electricity for the residences on the property.

"The plan is to put a small ground-mounted system between two of the buildings," said Martin S. Lampner, the president and CEO of The Chimes. The nonprofit provides services to adults in the Mid-Atlantic region who have difficulty living independently, often because they have intellectual or physical disabilities. "The reason we are doing it is that we see nothing but spiraling utility costs."

But some of the neighbors say the panels, which The Chimes installed at its headquarters at Seton Business Park earlier this year, are ugly and they believe they would consume valuable green space.

"I don't question that they have a purpose, but sitting here in a historic neighborhood and destroying really nice property" shouldn't be allowed, said Paul Hanley, who has lived about half a block away for the past 30 years.

Robin Klein, a resident of Fairbank Road where The Chimes property is located, believes the nonprofit is "trying to be a good citizen and find alternative energy sources, which is great."

But, she said, Mount Washington has a limited amount of green space that should not be consumed by large solar panels. She said the area already has a problem with runoff that could be exacerbated by the panels. A rain garden was built down the hill from the property to try to reduce runoff into Western Run, she said.

Lampner said it is too early to say how much space would be used for the panels because no design has yet been drawn. He described the project as being in the "very early stages." A number of trees would have to be cut down to put in the solar panels, but he said some of the trees had been damaged during storms in the past year and would have to be cut down anyway.

Lampner said he decided to go to the community association first to present the proposal and get feedback that could be incorporated into the drawings. "If we can't make it work in a way that is harmonious to most of our neighbors," the project will not go forward, he said.

The Chimes has not yet applied for any zoning or permits from city planners.

Lampner said The Chimes has invested significantly in solar energy and becoming more energy efficient. Besides weatherizing its facilities, the nonprofit also installed 3,000 solar panels at its city headquarters this year. Because the solar panels have only been operating for several months, Lampner said, it is too early to say what the annual cost savings will be, but he believes it will be between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

The installation was free for The Chimes. BITHENERGY, a local company, built and installed the panels for Washington Gas Energy Services, which financed and owns them. Washington Gas sells the electricity to The Chimes, but at a far cheaper rate than BGE would. "Our price is not going to escalate in the future. So the savings is nice today, but it should be far nicer in the future," he said.

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