CITY HALL — Planning commissioners last week endorsed creating a streamlined approval process for solar energy projects — a move prompted by one resident's fight against restrictive zoning regulations.
Glendale resident Scott Peer has been sparring with city officials for years since they nixed his plans to build a metal structure to support solar panels because it did not meet code restrictions.
On Wednesday, commissioners directed city planners to draft a report on creating a review process that could be used by residents in Peer's situation to seek approval on solar applications that need a zoning exception.
The process, which would outline basic criteria needed for approval, would be quicker and less expensive than the zoning variance, officials said.
The new process would still require City Council approval.
Peer's fight drew the support of California Deputy Atty. Gen. Deborah Slon, who wrote a letter to the city arguing that by blocking his project, the city was violating state law.
Under the California Solar Rights Act, cities are allowed to deny solar projects only for health or safety concerns, but Glendale officials have argued that structures built to support solar panels do not fall under the law and must be approved by the Community Planning Department.
Solar applications that don't include a new structure or addition to support the panels require only a permit from the Building and Safety Division.
"I don't think the statute grants a right to build any building that can be built for other purposes as well and then use solar panel law to get an exemption from the code," said Chief Assistant City Atty. Michael Garcia.
City officials have repeatedly told Peer his application could qualify for a zoning variance, but he has argued that under state law he shouldn't have to spend the additional time and money.
"The review must be for health and safety only, and the variance process is not needed for that," he told the Planning Commission.
While commissioners did not agree with Slon and Peer that solar projects must be exempt from all zoning regulations, they did indicate support for a revised process.
"Why not give flexibility?" said Commissioner Chang Lee.
Still, the proposed change will likely not appease Peer, who has argued that zoning regulations add unnecessary roadblocks to sustainable building practices.
"If you want solar energy," he said, "what Glendale is doing right now is not working."