Planners aim to improve solar relations

CITY HALL — Residents hoping to use solar energy systems in their homes could face fewer roadblocks under a review process recommended this week by city planning commissioners.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously voted to endorse revised zoning regulations intended to ease restrictions on building a new structure or addition to support the panels.

Under the proposed regulations, new structures would be given additional height, coverage and setback allowances.

Solar applications that don't require additions already need only a permit from the Building and Safety Division.

"This is an extremely streamlined approach," said Commissioner Stephanie Landregan, a former city planner for Santa Monica.

The City Council must still sign off on the proposal.

The regulations did not earn the approval of Scott Peer, whose lengthy battle with city officials over his proposed solar system instigated the changes in the first place.

Peer has been sparring with city officials for years after they nixed his plans to build a metal structure to support solar panels because it did not meet code restrictions. Even with the new allowances, Peer's structure to support solar panels would require a zoning variance, officials said.

"I know they would not help my case, which begs the question why the commission would approve an option that achieves neither of the purposes of the amendment," Peer said.

Planning Director Hassan Haghani countered that the new process introduces a significant change by creating parameters by which planners can approve the projects administratively, without a variance.

"I actually take exception to the argument that it doesn't change anything," Haghani said. "In fact, it does."

Peer's fight drew the support of California Deputy Atty. Gen. Deborah Slon, who issued a letter arguing that by blocking his project, the city was violating state law.

Slon and Peer have both said that 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.

Commissioners have also sided with city planners, and said that the city's zoning code also takes into account health and safety concerns.

"Zoning sets standards that protect the self, safety and welfare of residents," Landregan said.

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