Solar panels approved for historic Glendale home

Glendale’s Historic Preservation Commission made a bit of its own history this week, giving a homeowner the OK to install solar panels on a historic 1934 Spanish Revival residence.

State law typically bars municipalities from requiring design review for solar panels, but the owners of the home in the 900 block of Rosemount Road benefit from a tax rebate program, known as the Mills Act, that preempts the California rules. This triggered the commission’s review Thursday night.

The commission’s job is to ensure the panels won’t distract from the building’s historic character. By signing a Mills Act contract with the city, property owners agree to preserve their historic homes in exchange for a tax rebate.

The commission approved the 14 panels in a 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Lorna Vartanian absent, saying they supported the panels because plans show they will be hidden from street view. The commission also warned that their decision would not set a precedent for future solar panel reviews.

“This isn’t setting precedents that we allow solar panels, no matter what, on Mills Act properties,” said Commission Chair Desiree Shier.

Glendale has had a complicated relationship with solar panels. Before state lawmakers ordered that installing solar panels could not be hampered by city rules, Glendale didn’t allow the technology to be viewed from the street.

And although that rule has been lifted, property owners — even public schools — that have installed solar panels still experience backlash from upset neighbors.

Scott Warren, the owner of the home, worked with a solar company to place the panels on his Spanish-tiled roof in such a way that would reduce their visibility.

“It’s been a tough few months,” Warren said after the meeting, adding that he, too, wants to preserve his home’s historic character.

“I don’t want anything to stick up, it’s too pretty,” he said.

Warren and his wife moved into the property two years ago. As the couple started seeing more solar projects cropping up in the city, they got interested in the alternative energy source. Warren said the panels are expected to zero-out their electricity bill.

“What’s exciting about it is you have a house of this age and this character and you can put something like a solar panel, which is modern … and you probably won’t see it,” Warren told the commission.

Although the commission approved the project, they did so with the caveat that officials would review it when it is complete to ensure that the visibility of the panels end up mirroring Warren’s presentation.

The city can expect the number of solar panels on historic properties to increase and Glendale may have no control over what many of them look like, Senior Planner Jay Platt said.

The city has 99 properties on its historic resource list, 57% of which have Mills Act contracts. The remaining historic homes could install panels without review due to the state law.

“Until they come up with invisible solar panels, this is the issue we’re going to have,” said Commissioner Vartan Gharpetian.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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