Worthington City Council has given city staff members direction on how to move forward with the regulation of solar panels in the city's architectural-review district.
But, as has been the pattern during any conversation about solar panels, the decision at the April 10 meeting was far from unanimous and still requires some work.
Councilman Scott Myers, an assistant attorney general for Ohio, drafted a list of seven new guidelines for solar panels in the review district.
After City Council debated the merits of the guidelines, they were given to city staff members as a basis for official legislative language.
City Council President Bonnie Michael instructed city officials to prepare amendments to the design guidelines based on a slightly amended version of what Myers provided.
The final language will return to City Council for a vote, but no expected date was given.
Although his guidelines might make it more difficult to install front-facing solar panels in the review district, Myers said, they also detail how residents can show the ARB that they've exhausted all other options and they should be allowed to have them.
"You begin with the presumption that they're not there," he said, "but here's how you can get them."
The city's staff, council and architectural-review board members have been working for months to decide how to make guidelines for solar panels in the review district more clear.
In February, City Council placed a 90-day moratorium on any new solar panels in the district while it and the ARB determined how to proceed.
Virtually no one involved in the process has disagreed that solar energy is a positive and solar panels that are not visible from the street should be allowed in the code -- and even encouraged.
But disagreement comes when rear-facing panels are not efficient enough and an applicant wants to put panels on a street-facing portion of a residence.
"The issue really came to light with panels that were proposed on the front or sides of the house that faced the street," said Lee Brown, the city's planning and development director.
The most recent section of the district's design guidelines covers sustainability, including solar panels. But it has been determined not to be specific enough, which has led to two homeowners being allowed by the ARB to install panels on street-facing roofs after 4-3 votes.
That disagreement led to the moratorium and to City Council's involvement, but council members also were divided on the matter.
Councilwoman Rachael Dorothy said she is a "strong proponent" of solar panels. She said solar panels should be rear-facing when possible but the city should not prohibit front-facing panels or specify the existing language.
For Councilman Doug Foust and others, leaving the language alone was not an option.
"The 4-3 votes tell us that the guidelines are not clear," Foust said. "We've been specifically asked, as council, to provide clarification. So for us to leave the standards without some kind of clarification is not really part of the bargain here."
Myers' guidelines say front-facing panels "are to be discouraged," but allow for some wiggle room if certain criteria are met.
Panels should be allowed if they do not "alter the historic character of the property," conform to the roof's shape or appear, from the street, as one cohesive unit covering the entire area of a portion of the roof, according to his guidelines.
Myers said he knew the guidelines wouldn't appeal to everyone and he expected "most" residents would not be pleased. But he characterized the guidelines as a compromise.
"It's like a divorce resolution," he said. "In the best ones, everyone goes away mad because no one gets what they want and everyone gets what they need."
Councilman Michael Troper, who largely agreed with Dorothy's comments throughout the conversation, said multiple items in the guidelines "create a burden." Dorothy also called the language "burdensome."
Myers didn't mind that characterization.
"Creating burdens is the concept that underpins land-use regulation," he said. "It creates burdens for the benefit of the many."
Councilman David Norstrom was perhaps the most vocal critic of front-facing solar panels. He said that while he was a proponent of sustainable technology, including electric vehicles and solar energy, the architectural guidelines should be adhered to above all else.
"They basically said, 'Architecture is the thing you're going to consider in this district,' " he said. "There are 836 homes in the district. There are 5,691 homes not in the district. Let's encourage a whole lot of solar in those 5,000 homes. But we spent 50 years putting a district in place, and I think we should keep it. ... I am totally for sustainability, but I think we have a strong district protecting the architecture."
Ultimately, Norstrom, Foust and Doug Smith seemed to accept the guidelines Myers submitted, allowing some minor changes suggested by Troper and Dorothy.