Worthington's solar-panel moratorium has been lifted and replaced by a new set of guidelines, and those who have followed the process say it has come to an agreeable end.

On May 1, Worthington City Council approved a resolution that amends the design guidelines for regulation of solar panels within the city's architectural-review district.

Built from a concept presented by Councilman Scott Myers, the new guidelines say front-facing panels "are to be strongly 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 it as a compromise.

The impetus for the changes was a pair of homeowners receiving permission from the architectural-review board to install panels on street-facing roofs after 4-3 votes. An ensuing disagreement led to the moratorium in February and to City Council's involvement.

Lee Brown, the city's planning and development director, said the new guidelines are "less subjective." He said city officials were "looking to council for guidelines on which direction they wanted to go," and they have received that guidance.

"I think it will help staff, the board and the neighbors and the applicants know what to expect and what they need to do if they do want to do solar panels," he said. "I think it will be a benefit to everyone to kind of all be on the same page."

Early in the process, Greg Browning sent a letter about the matter to City Council on behalf of the Old Worthington Association. The letter said association members had hoped for a more concrete plan that would "replace the current ad hoc, project-by-project policy."

In the past, the OWA had criticized City Council for a perceived lack of cooperation with community groups, but Browning said the recent process was more collaborative.

"The city followed up as we suggested and stepped back and went through a good process," he said. "I think they came up with a reasonable, well-developed policy."

By making the change as an amendment to the policy, City Council was able to approve the resolution in a single reading. The moratorium was lifted at its passage.

Brown said that early on, some residents were anxious about the policy change one way or the other. But by the end of the process, he said, he was receiving very few complaints.

"I think it's a good compromise," he said. "We did not hear anything horrible from people -- 'This isn't going to do anything,' or something like that. We definitely didn't hear, 'This is a no-go. You should do it all one way or the other.'

"We felt that since it was kind of a quiet compromise, maybe those that were really vocal at the beginning were OK with it because they didn't come to the meeting to speak out against it."

For more information and a full text of the new guidelines, go to worthington.org.

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