March 2, 2015

Some municipalities in Westchester County, New York have codified solar friendly zoning laws.  Others have antiquated codes which may, perhaps unintentionally, provide a disincentive to installing solar panels e.g. by requiring additional permits, procedures and fees.

A good example of a Town that has been proactive in amending its zoning code to encourage the use of solar panels is the Town of Bedford which lies in Westchester County, New York.

In 2005, the Town Board adopted Local Law 11 which adopted the Westchester County Greenway Compact Plan.  The law states that “for the purposes of promoting the health, safety, morals and general welfare of the community,” the Town Board seeks “to promote the use of solar energy collectors and, so far as conditions reasonably permit, to provide for adequate access to sunlight for their proper operation.”  See Town of Bedford Zoning Code (“Zoning Code “) Section 125-1(N).

A “solar energy collector” is defined in Section 125-3 of the Zoning Code as “A device or combination of devices which relies upon solar radiation as an energy source, that is employed for the purposes of the heating or cooling of a building, the heating of water or the generation of electricity.”

The Town decided to exempt certain solar energy collectors from the height limitation in the zoning code in Section 125-20 of the Zoning Code, which reads as follows:

“The maximum building height limitations of this chapter shall not apply to flagpoles, church spires, belfries, domes, chimneys, ventilators, skylights, tanks or solar energy collectors or other similar features and necessary mechanical appurtenances not used for human occupancy, provided that:

  1. They shall not extend more than 15 feet above the roof; and
  2. The total area covered by such features shall not exceed 10% of the area of the roof upon which they are located.”

Solar energy collectors are permitted in “all districts” pursuant to Section 125-27 of the Zoning Code.

Section 125-87 of the site plan regulations in the Zoning Code were also amended to protection access to solar energy on adjacent parcels as follows:

“Reasonable provisions are made for sight and sound buffers, the preservation of views, light and air, and those aspects of structure, improvement and land design not otherwise regulated that may have substantial effects on neighboring land uses.”

In summary, the Town of Bedford provides a good example of how a municipality can codify solar panel friendly zoning laws.   However, It is important to note that in New York each municipality regulates solar panels differently.  In some jurisdictions solar panels may be exempt from certain fees and in others they may be prohibited in certain zoning districts.  It is respectfully suggested that a property owner who wishes to install solar panels should have an experienced land use attorney perform a zoning analysis to determine what permits, procedures and fees apply to a particular property.

For more information about local regulation of solar energy collection panels in New York please feel free to contact us at (914)338-8050 or e-mail keith@betenskylaw.com.  For more information about the firm, please visit www.betenskylaw.com.

Thank you for reading this article.  We hope you found it useful.