Bathtub planning board weighs whether or not to permit photo voltaic panels in historic downtown

Sam Saltonstall, a member of Christ’s Neighborhood Church in Bath, said the church plans to install solar panels on the back of the building roof and on the roof side facing Center Street. Bath’s planning board will examine Tuesday whether solar panels should be allowed in the city’s historic downtown area. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BAD – Bath’s planning board will re-examine Tuesday whether solar panels are allowed in the city’s historic district.

The board initially recommended a rule change that would allow solar panels to be installed in the historic district as long as they were not visible from the street late last year. Although city councils agreed that solar panels are a good thing for the environment, they have sent the proposed rule change back to the planning board for further review.

Councilors Raye Leonard and Jennifer DeChant voted against the proposed rule change, arguing that the wording was too vague and that solar panels could detract from the historic charm of downtown Bath.

“I am concerned that solar panels are popping up in the historic areas of Bath,” Leonard said during the November city council meeting. “My problem is not solar energy or this option, but what it might look like in our historic area.”

The historic Bath neighborhood stretches between Leeman Highway and Beacon Street and includes Front and Washington streets. It contains centuries-old buildings and is a tourist attraction.

The change was driven by the neighborhood Church of Christ on the corner of Washington and Center Streets, which asked for solar panels to be installed on the roof of the building. However, according to Church member Sam Saltonstall, the panels would need to be placed on the back of the roof and on the portion of the roof that faces Center Street to get enough sunlight.

Bath city planner Ben Averill said the planning agency will “refine the ordinance as much as possible,” but he hopes the city councils will take part in the discussion.

“This is possibly the best way to allow solar energy in the historic district while ensuring that historical integrity is preserved,” said Averill.

Former Council President Mari Eosco lives in the old town and said she supports change. She said she would like everyone in Bath to have the option to install solar panels as they reduce maintenance costs and are environmentally friendly.

“I’m so much less concerned about what they look like,” Eosco said of solar panels. “I think it’s showing progress. I think it shows that we are a city that is evolving and understanding that we are in a climate crisis and we are making ways to innovate with these houses that have been here for 200 years. Tying the hands of other houses is very myopic, in my opinion, when we look at the bigger picture. “

If this proposed rule change is approved, Averill says homeowners within the historic district will still need individual approval from the planning authority before they can install solar panels.

Averill said the proposed rule change will be reviewed and sent back to the city council for approval by late spring.

The planning authority meeting will take place on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and can be viewed on the city’s website.

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