East Lansing Historic District Commission Approves Residential Solar Panels

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Commissioners of the Historic District Commission meeting on Dec. 10, 2020.

East Lansing’s Historic District Commission on Thursday evening unanimously voted to approve an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness for an array of solar panels to be installed at 1025 Huntington Rd.

The Commission also denied two applications for Certificates of Appropriateness — one to replace wood windows with vinyl in the Hillcrest Village Apartments and another to replace wood siding with vinyl for a house at 325 Linden St. In both those cases, Commissioners noted that the applicants had only sought out one price quote — for replacement, not rehabilitation or refurbishment — and didn’t provide enough information about the levels of deterioration for both materials.

In both those instances, Commissioner Aron Sousa specifically noted that in the past the Commission has requested applicants to “replace like with like” to maintain structures’ historic nature. (The Historic District in East Lansing regulates only what is visible from the road.) 

Both those applicants have 60 days to reconfigure their proposals and resubmit for approval.

“Thoughtful” process of solar panel design and implementation at 1025 Huntington Rd. helped the applicants gain approval.

Commission Vice Chair Diane Wing said as much, speaking in support of the upcoming additions at the house in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood, not far from her own. 

“So I’m very pleased with this application and the thought that’s gone into it by the applicants and the company that’s put the proposal together,” Wing said.

During the public hearing on the application, a neighbor of the applicant called in to the meeting and expressed support for the project. They noted that their property was likely the one most affected by the addition. 

“We are very much in favor,” the neighbor, Jenny Petritz, said.

The Commission also read an email opposing the addition from a nearby resident, Eric Crawford. He argued that “nothing could be less ‘historic’ than solar panels.” 

The original proposal called for 17 solar panels, but the number has been reduced to 15, as shown by a rendering of the solar panels on the roof of both the garage and house on the property. 

An aerial rendering of the solar panels to be installed at 1025 Huntington Rd.

The reduction in the total number of panels is in part due to none going on the west side of the house (facing Kensington Road), to keep the visual impact from the road to a minimum. The panels, according to the application and discussion on Thursday will only have about a six inch profile off the roof. 

Three solar panels will be on the west side of the garage, but one of the applicants explained that putting panels on the east side of the garage would be inefficient due to a large tree in the neighbors’ yard. Stephens and his husband Joe Lonstein also explained that removing the west-facing panels on the house reduced the ultimate amount of power the panels will generate.

Wing asked the applicants and Ray Myers — representing Michigan Solar Solutions, the company installing the solar panels — about the process of the panels being removed, if that needs to happen. Myers explained that while it’s unlikely any future owners wouldn’t want the reduced electric bill that comes with solar panels, removing the panels and restoring the roof is a relatively low-impact process. 

Sousa said that he thought solar panels should count as a “temporary structure” under the Historic District rules, which means the Commission wouldn’t have to approve them in the future, because of the easy nature of their removal.

Wing responded that the Commission might want to see applications in the future, considering they might not be as thoughtful.

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