The Lattingtown Village Board has voted to override the Nassau County Planning Commission's effort to ease a village ordinance restricting the placement of residential solar panels.
The village board last week invoked a supermajority to reject the commission's recommendation to eliminate language that would have prevented any solar panel that would be visible from "adjacent properties," according to village and commission members.
Planning Commissioner Neal Lewis, a former LIPA trustee and executive director of Molloy College's Sustainability Institute, took exception to the village's attempt to restrict whether solar panels could be seen from outside a homeowner's property.
The language in question said solar panels could be angled or tilted "so long as they are not movable or visible from street level or from adjacent properties."
Lewis objected to both the street-level and adjacent property conditions, saying it could apply to most solar installations. The commission settled on a change eliminating only the "adjacent property" restriction.
Lewis said, "To me, it's a new twist on 'not in my backyard.' It's 'not in my neighbor's backyard.' "
"There's a point at which a code has to be reasonable," Lewis added. "I think it really steps into a new area when you can restrict what your neighbor has."
Lattingtown Mayor Clarence Michalis said the village board rejected the commission's recommendation because it conflicted with the values of the lower-density village, where many homeowners own 2-, 4- and 5-acre parcels.
"We have our own policy that is more in keeping with low-density areas," he said, stressing that he wasn't opposed to solar energy.
"I'm all for them," Michalis said of solar panels. "We just want to make sure they are installed in a way that is compatible with the character of the village."
Michalis said his chief aim was to restrict ground-mounted panels, not those on rooftops. He grew concerned about ground-mounted panels after seeing a large, rotating installation by a restaurant near his second home in Vermont. "I was shocked to see it," he said. "We don't want that in front of my house. I don't want to look at it."
The mayor said he doesn't believe the new code will restrict solar panels on rooftops. "We are not going to deny people from putting them on the roof because that's the best place to put them," he said. "I have a south-facing roof. It's ideal" for solar.
Still, he said, plans for solar panels will have to go through the village planning board, and those outside the code may need a variance. Neighbors whose views might be affected will be notified and will have a say in the final appearance.
The new rules on solar won't be the last that will look critically at renewable energy in Lattingtown. "We will pass another one for wind turbines," Michalis said.