On Canterbury Lane: Solar energy, neighbors’ views fuel neighborhood battle

What’s customary in Ridgefield yards? Birdbaths? Dog houses? Solar arrays?
Does planting trees offer effective long-term screening? Should solar power’s environmental value outweigh solar arrays’ potential change to a neighborhood’s look? These were issues debated as the Canterbury Lane neighborhood dispute had its second public hearing before Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday, Jan. 28.
Pleas for battling neighbors to work out their differences and get along were offered by several speakers at the two-and-a-half hour hearing.
Greg Dellacourt of Canterbury Lane covered all the bases.
“In a town accustomed to seeing stone walls, trees, fields, this view is not customary,” he said, supporting Sanjay Tripathi’s objections to the 11-and-half-foot-high solar array being built at Dane Unger’s new home.
But Dellacourt was also sympathetic to the Ungers’ desire for clean solar power — as were many speakers.
“As a town, we cannot keep our heads in the sand,” he said. “And find ways to embrace alternative energy and reduce our use of fossil fuels.”
He added, “The best use of our collective efforts would be to come to an amicable agreement.”
Pam Gugliotta of Saunders Lane, supporting the Ungers, testified to the benefits a screen of trees might offer for neighbors who don’t like seeing solar arrays.
“When we moved to Saunders Lane, there was a horse farm behind us. Today it’s East Farm Lane,” she said.
But when Gugliotta and her husband saw houses going up in the subdivision behind them, they didn’t try to halt construction.
“What did we do? We planted trees,” she said.
“If they planted eight or nine white pines their problems are solved, and they can all be friends,” she said.
Of the 18 people who spoke during the public comment period, 10 were supportive of the Ungers solar array and solar energy in general.
Seven speakers were supportive of Tripathi’s objections to the visual impact of the solar array, just 27 feet from his property line and visible from many windows on the back and side of this house.
One speaker made a largely technical observations.
More technical discussion also touched on questions, such as whether selling home-generated solar power back to the electric grid should be regarded as commercial, and the appropriateness of permitting a solar array under regulations designed for accessory structures like garden sheds.
The specific issue appealed was whether Zoning Enforcement Officer Richard Baldelli was properly interpreting the regulations last year when he issued a permit for the Ungers’ solar array.
“I felt it was an accessory structure,” Baldelli told the board. “Accessory structures clearly incidental and subordinate may be permitted by the zoning enforcement officer.”
He said concern for neighbors’ view was irrelevant to whether the approval should have been granted.
“There’s nothing in the regulations that protects anyone’s view of anything,” he said. “Unless you own it, you can’t guarantee the view of anything.”
The public hearing was closed, but the board did not vote. As of Tuesday the board was still trying to settle on a date to meet for a decision session — at which the public will be welcome to listen, but not to speak.
Zoning Board of Appeals administrator Kelly Ryan said people may learn the date by going to the town’s website and looking on the appeals board’s webpage, or by calling her at 203-431-2786.