Letter: Welcome to the neighborhood

To the Editor:

I have been hearing about my friends’ “dream home” almost since we first became acquainted over ten years ago. As our sons grew up together and we often socialized and even travelled together, I gradually came to understand the character and integrity of my new friends and their goal of “doing it right” in all aspects of their lives, including when it came to finally constructing their “dream home.” When they broke ground in the fall of 2017 on Canterbury Lane, happily close to the home of one of my own family members, I joined them in celebrating as their dream began to take shape and become a reality.

My friends’ definition of “doing it right” meant that every single aspect of their new home would be top shelf – beautifully designed, painstakingly constructed, and most importantly, environmentally responsible in all ways – a truly fabulous structure standing quietly and perfectly in a bucolic setting, every bit as “green” as the surroundings within which it was nestled.  As I watched the construction proceed over the last year, I was awestruck that my friends’ home was even more beautiful than the plans and model we had studied together so many times on their kitchen table, and it was clear that everything around it was going to look better and be more valuable as a result of its presence.

My friends were particularly proud that their new home, despite its significant size, would have the minimum carbon footprint possible due to the highly costly installation of cutting-edge designed and carefully positioned solar panels, similar in design (and cost) to those systems placed in some of the highest priced communities in the United States, including nearby New Canaan.  The finished installation promised to be a sleek and flowing set of solar panels additionally buffered by tasteful landscaping, provided by my friends, even though they are not required to do so. When I saw the installation of the foundational supports of the streamlined solar panels, I knew that my friends were once again doing it right, and I couldn’t wait to see the final product.  

However, before the panels could even be installed, and simply based on the installation of just the base foundational supports (which of course are not an attractive part of the solar array) a series of events ensued which lead to the article in The Ridgefield Press on December 7 entitled, “Solar Array Sparks Neighbors’ Outrage.”  

It is difficult to determine who is more at fault for the litany of erroneous information published in that article – the Board of Selectman for allowing the meeting to occur without both sides in the room to present the facts; the neighbors who presented almost entirely erroneous information; or the Ridgefield Press for failing to verify any of the information presented at the meeting. I was absolutely appalled to read the article, since I knew the full background of my friends’ intent and their diligence in implementing the solar panels on their property. Therefore, I chose “D,” all of the above.

I have to admit that a debate on the challenges that face implementation of relatively new alternative energy technology is interesting.  I can even find some merit in the discussion of a town ordinance vs. planning and zoning approvals. But the debate can’t begin after a fully integrated solar energy system has been designed, all permits and approvals have been secured, and construction on the home and its integrated power system is all but complete. Additionally, is it too much to ask that the discussion at least adhere to even a modicum of the facts?

The article begins with multiple uses of the words factory and industrial, and even goes so far as to describe the frames as “bigger than a truck.” Factories, industrial zones and trucks are all noisy, carbon-emitting bastions of production, almost always without a trace of architectural creativity.  While high-end, residential solar panels, even the underlying frames, which will barely be seen after installation are silent, sleek and carbonless, the energy sources of the future. The article continues by describing the structure as 3,200 square feet (which then gets repeated by another participant) and 18-feet tall, when in fact the structure is 1019 square feet, less than a third of the twice-repeated dimension, and only 11.5 feet tall.

The debate over real estate values rising or falling and the cost and feasibility of landscaping to screen the solar panels could have been an interesting debate had anyone been present at the meeting to offer an alternative view, but they weren’t.  My friends had not only developed a comprehensive landscaping plan well before the meeting and offered to pay for it (not mentioned in the article), but actually detailed how easy it would be to screen even upper levels of the home. On real estate values, I’m pretty sure that when someone builds a fabulously architected, 13,000 square foot home in your neighborhood, especially one with a minimal carbon footprint, everyone in the neighborhood sees their value go up, especially if you are one of the smaller houses.  I’m sure that the real estate experts can sort that out, but using phrases like “ugly” that “tanks property values” is simultaneously subjective and inaccurate.

By the way, solar energy does not detract from anyone’s ability to enjoy the pristine beauty of Ridgefield. In fact, it enhances the beauty of Ridgefield, by making the statement that its citizens are environmentally conscientious and interested in insuring the beauty of the area well into the future. Small oil-burning furnaces hidden in the basement may be less visible to the outside observer, but they are far more destructive to our atmosphere and long-term planetary well-being. Solar power doesn’t have to be pretty, because it is necessary for our future well-being.  Just look at the legislation in various states throughout the country, and the mandated percentage of renewable resources out even two to five years, and you will see the urgency of this issue. Connecticut will require 23% of the power in the state to come from renewable energy by 2020, even on Canterbury Lane.

I think that it would have been far more appropriate for the same neighbors who were at the source of the December 7 article to craft a thoughtfully written thank you note, welcoming my friends to the neighborhood and slide it under the front door.  They could have thanked them for building such a beautiful home in their neighborhood, for being so environmentally conscientious, and even for including the neighbors’ needs in their design, budgeting and communications. Hopefully it’s not too late to show their appreciation.

Stephen Smith

Ridgefield, Jan. 4