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Solar Panel Vote Brings Even Bigger Issue Before Town and Country Board of Aldermen

Clayton Road Trail funds, a school speed zone and weapons were all discussed Monday night, but it was a solar panel vote that could bring changes to city ordinances.

Solar panels have been a heated topic among some Town and Country residents for months. Monday night, alderman finally voted on them, approving a request to allow one in a city neighborhood.

Now that the issue is resolved for one property owner, it brings an entirely new issue before the Town and Country Board of Aldermen: Should city ordinances should be updated to specifically address environmental issues such as solar panels?

Following is a breakdown of Monday night's meeting:

Solar Panels

Despite concerns from Alderwoman Nancy Avioli and Mayor Jon Dalton about approving a permit for a property owner to add a solar panel to his backyard, the Town and Country Board of Alderman approved a conditional permit for the structure 5-1 Monday night.

It's been an issued before the board for months, and it's brought numerous residents before the board protesting the structure, saying it's an "eyesore."

Monday night, the topic also brought up concerns about city ordinances, or the lack of them, to handle this and future requests for solar panels.

"I fully support them (solar panels). I think we should support them. I just think they're a big enough issue to be contemplated thoroughly," Alderwoman Avioli told Patch.

Monday night, board members learned resident Joe Gira made even more adjustments to his previous proposal to place the solar panel on his property. Gira is now willing to place a new, smaller and more expensive solar panel in his backyard. The panel is reportedly 30 percent smaller than originally planned, taking the structure from 845 square feet down to 590 square feet.

In addition, Gira's request was recently before the Planning and Zoning Commission again. Alderman Fred Meyland-Smith is a member of that commission and said the following three additional conditions were to be put in place for the solar panel request to be approved: 

  • No portion of any panel can be above the height of the retaining wall in the backyard.
  • As a result of concerns over landscaping, the landscaping must be maintained for the duration of the panel.
  • Additional landscaping will be planted between the panel and trees to provide additional screening of the underside of the panel.

"I do think this family, they've gone above and beyond to make adjustments. I think the Gira family has bent over backwards," Avioli said of the changes.

Avioli said her concern is not with solar panels, but that current city ordinances didn't contemplate the issue of having solar panels.

The city's attorney clarified that there are no special ordinances for solar panels and they are treated as any other structure that needs to be screened and requires a conditional use permit.

"I think a lot of these issues here come up because our ordinances don't cover solar arrays. I think we're getting ahead of ourselves by approving this when we don't have ordinances in place," Avioli said prior to the board's vote Monday night.

Avioli said that the issue of solar panels will likely come before the board more often in the future so she would like the board to more thoroughly evaluate the issue and create an ordinance for future situations. She said this will ensure guidelines are clear for board members, city staff and residents.

Mayor Jon Dalton agrees with Avioli's concern. "I'm confident that our planning director is applying ordinances correctly. I'm just not sure they are as current as they should be to include different structures," Dalton said.

No date was set to further discuss a solar array ordinance.

Clayton Road Trail

The request to allocate additional funds to the engineering firm developing the Clayton Road Trail was added in the work session prior to the start of Monday night's board meeting.

 Director Craig Wilde told board members that the engineering firm had gone over budget and needed an additional $27,000 to continue with phase one of the trail project.

Avioli is co-chair of the Clayton Road Task Force and told Patch the budget increase is because of the length of time it's taken to study and receive public input, including numerous meetings, on the new trail. She pointed out that the $27,000 is not city money. Avioli said the trail is being funded by a federal grant, and this request is simply to allocate additional federal grant money to the engineering firm to continue the project.

The Clayton Road Trail is a trail that runs the length of the city along Clayton Road. It's set to be completed in three phases. Each phase includes everything needed to study, develop and construct the trail in that area. Phase one begins near  school and runs just east of Interstate 270 at Clayton Road. Phase two starts near I-270 and extends east to Bopp Road. Phase three is a pedestrian walkway along Clayton Road over Route 141.

No vote was taken, but the issue could be voted on at the next meeting.

Other Business

The board also discussed adjusting the speed in the approved Mason Ridge School zone area on Mason Road. It was previously decided that the speed limit on Mason Road would be 30 mph, but due to new recommendations by the and St. Louis County, it may be reduced to 25 mph in that area. No vote was taken, but it could be voted on at the next meeting.

The city's weapons laws were also discussed, and the board is considering changing city laws to match state statute regarding firearms laws and weapons violations. No vote was taken, but it could be voted on at the next board meeting.

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