Leawood council balks at proposal that would have allowed ground-mounted solar panels

Leawood city councilors expressed concern that eight-foot high panels might reflect glare into neighboring homes.
Leawood city councilors expressed concern that eight-foot high panels might reflect glare into neighboring homes.

By Holly Cook

The Leawood City Council Monday unanimously voted to remand a motion back to the planning commission that would have allowed residents to mount solar panels in their backyard. The proposed ordinance amendment was designed as a solution for residents unable to utilize roof mounted solar panels due to trees shading the roof or other sun exposure issues.

Richard Coleman, Leawood’s director of community development, said the ordinance amendment would only allow the usage of ground mounted solar panels when roof placement was not feasible.

The solar panels could be a maximum of 8 feet high and the resident would be required to provide landscaping to screen the panels from adjacent properties.

Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn expressed concern with the amendment’s lack of specificity on the total amount of solar panels allowed per residence. Dunn noted the Leawood community takes great pride in aesthetics and acknowledged the panels “could be a real eye sore.”

Coleman said residents would be limited to install only as many panels as needed to generate electricity for their home but said there were not stipulations on how many that could include.

Councilman Louis Rasmussen questioned whether the solar panels could impede the ability of firefighters to respond to a fire within the home. Rasmussen noted the council had spent ample time debating whether roof mounted panels would affect the safety and security of firefighters and argued that ground mounted panels deserved the same attention.

Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Harder said he was not familiar enough with residential solar panels to comment on whether or not they could impede accessibility into a home.

“We need the fire chief to say he has no objections,” Rasmussen commented.

Councilors Jim Rawlings, Chuck Sipple and Andrew Osman expressed concerns with how the panels could affect neighbors and questioned whether it was necessary to gain approval from neighbors prior to panel installment. Sipple asked whether the required shrubbery would shield the panels from neighbors and from the street view. Coleman responded that the panels may be viewable from the street.

Osman said that while he was supportive of solar power he was concerned with the ramifications of the proposed amendment. Osman pointed out the amendment allows for 8-foot panels, which would be visible over 6-foot privacy fences.

“What happens if you have an 8-foot solar panel on the ground and that thing is shining 12 hours a day into your son’s or your daughter’s or your room?” Osman asked.

Osman said additional planning was needed before he could support the amendment.