Merriam sends solar installation ordinance to planning commission for review

The Merriam Planning Commission will review the solar installation ordinance in an effort to make the process easier for residents, and ultimately encourage them to use more solar energy. File photo.

The Merriam City Council last week directed the planning commission to review the current zoning ordinance related to solar installation, in an effort to ease up on resident requirements.

Community Development Director Bryan Dyer said the city consistently receives resident comments that some solar installation requirements are cumbersome and can increase costs — specifically the requirement to go through the planning commission for approval if solar panels have to face the right-of-way.

“I [brought] this to the council to see if there’s interest in directing the planning commission to review zoning collection systems ordinances, to make them more accessible to residents, make them easier for residents to go through, [and] to encourage them to maybe do more solar collection systems,” Dyer said.

Several councilmembers, including David Neal, Scott Diebold and Bob Pape, expressed support for Dyer’s effort. Pape said it could be beneficial to see what neighboring cities are doing in addition to looking at changes to current practices.

Councilmember Whitney Yadrich said Merriam is the only city that goes through the planning commission for approval, and asked how other cities handle solar installations. Dyer said solar installation approvals are completed through the building permit review process, and Merriam would follow suit if it eliminated Planning Commission approval.

Councilmember Jason Silvers asked staff and the city council to prevent bulkier installations within solar guidelines. File photo.

Councilmember Jason Silvers said while he is huge advocate of residents’ ability to install solar he would encourage staff and city council to include guidelines that prevent bulky installations. While driving near Holiday Drive and 79th Street, Silvers said he saw a house with “a gigantic solar array” with its back facing the street.

Mayor Ken Sissom said regulations are in place for these exact reasons and noted that a planning commission is beneficial because it can conduct a detailed study without burdening city staff, but the City Council will ultimately have the final say.

“We can still make modifications to their recommendations if they’re not completely where we need for them to be,” Sissom said. “They have no authority beyond making recommendations, we still have a hand in the process in the end.”

The city council unanimously approved the agenda item.