Avon council denies, then tables, candidate Tom Ruemmler’s solar roof project
AVON — A solar roof project from local Tom Ruemmler is facing more delays after the Avon Town Council voted 4-2 in favor of tabling his application on Oct. 9.
Before tabling the application, the council voted 4-2 against the project, with council members Sarah Smith Hymes, Scott Prince, Jennie Fancher and Megan Burch turning down a motion to approve Ruemmler’s idea — which would allow a roof made of solar panels to be placed over an already approved storage area on his property in the Wildridge neighborhood.
In motioning to approve the solar roof project, council member Matt Gennett said he believes that state law, as well as Avon’s codes, do not allow towns to prevent residents from installing solar projects like Ruemmler’s.
Colorado state statutes prevent homeowner associations and design review boards from placing unreasonable restrictions on renewable energy generation devices, and the Avon Municipal Code says persons or associations are prohibited from imposing restrictions which prevent persons from installing alternative energy systems.
Town attorney Eric Heil said the state statutes don’t apply to town zoning.
“You can’t have a private covenant on property that doesn’t allow solar panels,” Heil said. “It doesn’t say anything about local government zoning.”
Regarding Avon’s ordinance, Heil said within the town’s code there are some restrictions. Heil mentioned a provision within the code that says a roof-mounted solar collection system shall not extend more than two feet above a pitched roof or six feet above a flat roof.
“It wouldn’t make any sense that we would have those requirements if the first paragraph said that we could not have any restriction,” Heil said.
Ruemmler said his project would meet those requirements as the panels would not extend above the existing roof line of his home. Ruemmler provided an opinion from attorney Heather Lemon, who disagreed with the idea that Ruemmler would be in violation of the height restriction.
“Mr. Ruemmler’s solar proposal does not involve attaching solar panels to a flat roof,” Lemon wrote.
Ruemmler’s appearance before the Avon Town Council was an appeal of a decision made by the town’s planning and zoning commission. While the commission approved the deck and storage area that would be under Ruemmler’s solar panels, the commission denied the solar panel roof.
Planning Director Matt Pielsticker said in denying the roof, the town’s planning and zoning commission was concerned with its appearance. In their findings, the planning and zoning commission cited a provision within the town code that says all sides of a residential building shall display a similar level of quality and architectural detailing.
“Planning and zoning had concerns with what amounts to be a larger, shed style roof form on one side of the structure, which they felt was inconsistent with the other three sides of the home or other homes in that Beaver Creek Point PUD,” Pielsticker said.
The commission also cited a section of town code which seeks to limit large, reflective roof forms.
“I have to say this section, it might be kind of a moot point at this point, in that the town approves roofs for homes, and in this case it’d be a roof over a deck, owners have the right to add solar if it matches the roof pitch of roof,” Pielsticker said.
In examining the application, Mayor Jennie Fancher said the town was examining a roof project, not a solar project.
Ruemmler went on to describe the application as a solar project.
“Are we looking at a solar panel approval, or are we looking at a roof approval,” Fancher asked town staff.
“It’s a roof constructed of solar panels,” Pielsticker said.
Ruemmler agreed with Pielsticker’s characterization.
“It’s new technology,” Ruemmler said.
Ruemmler’s homeowner association also denied his project.
“This project was turned down by all four HOA members due to architectural concerns,” said association board president Hugh Joyce.
The minutes from that meeting state that Joyce felt Ruemmler’s structure “was not in concert with the surrounding architecture despite the fact that the deck over a garage concept and similar materials to the existing homes were used.”
Council member Matt Gennett asked how the project was able to be reviewed by the planning and zoning commission if Ruemmler’s homeowner association had not approved it.
“Typically if you have an active HOA … you need to have HOA sign off before the application is accepted,” Gennett said.
Heil said private covenants are not the town’s responsibility to enforce.
“I think it would be legally problematic for us to say that we wouldn’t accept or process an application without HOA approval,” Heil said. “Any HOA disapproval has nothing to do with the town’s development code.”
Nevertheless, members of Ruemmler’s homeowner associate spoke out against his project during the public hearing on the issue. Ruemmler’s neighbor Dave Scherf presented a document he called the “real, unadulterated, true” survey of the property, which contradicted another survey that had been reviewed in conjunction with the application.
Gennett said without a stamp from a licensed surveyor, the document Scherf presented can not be called a survey.
The document was among several pieces of information that were not submitted by the Friday, Oct. 5, deadline, prompting Heil to suggest the council table the application for another time.
Council member Scott Prince said he needed more time to consider the new information that had been presented.
“I won’t be supporting (the motion to approve the solar roof) because I believe the public needs time to review this information,” Prince said.
Ruemmler said the delay will cost him both time and money.
“Building materials are rising in cost by the day,” Ruemmler said. “Also, the more we wait, the less renewable energy we will generate for the grid.”
Not much changes in Red Cliff, Eagle County’s oldest town. But change is coming on Water Street, the town’s main drag.