Editorial: In the dark in Orchard Park

The usual cry in territorial disputes involving homeowners is “not in my backyard.” In the case of solar energy panels in Orchard Park, the phrase is “not in YOUR front yard.”

The Town Board in Orchard Park last year began a prohibition on solar panels on the front roof of homes, at the urging of the town Planning Board. What’s their beef with solar energy? Board members just don’t like how the panels look in the front of a house. They are afraid the unsightly appearance could even drive down property values.

Several town residents who have invested in solar panels on their homes spoke at a town hearing recently, asking the board to amend or get rid of the prohibition.

As municipal disputes go, this one is among the silliest. Solar is one of the alternative energy sources that are becoming a reality in the 21st century, as fossil fuels and their high emissions of carbon dioxide fall out of favor.

The Town of Amherst last year launched a “Solarize Amherst” program to encourage residents to use solar energy. There have been similar programs instituted in the Town of Tonawanda, Lockport and Grand Island.

Solar energy clearly is the future. That’s why the State of New York, through the Buffalo Billion, invested $750 million to build the Tesla plant at RiverBend, where the sprawling factory will produce solar panels.

Town Board members in Orchard Park are proposing to amend the language in the law to allow panels designed to look like “normal” roofing materials, or siding, to be used on the front of buildings. And they have asked the Planning Board to study whether solar panels on front roofs detract from property values.

All towns have reasonable zoning laws and other regulations to preserve a level of consistency and propriety among its residences. In some neighborhoods you can’t move a sofa onto the front porch; or there may be prohibitions against parking a boat in your driveway, or replacing your lawn with a meadow of wildflowers.

But solar panels in the front of a house?

David Schuster, an Orchard Park resident who has had solar panels on his house for almost three years, said at the town hearing that the panels appeal to people who are concerned about the environment. “By installing solar panels instead of buying a BMW, they feel they are making the world a better place,” he said.

Orchard Park officials say they don’t oppose the use of solar energy. The town highway garage and library use solar panels.

Planning Board Chairman Harold Fabinsky said the town had to weigh competing concerns.

“I think neighborhood character is an important factor here, and it’s one the Town Board wants to make sure is preserved,” he said.

There are no restrictions on solar panels employed on roofs in the back of Orchard Park homes.

But some residents who live in homes with the front facing south are unhappy with the restrictions. Solar panels produce the most electricity when facing south.

“On our house, the only way that we can get solar panels is if we put them on the front. That’s the angle of the sun,” Jonathan Prantner said at the Town Board hearing.

“Neighborhood character” counts, but so do the rights of individual homeowners who want to spend their own money on a safe and increasingly popular energy source. Orchard Park should listen to its forward-thinking citizens and do away with this unnecessary prohibition.