Council passes temporary moratorium on ground solar arrays – Marshalltown Times Republican

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T-R FILE PHOTO — The controversial ground solar array installed in the 100 block of North 6th Street has sparked a larger conversation about rules and regulations regarding such projects at subsequent Planning and Zoning Commission meetings. On Monday night, the Marshalltown city council voted unanimously to enact a temporary moratorium on ground solar arrays until the commission can provide more concrete recommendations.

An issue that has been a hot topic at recent Planning and Zoning Commission meetings made its way to the city council floor on Monday night as the latter body voted unanimously to pass a temporary moratorium on ground solar arrays until the commission can develop a more firm set of rules and regulations governing them.

City Consultant Cindy Kendall explained that the P&Z Commission has been reviewing various aspects of solar, which is becoming increasingly popular within the community, and the objections that have been raised — particularly to in-ground panels.

“The board is asking the council to pass a resolution just halting the permitting process until they have been able to bring you recommendations and have the public hearings that are required for adoption of a new resolution,” she said.

Kendall added that the commission has been meeting much more frequently than normal because members are aware of the urgency of the matter, but they also don’t want to create a situation where people have to take down arrays they initially believed to be allowed. The moratorium can be lifted, she noted, once the council approves a new ordinance. She once again clarified that the moratorium only applies to ground arrays and will not have any impact on rooftop solar.

Councilor Gary Thompson asked if the moratorium applied to residential arrays only or if it would also impact industrial, mixed use and commercial projects, and Kendall responded that she believed it would affect all types but was seeking clarification from legal counsel on that question.

Fellow Councilor Greg Nichols commented that he felt it was a complicated issue, and he supported giving the Planning and Zoning Commission the time it needed to come up with satisfactory regulations. Councilor Mark Mitchell wondered if what was being discussed would have an impact on the two solar arrays that were placed in a lot on North 6th Street without permits, and Kendall said the permits were ultimately issued because “there was no prohibition or any conflict with the current zoning (laws).”

“That’s one of the reasons the situation has been expedited, to avoid that situation,” Kendall said.

As there were no public comments, Mayor/Acting City Administrator Joel Greer thanked the P&Z Commission for its work to take on the issue after opposition to the aforementioned array on North 6th Street arose during a hearing on April 11.

“They’ve taken it upon themselves to study it and come back to us with the best practices and what they recommend,” Greer said.

Greer also referred to the attention the array drew and praised P&Z Chairman Jon Boston for his long record of service on the commission. A motion to approve the resolution passed by a 6-0 tally.

Boston spoke with the T-R Wednesday ahead of another P&Z meeting scheduled for Thursday night at city hall and said the commission is finding that a lot of the people they’ve heard from simply don’t want ground solar arrays in residential areas.

“We’re gonna tighten it up so it’s probably just gonna be general industrial and agricultural as an (allowable) accessory use,” he said before referencing the North 6th Street array. “That kind of sparked the whole discussion, and we started looking at it. Just like people don’t want people parking junk cars in the backyards, they don’t seem to want solar panels in the yards either. They’ve gotten pretty vocal on it.”

Many of the owners of the ground arrays that have been approved, Boston added, are not following the proper protocols on buffering and screening as current regulations require.

“They may put in some little shrubs or something. When they die, they don’t replace them, and so they have no effective buffering and screening going on either,” he said. “Our recommendation is that they won’t be allowed anymore, even in a backyard, if it’s residential or commercial.”

He said the commission initially considered allowing the arrays on commercially zoned land, but as so many commercial parcels border residential ones, that no longer seemed like a feasible option. Boston also noted that some contractors were trying to rush through permits with City Planner Hector Hernandez Morales before the changes were finalized by the city council, which necessitated the temporary moratorium.

With a quorum expected for Thursday night’s hearing, Boston fully expects to submit a formal recommendation to the council for approval. The agenda for the Planning and Zoning hearing is available at


Contact Robert Maharry at (641) 753-6611 ext. 255 or [email protected].

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