The Winthrop Town Council has forwarded proposed revisions of the town’s Westernization code, with particular attention to regulations for solar arrays in the W-3 zone, to the Planning Commission for review and a public hearing.
By the time the council sees the proposals again, reviews the Planning Commission’s recommendations, holds its own public hearing and makes a decision, more than a year will have elapsed since the W-3 zoning issue was first raised at a council meeting.
The discussions originated at the council level in February 2018 when a proposal to amend the Westernization code to more broadly allow solar panels in the W-3 district came before the council. Earlier, the town’s Westernization Design Review Board (WDRB), which oversees administration of the code, had unanimously recommended that the proposal be denied. The proposal drew considerable public comment both pro and con.
Protocol for such requests is that they are first considered by the Planning Commission, which held a public hearing in April 2018 — where proponents and opponents again had their say. The commission recommended that the council form an ad hoc committee to review the Westernization ordinance’s regulations for solar panel arrays in the W-3 zone, and other aspects of the code.
That ad hoc group also conducted a public meeting in August 2018, and came up with some preliminary suggestions for code revisions. The council took up consideration of those proposals in October 2018, and the subsequent discussions continued into the new year.
Meantime, the town went for several months without a functioning WDRB after several resignations left the group with but one member. Four are required for a quorum. The Planning Commission temporarily took over WDRB functions. Only recently was the town able to find enough people to reconstitute the WDRB, which now has five members: Kyrie Jardin, Rick Jones, Duncan Bronson, Leslie Dolan and Dave Swenson, whose appointment was confirmed at last week’s council meeting.
Council member Kirsten Vanderhalf, former chair of the WDRB, took a leadership role in the ad hoc committee’s work. Council member Ben Nelson was also on the committee. At last week’s meeting, the council reviewed the committee’s proposals, which included comments from the informal RiverWalk Committee of downtown property owners and businesspeople, and from the reconstituted WDRB.
Most of last week’s discussion was related to solar arrays. The committee’s recommendation is that rooftop solar arrays not be visible from Highway 20, and includes details for how the arrays must be installed and how they must look. Freestanding solar arrays could not be visible from either Highway 20 or White Avenue.
In its response, the WDRB said “it was the WDRB’s understanding that it was only going to address the ‘roof top’ solar arrays in the W-3 zone. It appears that the W-1 zone has been completely left out and freestanding arrays are now allowed to be visible anywhere but Highway 20. After review, it is the WDRB’s position and recommendation that in W-3 ALL solar power arrays will not be visible from Highway 20 and White Avenue.”
Vanderhalf said the reference to W-1 had been inadvertently left out and would be reinserted.
The Westernization code currently exempts town properties — such as the Winthrop Rink and Winthrop Barn — from its requirements. The ad hoc committee’s recommendations included eliminating that exemption where possible, suggesting that town projects “shall comply to the maximum extent practical and feasible with all aspects of the Westernization code.”
During the council’s discussion, Nelson said it is his belief that solar arrays should be allowed to be visible from anywhere in town, but that he was willing to compromise. “I’m 50 percent happy with it,” he said.
The RiverWalk Committee suggested that building owners be allowed to color or paint concrete that is visible; and asked to revive an earlier recommendation that “building appurtenances that are not period authentic shall be covered, screened, colored or textured to blend in with the surroundings and be visually subdued.”
In other business:
• The council reappointed David Ebenger as municipal court judge.
• The council renewed its agreement with Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink, the nonprofit organization that operates the Winthrop Rink. The town will annually contribute $20,000 toward the rink’s operation. Steve Bondi, who recently took over as the rink’s general manager, reported that hockey tournaments are increasingly becoming an important revenue generator for the town.
• Mayor Sally Ranzau said the town will soon close on the purchase of property on White Avenue for a new public library. The process has been slowed by a complicated title search, she said. Ranzau said preliminary projections suggest that the library will be about 8,000 square feet in size.
• Ranzau noted that her blog on the town website is now active at townofwinthrop.blogspot.com.