Letters supporting solar in conservation districts
Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods
Mayor Sam Adams
1221 SW Fourth Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97204
To Mayor Adams,
The Solarize Northeast project was recently completed with over 200 new solar installations in Northeast Portland. That is truly something to celebrate. However, if it were not for rules that make it nearly impossible to install solar panels in conservation districts there could have been 15 more installations. We are concerned that our neighbors are being denied access to inexpensive renewable energy.
We understand that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is requesting funding in FY 2011-12 to conduct a process to consider amendments to the Community Design Standards and other codes that relate to solar installations in conservation and historic districts. We urge you to support that fund request.
Large portions of North and Northeast Portland are designated as conservation districts as part of the Albina Community Plan process 20 years ago. At that time, we were less aware of the need to shift to renewable energy, and nothing in the documents from that process indicate that the designation would prevent the placement of renewable energy facilities.
Northeast Portlanders heir electricity from Pacific Power, 70% of which comes from burning coal. The Portland/Multnomah Climate Action Plan 2009 calls fro a number of actions to be completed before 2012, including these:
Such ambitious goals are out of synch with our current regulations. The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods looks forward to being a part of a community discussion about the place of solar panels in historic and conservation districts. Please support the BPS request so we can have that discussion.
Kathleen Ugolini, President
Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods
Dear Sirs and Mesdames:
March 31, 2011
Sorry about calling you Mayor Adams, first off. I am writing this letter in hopes that you will consider supporting attempts to mitigate the negative effects that home ownership in a Conservation District has on home owners in their pursuit of joining with the city’s goal of green sustainable energy creating in the form of solar power.
In April 2010, we filed our application to be part of the Solarize NE Coalition. After a review process that lasted months, our home was deemed acceptable for the program as our south facing roof was an ideal candidate with a potential efficiency of up to 98% due to the roof slope and lack of obstruction. Throughout the summer months, and multiple house inspections, we were confident in efforts at sustainability as part of this affordable program that combined state tax credits and the bulk purchasing power that was leveraged through 500+ customers committing to the efforts.
Throughout the nation and specifically in Oregon, solar power is touted as one effective tool in the sustainability movement to combat global climate change as well as push for energy independence. The fact that so many North and Northeast residents are alienated in their attempts to support this effort does not seem to be in keeping with the ethos of the city of Portland. I ask for you support in the move to allow residents in Conservation Districts full solar equality and accessibility.
Thank you for your consideration.
Mayor Sam Adams
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 240
Portland OR 97204
RE: Please support House Bill 3516
I live in a conservation district in North Portland. The proposed PV solar system that we want to install ASAP is in limbo because of current city/district rules. Solar World, the local manufacturer of the solar panels, has a wonderful one year no-fee/no-interest finance plan to help with the typical barrier of high up-front costs while awaiting tax credits and refunds. However, it appears that they are also affected by restrictive city rules and are sitting on the fence due to this issue. I am worried that the whole deal might be scuttled, or delayed to the point that the current forward-thinking and generous incentives will disappear in a frenzy of partisan budget cutting--not an unreasonable concern in the current climate.
These conservation district rules as they apply to green power make no sense at all to me--if they are based on aesthetics, then somebody clearly hasn't seen how appealing these solar panels are. The benefits are as clear as sunshine: they add value to homes & businesses thereby increasing the tax base and owner's value, they improve the region via lower energy use and carbon footprint, and they provide and enable a cascade of local jobs. They also provide robust diversity in our region's energy mix and help cement our reputation as a forward thinkers. But shouldn't our governing laws support our oft-stated proclamations of being a leader in the green economy―and not function as an embarrassing and out-dated impediment? This isn't just common sense, I suspect that in not too many years hence, these decisions will be seen as a matter of community survival.
I urge any city, regional, or state leader to support legislation easing the way for installation of photovoltaic and other point-of-use energy systems. I believe House Bill 3516 is the type of bill that would deserve your vote.
Ivor L. Thomas
October 15, 2010
Portland City Council Members :
RE: Solar accessibility in the Humbolt Neighborhood
The Humboldt Neighborhood Association is very committed to preserving the livability and desirability of our neighborhood. We are proud to be one of the city’s “20-minute neighborhoods” and home to a portion of the Piedmont Conservation District. We feel our neighborhood’s density, availability of services, accessibility to alternative transportation and proximity to the central city make our neighborhood a vital and attractive place for businesses and residents to call home. We are proud to be located in a progressive city with an aggressive Climate Action Plan as well as an ambitious Sustainable Economic Development Strategy.
However, we have recently become concerned that our neighborhood is being prevented from maintaining our attractiveness within the city. In the last few months several Humboldt residents have met resistance when they have tried to pro-actively implement sustainability measures. Homeowners in our neighborhood (and adjacent close-in N-NE neighborhoods) have met city opposition when applying for modest renewable energy system permits for their homes. These residents have committed to improving the existing housing stock of our neighborhood by investing in residential efficiency upgrades. It is our position that decreasing the energy demands of these old homes not only adds to the desirability of individual properties and increased property values but ultimately improves the future viability of the district as whole.
The Albina Community Plan states:
Based on this excerpt from our Community Plan and in conjunction with the overriding sustainability goals of the city, it is disappointing to see that onsite residential solar is being discouraged in any Portland neighborhood. The Humboldt Neighborhood already has many examples of recently installed solar panels within the last few years. However, when the recent RICAP 5 code update was introduced earlier this year, our residents began encountering resistance when attempting to obtain permits.
RICAP 5 was marketed as increasing solar accessibility and introduced an alternative path to Historic Design Review. Unfortunately, this prescriptive path is relevant for only about 1% of the south facing roofs in our Conservation District; ultimately requiring almost every homeowner within the district to go through Historic Design Review. For the average home owner a nearly $1300 review fee easily adds a payback of 7 ½ - 13 years (1.29kW system – 2.1 kW system). Of the residents that have chosen to pursue this process, they have been asked to reduce their system sizes which further increases the payback. This single expense alone is making solar financially inaccessible to our residents.
Mayor Sam Adams was quoted as saying (about RICAP 5) :
In order to achieve the ambitious goals of the “2009 Climate Action Plan” and implement “Portland’s Economic Development Strategy,” it is imperative that all neighborhoods be allowed reasonable access to onsite solar. The current Historic Design Review path and the alternative path of Community Design Standards are not practical solutions for our neighborhood. Unfortunately, these standards as currently written, are barriers to our resident’s individual ability to directly combat Climate Change. We feel strongly that severely restricting solar from Conservation Districts will have unintended consequences. This strict limitation on solar access in N-NE Conservation Districts will decrease the desirability of these places, potentially reducing property values and ultimately deterring green businesses and residents from locating to our neighborhood.
We urge City Council to rethink the Community Design Standards in the Zoning Code to make solar more accessible in our neighborhood. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Humboldt Neighborhood Association
To Mayor Sam Adams, Portland City Council
Daniel and Anna Schoborg
515 N Ainsworth Street
Portland, OR 97217
October 25, 2010
Dear Mayor Sam Adams,
We were recently notified by ImaginEnergy, a local residential energy efficiency contractor participating in the Solarize Portland program, that our home is not eligible for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules because our house is located within the Piedmont Conservation District. Our 3 kilowatt PV array was planned for our south facing roof which also faces N. Ainsworth Street. According to Imagine Energy this city regulation has only been in place for a few months and has a clause that PV modules facing the street in conservation districts are forbidden. This news is extremely disappointing to us as PV technology through the Portland Solarize was a cost effective way for us to reduce our environmental impact. We are reaching out to you in hopes that you are able to provide some insight into why this policy has been implemented and how our design can gain approval by the city in the near future. In addition, we hope that you will take into consideration our concern in regards to this policy and help to change this policy in the near future.
To give you some background, we started looking for our first home approximately two years ago, analyzing each home to determine if it met our goals of long-term energy efficiency and sustainability. After looking at over 100 homes in Portland over six months we finally found the perfect house that fit our current and future needs. This home had a good south facing roof for solar technology, a yard for a garden, as well as the perfect square footage to minimize heating and cooling loads yet still raise a family. When we purchased the home in June 2009 there was not a policy to our knowledge that this area was deemed inappropriate for PV modules. Particularly since other homes in our neighborhood, which are also in the conservation district, have solar technology on their roofs.
We started attending Solarize Portland Meetings in early 2010 to determine the requirements for PV modules, tax incentives and upfront cost. Once we found out how much the out-of-pocket cost would be we started saving so that we could capitalize on this great opportunity that the communities of Portland were coming together to create. Since March 2010 we have had 3 contractors quote PV modules for our house, eventually signed a contract with ImaginEnergy and paid for 50% of the system we had quoted in August 2010. None of the Solarize Portland contractors or representatives warned us that this might be problem during this time. As you might expect we were taken by surprise on October 15th 2010 when we were notified that our house is not eligible for the quoted PV array design despite its location on an open south facing roof that is projected to save us approximately 50% on our annual electricity cost. More importantly this 50% reduction in net energy from the utility grid reduces pollution and greenhouse gases as approximately 85% of the time Pacific Power sources its fuel from “dirty” or non-renewable energy sources (http://www.pacificpower.net/ya/po/otou/fsei.html).
As concerned citizens we would like to know if you can offer us any solutions or contacts in regards to this issue. We did a quick scan of the historical and conservation districts of Portland and it appears that more than 6800 properties are affected by this new policy. Frankly we feel that the city making approximately 6800 of the residential properties ineligible or difficult to install solar technology on their roof is the wrong image for Portland; a city that touts a green way of living not only through renewable energy project and job creation but through public transportation, green buildings, locally sourced food, and bike ways.
I ask you and your colleagues to consider the following questions when addressing this issue:
1) Our current understanding is that homes within a conservation area can still install solar technology on their roofs as long as they pass a design review. We assume we have failed this design review yet little feedback on how our design could be improved to gain approval has been given to us at this point. Thus far our feedback has been that street-facing homes in conservation areas automatically fail this design review which seems unfair.
a. Can we see the criteria that the design review team is using to approve homes requesting solar technology in the conservation areas?
b. Does this review team offer suggestions on how the design could be changed such that the design could be approved? If so, can we be informed of these suggestions?
2) What kind of net energy reduction programs/options are there for people who bought houses in a conservation or historic district?
3) How was this decision made and were community members involved in the decision making process?
4) Is solar technology installed on home’s roof truly going to be detrimental to the historic nature of a neighborhood particularly when other houses in these districts had solar technology installed before the new policy was in place?
Local, state, and federal tax incentives for Solar PV are subject to change at any time putting Portland citizens denied by the city’s design review team at a possible financial disadvantage. We urge you to quickly address this issue. We hope we have demonstrated our sincere concern about failing our PV array design review. This decision genuinely influences our life and where we ultimately will spend the rest of our lives. It is currently difficult for us to imagine living in a home that can not support our values in regards to energy efficiency.
We are more than willing to start a petition in our neighborhood to see if our neighbors within our conservation district are also in support of PV modules on residential roofs. Please contact us if you have any direction for us on resolving this issue.
Danny and Anna Schoborg
Dear Dan Saltzman,
October 18, 2010
Commissioner Dan Saltzman
1221 SW 4th Ave.
Portland, OR 97204
RE: Unobstructed access to solar technologies
Dear Commissioner Saltzman:
I have been the Humboldt Neighborhood Land Use Committee Chair for the past two years. Recently it has come to my attention that a number of residences in the Humboldt Neighborhood portion of the Piedmont Conservation District have run into obstacles when trying to participate in the Solarize Northeast program. As I am sure you are aware, Solarize Northeast, in conjunction with the Energy Trust of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Energy’s Residential Energy Tax Credit Program, and federal rebates, is helping to make solar power affordable on a residential scale for Portland residents. Interest in installing systems in the Humboldt Neighborhood has increased substantially. However, it appears that the new Community Design Standards regarding conservation districts (Chapter 33.218.100, section P) do not allow our neighborhood equal access to these incentives. The permitting problems became apparent after the passage of Regulatory Improvement Code Amendment Package 5 (RICAP 5) on April 24, 2010, and seem to be in conflict with the goals of the RICAP. The promise was that
green technology on the neighborhood scale.”
—RICAP 5 “Green Bundle” – Summary of Proposals, August, 2009
1. The majority of residential blocks within several conservation districts run north- south; therefore, south-facing roofs with rear-facing lot lines are very uncommon (less than 1 percent in Piedmont).
I urge the City Council to reevaluate the current process by which conservations districts are reviewed.
Residents of the Piedmont Conservation District specifically need a more equitable process that will allow them unobstructed access to solar energy. Solar panels need to be positioned properly for maximum efficiency; they need to be placed where they need to go. Deeming which roof elevations are appropriate and which are inappropriate will greatly limit our neighborhood’s ability to keep up with the market demand for energy-efficient homes. It will negatively impact the property values in our neighborhood and reduce interest in new development and sustainable renovation of our high-quality existing buildings.
Center’s new solar array and the June Key Delta House’s Living Building Challenge remodel. As the neighborhood’s Land Use Chair, I urge City Council members to reconsider the code restrictions on conservation districts as outlined in Chapter 33.218.100, section P. Please allow conservation districts the same unobstructed access to solar technologies that the rest of the city has. Allow these districts to fully participate in a climate change solution.
Humboldt Neighborhood Land Use Committee
Brian Murtagh, Chair, Humboldt Neighborhood Land Use Committee
Portland City Council
Mayor Adams and Portland City Commissioners,
Dear Portland City Mayor and Council,
I strongly support our residential solar power in the community. Not only solar panels will be beneficial to our energy saving practice but its also good for our environment. With our neighborhood, Eliot, so close range to the highway 5, many of us feel the noise and the pollution from the traffic is already a negative impact on our community. It will be a plus to eliminate other potential pollution harm. I personally have taken action selling my car last year and dedicated my entire work commute by bike and MAX. Instead of a mini van I have dedicated to a cargo bike, to do my grocery runs and errands. I personally think the city needs to slow down the traffic on NE Tillamook and Rodney intersection but that's a issue I've brought up to city hall and continuously denied of any installation of bumps or bicycle crossing signs.
Anyways, I found the solar power installation restrictions in our neighborhood is treated unfairly.
While the solar panels are denied but other things like satellite dishes and razor wires or even badly constructed infills and lack of handicapped accessible curbs are ignored.
Please do what you can as our elected representatives to see that North and Northeast Conservation districts have fair access to Residential Solar and other green programs.
Dear Mayor Adams, and Commissioners Fritz, Fish, Saltzman, and Leonard -
In five Conservation districts in inner Northeast Portland street facing solar is not allowed, and solar facing the side of your lot requires a $1300 design review fee. Also note that if your house is within these districts, even if your home was built in 1970 or you are building a new building, you must follow the same rules on solar panels.
But there is a chance for us to be included in a new Oregon law allowing solar in North and Northeast Conservation Districts and removing cost impediments in our neighborhoods!
Here is your call to action. Please contact everyone you can think of and ask them to send an email to our Commissioners and to Mayor Adams voicing their support for removing obstacles to installing solar systems in conservation districts. This is a case where immediate response and volume are important. We are going to get a bill. Historic districts (Irvington) will be exempted. But we have a chance to be included and be allowed to have solar in our neighborhood. Whether we win or lose depends on how the City leaders feel the wind is blowing.
Our green city needs to hear from you and every supporter you can think of.
Please find a sample letter attached, modify it as you like, sign it and mail it to your commissioners. Please cc me!
Get Portland to walk the talk on Green building!
Thanks for being the best neighbors a family could ever have!
Monday March 28th, 2011
I choose to live in a historic neighborhood partially due to a love of old architecture. But a big part of preserving old buildings isn't just keeping or restoring details they originally had, but updating systems when necessary to extend the buildings' useful life. I am not aware of a single home in my neighborhood that has traditional (and historically accurate) cut cedar shingle roofing; the cost, availability, and environmental footprint of old-growth roofing materials just don't make sense any more. Nor do I encounter anyone bragging about their original plumbing or heating systems.
I am writing as a NE (King) homeowner who knows other homeowners in N/NE who are unable to install solar energy systems because of living in historic conservation districts. I am not at all an expert on these districts and their rules and regulations, but it certainly does strike me as arbitrary that some N/NE neighborhoods count as historic while others with homes of the same vintage do not. That point aside, I also don't see how solar panels on rooftops impedes on the appreciation of the historicity of a neighborhood. While we don't have solar panels ourselves, other neighbors to the east of us do, and, again, it seems unfair that those living in other very similar neighborhoods (Humboldt/Piedmont) are not permitted to take advantage of this important energy-conscious home improvement.
876 NE Ainsworth St.
Tuesday March 1st, 2011
To: Mayor Sam Adams, Portland City Council
CC: Susan Anderson, Director BPS
RE: Support for City Council approval for funding of a zoning code revision to reduce
sustainable development restrictions in Conservation Districts
I am a Conservation District homeowner who pursued solar photovoltaics (pv) in 2010 as a Solarize NE participant. I was unfortunately unable to obtain a permit for a 6 PV system on the back roof of my non-contributing structure. This was surprising because just one year earlier my neighbor, 3 houses away, was able to permit solar panels without the enforcement of Historic Design Review. My impression had been, based on years of solar installations going up in my neighborhood, that there were no local barriers to achieving onsite residential solar. This has NOT been the case since the adoption of RICAP 5; which is why I urge City Council to fund a study to re-evaluate sustainable development restrictions on the over 3,000 homeowners in N-NE Conservation Districts.
The current zoning code is restricting green improvements (solar pvs, solar thermal, eco-roofs, rain water cisterns) in Portland’s 5 residential Conservation Districts:
The restrictions are so great, that I have heard several accounts of prospective homebuyers deciding against moving into these areas because of the sustainable development barriers. These N-NE neighborhoods, located along the I-5 corridor, are currently the only Conservation Districts in the City of Portland. Unlike Historic Districts, Conservation Districts are NOT on the National Register of Historic Places. Given this clear distinction, it is my position that minor sustainability-related exterior applications should be exempt from Historic Design Review as they are exempt across the majority of the city.
It is my understanding that 20 years ago Conservation Districts were designated by the City of Portland due to their ‘transitional’ state. The intent was to stop the demolition of entire blocks of old homes that were being replaced by new low-quality, low-cost larger developments. Since that time, only one district (Irvington) has become Historic. The remaining 5 districts have experienced some revitalization, but are still ‘transitional’ 20 years later. Per the inventoried data of the 5 remaining conservations districts, the following thresholds are noted:
● minimum “contributing properties” = 26%
● minimum size = less than 400 properties
This is in comparison to Irvington Historic District, which is a grouping of almost 3,000 properties with over 80% ‘contributing’ structures. Certainly the Conservation areas, like so many neighborhoods all over this great city, have a wonderful collection of vintage homes that are worthy of preservation and restoration. However with Portland’s impressive history of preserving its heritage, I would contend that there would be an extensive list of neighborhoods with a collection of at least 400 homes, 26% of which are significant or ‘contributing’ to the urban fabric.
I respectfully ask the members of City Council to consider whether or not these 5 Conservation Districts are so historically unique and unchanged (compared to the rest of the city) that sustainable development should be restricted by the zoning code. I would encourage Council members to personally visit these I-5 corridor neighborhoods, located along Albina, Interstate, Lombard, Killingsworth, Martin Luther King; and compare them to the many other wonderful nearby neighborhoods like Alameda, Overlook, Sabin, Alberta Arts District, etc. Putting “a face on the districts” relative to a broader context may be helpful when weighing the seemingly conflicting goals of ‘pure historic preservation’ against ‘the pursuit of energy independence’.
t is also important to understand that according to neighbors and community leaders, it appears that there was minimal community outreach in the drafting of RICAP 5’s “Community Design Standards”. Over the years, residents like myself have been watching solar installations go up around them and had no idea that the introduction of “Community Design Standards” within a code that advertised “green amendments” would solidify restrictions on our neighborhood. Re-visiting the code would allow these neighborhoods to have a voice in what the community wants.
A final point is that the zoning code does NOT state that solar panels (even street-facing) are NOT allowed in Conservation Districts. The code does however require compliance with either the Community Design Standards or Historic Design Review (HDZ) approval. Unfortunately the Community Design standards, as currently written, allow only 1% of Piedmont C.D. residents an exemption from HDZ. The remaining properties, subject to HDZ, are often not approvable due to ‘visibility concerns’; even systems proposed on rear or side roofs.
Portland has always been a leader in intelligent, sustainable development and Oregon is most recently the first state in the country to develop a State solar code. Sustainability as well as the preservation of urban character/density are important issues for our neighborhoods, our city and our region. If there is a city where codes can protect urban fabric yet not restrict sustainability or impose social inequity, Portland is just that place.
I hope this letter persuades you to consider allocating funds for additional exploration of this issue. As further encouragement for a RICAP update, I have attached 2 additional letters supporting a code revision: (1) from the Humboldt Neighborhood Association and (1) from the Humboldt Land Use Chair. Thank you for your consideration of this important issue. I look forward to providing additional testimony once this is revisited.
Architect, LEED AP
| March 29, 2011
To: Mayor Sam Adams and City Council
From : Kurt Haapala, Conservation District Homeowner
Re: Support for removal of restrictions for Solar Installations in Conservation Districts
Mayor Adams and members of City Council:
As the Chair of the Humboldt Neighborhood Association (HNA) for 4 years (2000-2004) I served as a volunteer leader and was both humbled and impressed with the power that communities have in positively impacting their environment. I was also the Land Use Chair of the HNA at this time and reviewed numerous permit applications which met the guidelines of the Albina Plan and the City’s Design Guidelines, which state
“Design Guidelines are the criteria used to evaluate development proposals during design review. …… The Design Guidelines should express the shared understanding of what the people in the district feel is important to preserve and enhance.”
With this community perspective of enhancing my neighborhood, my wife and I pursued solar photovoltaics (pv) in 2010 as a Solarize NE participant. We were unfortunately unable to gain Historic Design Review approval and therefore denied permits for a modest 6 panel system on the back roof of our house.
Since June of 2010 when it was apparent that permits would not be granted by the City of Portland (due to inordinately restrictive regulations in Conservation Districts), I joined many other neighbors facing similar denials and brought our issues to your office. Through active participation in our City government, we sat in meetings with your staff, staff of Commissioner Fish and Commissioner Saltzman. These meetings confirmed that, in fact, the RICAP 5 language was not comprehensive enough and did not adequately distinguish between Historic and Conservation Districts. The only outcome of these meetings was correction of a “clerical error” which actually made the code more restrictive. 9 months have passed and no other significant action has been taken.
During this period of time I have also had the opportunity to meet directly with leaders of your appointed Landmarks Commission and this meeting further underscored the legitimate confusion of both intent and purpose of Conservation Districts.
As a licensed Architect, I have highly detailed knowledge and understanding of local, regional and State codes and my personal experience with this solar permit application has revealed significant inconsistencies in code language, permitting procedure – and lastly – enforcement of zoning requirements as it relates to solar installations. This was more than disconcerting to me as a design professional who promotes environmental responsibility in the design and construction of the built environment.
As the current President of the Portland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, I have watched as my own sub-committees – the Historic Resources Committee and the Committee on the Environment (COTE) - debate and struggle with the application of the zoning ordinance as it relates renewable strategies in Conservation Districts. The recent installation (Jan 2011) of un-regulated wind turbines on a historically significant building in my Conservation District further amplifies the unsatisfactory nature of City regulations.
The City of Portland is set on a national pedestal for promotion of a green economy, grounded by intelligent, sustainable development. City leaders should make every attempt to insure that ALL of your citizens benefit and participate in this legacy.
Based on my personal experience as a home owner, a design professional and a civic leader, it is my opinion that current city restrictions have the potential to impede entire neighborhoods from participating in combating climate change. I urge you to actively and expeditiously oversee the review and revision of the limitations on solar installations in Conservation Districts.
Kurt Haapala, AIA LEED AP