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"Neighborhoods often slow to accept solar panels on homes"

Larry Lohrman didn't imagine his quest for some energy from the sun would launch a green movement within his homeowners' association. But nine months later, he not only has gotten the association to write architectural guidelines for solar panel installation, he's also formed a community group called Sustainable Creekside. CC&Rs cover everything from what the roof can be made of to how high a resident's grass can grow. Turns out that a 1979 state law prohibits property owners from banning use of solar panels on property.

"Neighborhoods often slow to accept solar panels on homes"

Larry Lohrman is helping Burt Bogart with the first home solar panels in Creekside Estates. (Thomas Patterson | Statesman Journal)

By Beth Casper • Statesman Journal • April 12, 2010

Original Article >>click here

Larry Lohrman didn't imagine his quest for some energy from the sun would launch a green movement within his homeowners' association.

But nine months later, he not only has gotten the association to write architectural guidelines for solar panel installation, he's also formed a community group called Sustainable Creekside.

Sustainable Creekside intends to promote the use of renewable energy and sustainable residential practices within the 500-home community.

It's not radical stuff — just new. Homeowners turning to sustainable practices are replacing lawns with gardens, letting dryers sit idle in favor of clotheslines, letting grass turn brown in August and accepting a coexistence with insects.

Some of these ideas run contrary to the extensive rules of the homeowners' association, which are in place to encourage consistency, conformity and uniformity.

But the vision of Lohrman and neighbor Burt Bogart, is that Creekside Estates, one of the strictest homeowners' associations in Salem, may end up leading the way in sustainability education.

Solar start

Early last year, Lohrman researched solar panels, retained an installer and had completed plans for a 3,000-watt solar photovoltaic installation.

His energy plans were suddenly halted when he received a letter from the Creekside Estates architectural review committee.

The July 10 letter stated, "The architectural review committee members ... did not approve of your solar roof panels because the panels are not permitted by the Creekside CC&Rs (conditions, covenants and restrictions)."

The inches-thick Creekside CC&Rs cover everything from what the roof can be made of to how high a resident's grass can grow.

Turns out that a 1979 state law prohibits property owners from banning use of solar panels on property.

Passed at a time when oil prices had skyrocketed, the law — implemented in several other states as well — intended to ensure solar energy installation could grow.

"Even though it is an old law, it was put in place when solar started to become popular," said Kim Berhorst of National Solar, a solar panel installer. "It was put in for a good reason, and those reasons still stand."

Homeowners have turned to the law when faced with homeowner associations' refusal to approve rooftop solar panels.

So far, the law has not been challenged in Oregon, but some homeowners have had to work extensively with their associations to put up panels.

"I've never had clients have to go to court, but I've had clients have to do battle," Berhorst said. "We let them know the law. But we have no jurisdiction when it comes to going to bat for them legally."

Solar acceptance

Lohrman eventually abandoned his solar visions to pursue other financial opportunities, but Bogart picked them up.

Bogart, who lives just behind Lohrman, was excited by the possibilities of increasing his property value, taking a stand on foreign policy and national defense issues and lessening his impact on the environment.

"And who knows? It may pay for itself in the end," Bogart said, laughing.

The pair sat on a committee to develop guidelines for any solar panels going up in Creekside.

Those guidelines were approved by the Creekside association March 10. Bogart submitted his installation plans at the same time and hopes to install solar panels this spring — the first to go up within Creekside Estates.

And while the nine-month process deterred Lohrman just enough to rethink his own financial commitment to solar panels, the friends say that the Creekside homeowners' association moved fairly quickly to resolve this issue.

"A little research on the Internet will quickly show that there are many cases all over the U.S. where HOA boards resist these kind of changes for years and end up backing down and doing the right thing only when threatened with litigation," Lohrman wrote on the group's Web site.

Rich Fry, an association board member until November, said the CC&Rs were written by the developer in the 1990s.

"Sometimes the board gets a bad rap about the policy, but we didn't make the policy," he said. "You can't really go and change the rules; all you can do is interpret them and try to enforce them so they are equal across the board."

Changes to the CC&Rs require consensus from 75 percent of the residents. So creating new guidelines for rooftop solar panels was a reasonable step, Bogart said.

"I can understand peoples' concern about the aesthetics," Bogart said. "I consider satellite dishes ugly, but we don't 'see' them anymore because they have been around for so long."

Sustainability

With the solar panel concerns behind them, the pair hopes to take on new challenges — based on feedback from Creekside residents.

Barbara Husseini, a 6-year resident of Creekside Estates, ran into concerns with the homeowners' association about a wooden fence she installed to keep deer from her vegetable garden.

The issue was resolved, and the fence remains up, but the experience left Husseini to wonder how easy it would be for a Creekside resident to decrease his or her impact on the environment.

Another resident lamented the lawn requirement as a waste of water and promoter of pesticides. In fact, in the fall 2009 association newsletter, a pesticide was suggested for control of crane flies.

The Sustainable Creekside group already has begun an awareness campaign about the use of nematodes, tiny beneficial parasites, instead of pesticides for crane grubs.

The group and its outreach efforts may go farther than traditional sustainability education because of its target: a neighborhood committed to consistency at a time when sustainable practices are still new.

"We want to do what's best for the community," Lohrman said.

 
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