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Green Building News

Solar Panels Cause a Stir in Rhode Island Town

A restaurant gets permits and installs photovoltaic panels on its roof, but now faces a legal challenge over aesthetics

Picturesque Watch Hill, Rhode Island, would apparently be a little less picturesque if the solar panels atop a popular ice cream shop aren't removed, according to a legal challenge filed there last month.
Image Credit: David Gaitan / Creative Commons License / Flickr

St. Clair Annex is a popular ice cream and sandwich shop that has been doing business in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, since 1887, but its foray into solar energy is running into stiff headwinds.

As The Westerly Sun reports, owners of the restaurant got an OK from the building owner, and took out required building and electrical permits with the town, for its rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array. (To see photos of the panels on the roof of the St. Clair Annex, click on this link to the report in The Westerly Sun.)

But after the panels went up, a lawyer for a quasi-municipal corporation called the Watch Hill Fire District filed an appeal with the local appeals board and said it wants the PV array removed.

Officials are apparently concerned that the solar panels will be an eyesore in the tony seaside community.

“The primary concern is the view from the street,” Fire District attorney Matthew Thomsen told the newspaper. “My client believes the Watch Hill area and Bay Street should be maintained.”

George Nicholas, whose family has been running the restaurant all these years, wouldn’t tell the Sun how much the PV system cost, but the sizable array includes 79 panels on the back side of the building alone. Solar panels also have been installed on the street-side roof.

The case is quickly entering a legal quagmire. Nicholas was told by the town planner that he needed only electrical and building permits for the work, but Thomsen says that the installation should have been subject to a review by the planning board to make sure that it complied with development standards for the Shore Commercial Watch Hill zone, the newspaper said. Nicholas’ lawyer said that there’s no basis for an appeal because the zoning board didn’t get involved in the first place.

“What are they appealing from?” he asked. “I don’t see how there is an appeal… there is no decision by the board.”

Nicholas told the paper that the PV panels would reduce his electricity costs by about 90%.

“We did what we thought was proper and got all the approvals from the town,” he said. “They gave us the OK so we assumed we had met all of the regulations… I think some people are always resistant to change whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.”

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