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November 19, 2019

10/31/2019 3:38:00 PM
Council calls two meetings to discuss revised solar garden ordinance after planning commission endorses solar code

With its yearlong solar energy moratorium about to expire in December, the Chisago City Council set a special workshop meeting on possible solar ordinance revisions for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, and moved up its regular Nov. 26 council meeting to Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Chisago City’s yearlong moratorium on solar energy systems expires Dec. 11. Unless the city council can reach agreement on a solar energy ordinance before that date, the city’s original ordinance will go back into effect. That ordinance does not contain the larger setbacks and more stringent screening provisions that have been considered by the council and supported by Mayor Bob Gustafson. Meanwhile the city planning commission has voiced its support for solar energy and endorsed an ordinance with more protections than the original but less restrictive than that supported by the mayor.

If the council reaches an agreement on a revised ordinance at the Nov. 12 meeting, the new ordinance would take effect upon publication in this newspaper which council hopes to do before the current moratorium expires.

Discussion of the solar energy ordinance was on last week’s Oct. 22 council agenda; however, Mayor Gustafson said he was not ready to talk about the much-debated ordinance changes that night. “I was very surprised we were supposed to do something with this ordinance tonight,” said Gustafson. “We have got to have a work session to finalize the thing,” Gustafson said, adding that he did not want to be rushed.
The topic is made more complex because the council was presented with a newly revised version of the ordinance incorporating changes recommended by the city planning commission following the Oct. 3 public hearing.

According to a report by City Planner Courtney Weikert, the planning commission heard public comments both for and against solar gardens. Some residents wanted no solar gardens at all or were concerned about potential health hazards. Others did not oppose the gardens but wanted them fully screened from view.

On the other side of the issue, some residents at the hearing felt the solar ordinance proposed by the city council was too restrictive. They said requiring a 12-foot berm all around a solar garden was not feasible and that the proposed setbacks from Highway 8 were too large. Residents also spoke in support of ground-mounted solar panels for private residences (which the council proposed prohibiting).

Weikert reported that, after extensive discussion, the planning commission endorsed solar energy as “the future” and stated that it should be available to Chisago City residents. They endorsed ground-mounted solar panels for single-family residences as long as they weren’t visible to neighboring residences. While the mayor and council had contemplated prohibiting ground-mounted solar energy systems for single-family homes, the planning commission’s version would allow them on parcels of three acres or more with a minimum setback of 50 feet from any property line.

The planning commission also felt the requirement of a 12-foot berm on all sides of a solar garden was not necessary and should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. It did state a double row of trees should be required for screening solar gardens and added a provision requiring solar garden developers to obtain a liability insurance policy indemnifying the city for any bodily injury or property damages that might occur.

The planning commission unanimously approved the ordinance with its amendments, passing it on to the city attorney for review to be presented to the council. City staff has recommended the council approve the ordinance as revised by the planning commission on Oct. 3.

The council will discuss the ordinance at its Nov 5 workshop session and place it on the Nov. 12 meeting agenda. Copies of the proposed ordinance revisions can be viewed a the city hall during regular business hours.
In other business, the council:

- Unanimously approved an on-sale liquor license for the recently renovated Stone Inn, LLC, previously known as the Chisago Roadhouse, at 10805 Lake Blvd. The license, requested by owners Brian Salokar and John Peltier, includes Sunday liquor sales and includes a fenced patio area next to the building.

- Passed a resolution designating the Chisago Lakes Area Library, 11754 302nd St., as the official polling place for the March 3 presidential primary, the Aug. 11 primary and the Nov. 3 general elections.

- Acknowledged a letter and photos from Cyndy Tubbs, 27391 Jonquil Dr., Chisago City, regarding the deteriorated condition of Jonquil Dr.  Tubbs stated,”almost 40 percent of the 36 owners contacted have told me in writing that it’s past time to do something (about the condition of the street).”  She added that the property owners are aware there would be a cost for the requested improvement.

City Administrator John Pechman said that Jonquil Dr. is a publicly platted road which has been privately maintained. The area involves two different plats with streets of two different widths. After some discussion, the council authorized Pechman to draft a letter to Tubbs saying the city will get a cost estimate to bring the road up to city standards and an estimate of what the assessment to adjacent property owners would be.

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