Does DC’s Zoning Code Lack Protections for Solar Panels?

by Nena Perry-Brown

Elevation with appealed construction at center. Click to enlarge.

A recent building permit appeal in DC may have wider implications for whether solar arrays on residential rooftops are protected.

ANC 1C has filed a zoning appeal of a permit issued by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) for construction of a building which could reduce the solar production capacity of an adjacent home. DCRA's position, however, is that because the building is new construction rather than an addition, the impact on neighboring solar panels is within the zoning regulations.

The owner of 2910 18th Street NW (map), previously a two-family flat, was issued building permits by DCRA last November to construct a three-story building with a cellar. The RF-1 zone that defines the site permits by-right construction of up to three stories or 35 feet tall. In response, the ANC 1C filed a zoning appeal in December asserting that, among other things, the measurements used to approve the permits were inaccurate and misleading, and that the construction would violate a provision in the zoning code which states: 

"Any addition, including a roof structure or penthouse, shall not interfere with the operation of an existing or permitted solar energy system on an adjacent property, as evidenced through a shadow, shade, or other reputable study acceptable to the Zoning Administrator."

Conditions at 2910 18th Street NW, 2016. Click to enlarge.

However, both DCRA and the appellant note that the only structure sitting at this address is currently a wood bracing system and what the appellant refers to as "the damaged remnants of a rowhouse structure". According to DCRA, this classifies the two-family flat proposed for the site as new construction, and that the height of the structure would not constitute an addition. The only other mention of solar energy in the regulations for the RF-1 zone also pertains to additions. This means that, although the company which installed the neighboring solar array conducted a study stating that the array's energy-generating capacity would be diminished by 35 percent, there is no zoning provision to protect against this.

How the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) assesses the case could have much larger implications for what constitutes new construction vs. an addition, and for the city's protection (or lack thereof) of solar power-generating residential developments in the future. A zoning hearing is scheduled for May 15th.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/does-dc-zoning-code-lack-protections-for-solar-panels-from-new-construction/15231

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