Town Revises Solar Zoning Code

Solar panels on a building on North Salem resident Lewis Kohl’s property. Credits: Melissa Kohl

NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— The North Salem Town Board approved a resolution April 25, amending its zoning for solar energy systems.

The amendments were made to Chapter 250 of the town’s zoning code and were passed unanimously.

The North Salem Planning Board began its discussions a year ago, as more and more property owners began turning to solar panels to provide energy for their homes.

Sign Up for E-News

As it formulated the specifics of the code changes, the Planning Board collected information from the state, neighboring towns and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

The resulting proposals were then sent to the town board for approval on April 25.

Planning Board Chair Cynthia Curtis said the intention was to clearly define what an accessory solar energy system is, and at what point the system would require more than just a permit from the town’s building department and require approval by the Planning Board.

Previous town zoning was non-existent on solar panels, either roof or ground-mounted, so the planning board felt it important to act “as expeditiously as possible.”

“We decided early on that we wanted to recommend that all North Salem properties––both residential and commercial––be allowed to install solar panels as an accessory use by right, but only for the needs and use of their property. That is, no commercial ventures,” said Planning Board Chair Cynthia Curtis.

The new solar code revision calls for limiting ground-mounted installations to 1,000 square feet or less. Installations greater than that would require site plan approval from the planning board. 

Board members felt that the 1,000 square feet would be sufficient for most residences or farms to complete their installations without the need for approval by the planning board. 

All commercial properties, however, would still have to apply to the planning board for amended site plan approval, as they would for any improvements to their property.

The new zoning code places restrictions on the locations solar panels can be placed.

Ground-mounted solar installations cannot be built on steep slopes, defined as 15 percent or greater covering an area of 500 square feet or more.  Properties that are listed on the local historic registry would require a certificate of appropriateness. Installations within a wetland control area would require a wetland permit.

The code also specifies that ground-mounted installations cannot be located in front of a principal building, unless there is a minimum setback of 200 feet from the property line and there is adequate screening to minimize their view from the street and adjacent properties.

Ground installations for solar panels are necessary if a property owner does not have enough roof space, the proper exposure, or trees that might block the panels’ efficiency.

Curtis said the 1,000 square foot threshold for ground installations does several things. It encourages roof installations as a preference, and allows for better oversight and “keeps potential impacts” to a minimum.

“We drafted the law so that every property owner in the town of North Salem could benefit by switching to solar energy if they chose, through the easiest possible set of solar regulations we could put together,” Curtis explained.

For single family homes and farms, property owners would simply go to the town’s building inspector for a permit. The only installations that would require site plan approval from the Planning Board are ground installations of more than 1,000 square feet. 

The new code also defines how much solar energy a homeowner and business is permitted to generate with their solar panels.

“If you put it on your roof, whether it’s your house roof, garage roof or barn roof, you could put as much as you need up to 110 percent of your energy usage. Basically you are just to provide the electricity for yourself, for your use, on your property,” Curtis said.

The town’s building inspector will be using the so-called “Unified Solar Permit” to make the processing of an application consistent with other towns who have adopted the Unified Permit, Curtis said.

The Unified Permit is a standardized form created by NYSERDA for municipalities to streamline their solar permitting and inspection process.  Local governments that adopt the Unified Solar Permit are eligible for grant funding to implement the new procedures.

Supervisor Warren Lucas indicated he would submit the paperwork to NYSERDA for an estimated $2,500 that the town would be eligible for.

Curtis said she’s pleased that the code revisions have been adopted, adding that it was essential the changes were made in a timely manner, both to take advantage of grant money and to ensure smooth sailing for solar panel applications that are currently pending.

“We have one installation that’s a ground installation, and that’s what triggered this. We needed to bring our code up to date,” said Curtis, adding, “I’m thrilled that this went fairly quickly and easily and that everybody on the town board supported it.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

North Salem

Upcoming Events

Sat, March 24, 10:00 AM

Jefferson Valley Mall , Yorktown Heights

Yorktown Indoor Farmers Market

Food & Drink Health & Wellness

Sat, March 24, 3:30 PM


Easter Egg Hunt at the farm!

Arts & Entertainment

Sat, March 31, 10:00 AM

Jefferson Valley Mall , Yorktown Heights

Yorktown Indoor Farmers Market

Food & Drink Health & Wellness

Winter's Ending

Thank God March is already underway. And with it, pristine snowdrops and teeny fields of crocuses. For the last three weeks, here or there, as I drove through town, I have also spotted some witch hazel blossoming in full golden glory, the earliest tree to flower each year, a herald of the coming spring. Such a relief to the eyes and the senses when the color returns to the ...

Stop Gun Carnage

The 18th mass shooting in the United States in the first 45 days of 2018 took the lives of 17 students and teachers.

What is going on? Why are little kids and devoted educators being murdered by maniacs with guns? Tell me why these brutal attacks appear to be happening primarily in the United States.

Gun attacks against civilians are nonexistent or rare in any country which isn’t ...

It's Good to Cheat!

OK, you know that I am working on losing 10 pounds before summer vacation and every weekend I cheat on my diet. I felt a little guilty about that and invariably yelled at myself every Sunday night. I found out that this is not unusual and may actually help us wannabe skinnies stay on our program in the long run. 

Two trusted authorities told me that it’s actually GOOD to cheat! A ...

To Harrison, L'Chaim!

At long last, the smile of spring approaches, as an angry winter recedes into good riddance. Our spirit is ready to be re-charged. Damn the power outages, full speed ahead!

For my wife, Elyse, daughter, Elissa, and me, this otherwise exuberant time of year brings a confusion of mixed emotions. In 2003, on the opening day of spring, March 20, which happens to be my birthday, our 15-year-old son ...

Anytown USA's Reality TV Show

Nowhere is the raw power of our Constitution’s First Amendment more earnestly practiced than in thousands of town halls across the land every time a citizen steps up to the podium to say his piece.

That also is where reality television can be seen at its rawest, as town meetings are televised to the local populace. All the familiar production values of reality TV are there in full color: ...

When It's Not OK to Ask If Everything's OK

There is this thing that I do that annoys the heck out of my family. Well, to be honest, there are a lot of things I do that annoy the heck out of my family, but I am thinking of one thing in particular.

Whenever someone is in the bathroom for what I determine to be an abnormally long period of time, I stand outside the bathroom door and yell,


I ...

I'm All Pumped Up

This time last year, I struggled with my New Year’s resolution to go to the gym.

This year, I have made significant progress. I am going to the gym on a semi-regular basis. And by semi-regular, I mean, I go often enough that I actually remember where it’s located between visits.

The bad news, however, is that my workouts are just, how would you say it? Lame. Yes, they’re ...

'Gun Laws Need to Be Changed'

March 14, 2018

To the editor,

In response to last week’s article on North Salem schools’ reaction to the Parkland tragedy, we respectfully disagree with the school’s official statement that North Salem’s students are not interested in standing up for change in gun control laws. To be clear, many of us are standing up for our belief that gun control laws need to be changed. We are ...

Winter Weather Cuts Through North Salem

March 12, 2018

NORTH SALEM, N.Y.-Operating under a state of emergency, the town opened up a warming center at the North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Saturday, March 3, welcoming in from the cold those who lost electricity.

Supervisor Warren Lucas voiced his frustration over the power outages several times over the weekend, unable to provide residents with adequate information.

On Saturday, Lucas drove ...