Medina family to use solar energy to be self-sustaining

Kirsta Morneau and her family want to be self-sustaining on their 16.55 acre property in Medina. To reach their goal, they asked the Medina City Council to change the city ordinance that limits the size of ground mounted solar energy arrays. Also the family asked for conditional use permits for constructing a solar array and a greenhouse.

Morneau made her request while cradling an infant in a front carrier at the Tuesday, Oct. 3 Medina City Council meeting.

John Sonicek, of home builder Charles Cudd, explained what the proposal from JEGM Revocable Trust for property at 2705 Willow Drive. The family’s vision includes generating all of its energy needs from ground mounted solar panels and growing its own food. “Their purpose is not to get a return on their investment,” he said. “They want a clean environment.”

And Medina Mayor Bob Mitchell said the city has been starting small with its solar energy regulations and learning as new solar energy applications come into the city. He thanked the JEGM Revocable Trust for helping Medina learn how to regulate solar energy installations.

Then the Medina City Council acted on a number of requests that will make the JEGM vision possible. At the meeting, the council took up other business. Here are meeting highlights.

MORNEAU VISION

The JEGM vision involved two sets of applications to the city. First, JEGM asked the city to amend its zoning regulations that limit the size of the footprint occupied by ground mounted solar equipment in the Rural Residential and Agricultural Preserve zoning districts.

Once the council approved the zoning ordinance amendment, City Councilors could act on specific applications. In the case if JEGM, the applicant needed conditional use permits to allow construction of two accessory buildings and solar equipment.

Mayor Mitchell asked representatives of JEGM to explain how the family intends to use solar energy, the amount of energy that would be generated and the amount the family would need. Mitchell said their presentation would help him to understand what potential changes that might be incorporated into the solar energy ordinance.

Sonicek, of Charles Cudd, said the current ordinance would allow the JEGM Trust to install roof mounted solar panels along with ground mounted solar panels to generate sufficient energy to meet the family’s needs. However, the roof mounted array would be visible to neighbors. The ground mounted solar array would be down in a hollow, screened by vegetation and not visible to neighbors.

The JEGM request was for a 79 kW ground mounted solar array that would occupy a footprint of just under 4,000 square feet. JEGM asked the city to amend its ordinance that limited the foot print for ground mounted solar equipment to 1,500 square feet as a permitted use and up to 2,500 square feet with a conditional use permit.

The Medina Planning Commission looked at the request and recommended that the City Council link the maximum foot print to lot size. A 2,178 square foot array would be allowed on five acres, a 3049 square foot array on seven acres and a 3,920.4 square foot array on nine acres. An array of up to 4,000 square feet in size would be allowed on a property 9.18 acres or larger.

Several City Councilors said the ordinance should reflect the fact that neighbors might not want to look at solar arrays. City Planner Dusty Finke said this is the reason why adequate screening from neighbors should be required.

City Councilor Kathleen Martin suggested that applicants provide topographical maps and/ or conceptual pictures, so that city staff could see the visual impact of a proposed solar array on neighbors. She also recommended that solar energy generation be primarily for occupants of the property.

The discussion ended with the Council directing city staff to combine Planning Commission recommendations and City Council suggestions into a solar energy ordinance amendment. The council also directed city staff to bring back a resolution approving a conditional use permit for JGEM for installation of solar equipment and construction of a 2,304 square foot green house and a 360 square foot warming shed.

The JEGM property contains a home currently under construction, barn, tennis court, gazebo, playhouse, pool and four sheds. The warming shed will be located north of the home and alongside the tennis court. The tennis court will be turned into a hockey rink during the winter, so the shed will be used as a warming shed during the winter and storage shed during the remaining months.

NEIGHBORS APPLAUD JEGM

Bill, Stacy and Charlie Nunn, who are neighbors to the JEGM property, wrote a letter to the Planning Commission. The letter said, “We applaud them for being proactive with the solar project. Also for the green house that will be used to produce healthy food for their family. As a community we need to look forward to innovations and to have plans in place that are encouraging for such projects.”

OTHER

The City Council also:

APPROVED extension of a conditional job offer to Melissa Robbins for the position of Community Service Officer with the Medina Police Department, contingent upon her passing a background check. She would work 24 hours a week, beginning on Oct. 16. She would succeed Andrew Scharf, who has been appointed to fill a vacant full-time police officer position.
Robbins has volunteered for the Medina Police Reserves since 2015. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in law enforcement and criminal justice from Metropolitan State University.

ACCEPTED numerous donations from area businesses, organizations and individuals for Medina Celebration Day, held in September. Donations ranged from mosquito control, to free ice cream, to volunteers for kids games, to money and much more. The council also thanked Medina city staff, volunteers, committee members and area businesses for their efforts in putting on the event.