Medina votes to make solar energy ‘less spendy’

By SUSAN VAN CLEAF
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS

“If we someday didn’t see electric power lines everywhere we drive, it would be fantastic,” said Medina resident Mindy Rechelbacher at the Tuesday, April 18 Medina City Council meeting.

She was asking the City Council to amend city regulations to make it less costly for residents in rural residential and agricultural zoning districts to install ground mounted solar energy panels. Paying $1,000 for a conditional use permit “is spendy,” Rechelbacher said.
City Councilors listened to her and city staff and voted in favor of amending the zoning regulations pertaining to ground mounted solar energy panels.

At the meeting, the council also took up other business.

GROUND MOUNTED SOLAR ARRAYS

City planner Dusty Finke explained the request of Peter and Mindy Rechelbacher for a zoning ordinance amendment and conditional use permit related to solar panels. The couple wants to install a 28-kilowatt ground mounted solar array on their property at 1822 Homestead Trail. An array with this power generation capacity would cover a footprint of just under 1,500 square feet.

Current city regulations specify a maximum footprint of 1,000 square feet, with a conditional use permit, for ground-mounted panels on residential property, Finke said. No ground-mounted arrays have been installed on residential property since these regulations went into effect in 2015. Therefore, the Rechelbachers are proposing something new for Medina.

The Rechelbachers decided to ask the city to increase the maximum footprint because homes in rural Medina tend to be larger than the average Minnesota home, and, consequently, consume larger amounts of electricity, Finke said. They reviewed their average electrical usage and estimated that a solar array with a footprint of 1,500 square feet would produce approximately half of their annual energy needs.

Both city staff and the Planning Commission supported an increase in the maximum footprint of ground mounted solar arrays.

Planning Commissioner Kimberly Murrin said Medina does not have much experience with solar energy equipment. The commission wanted to start small and see how it fits into the community.

Mayor Bob Mitchell agreed with that approach and said the city should “take baby steps” with its regulations.

City Councilor Kathleen Martin said ground mounted solar arrays could give Medina properties more of a rural look than roof mounted arrays. “If you have a big, fat field, and no one can see it,” you should be able to put your solar panels there,” she said.

Then the City Council voted to amend city zoning regulations to allow ground mounted solar arrays of 1,500 square feet as a permitted use on property five acres or greater in area in the Agricultural Preservation, Rural Residential, Rural Residential-1, Rural Residential 2 and Rural Residential Urban Reserve zoning districts. Ground mounted arrays with footprints exceeding 1,500 square feet are allowed with a conditional use permit on properties that are 10 acres or greater in area. The maximum allowable footprint is 2,500 square feet.

The ordinance continues to allow solar panels attached to structures in every zoning district, subject to standards.

SPEED STUDY ON COUNTY ROADS 19 AND 101
The City Council requested that Hennepin County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation conduct two speed studies. One would be for traffic on County Road 19 between the south junction with Sycamore Trail and 800 feet north of Ardmore Avenue. The other would be between Hackamore Road/ County Road 47 and Highway 55.

The studies would be conducted on a weekday during morning or afternoon rush hours to establish the proper speed limit, said City Administrator Scott Johnson. The speed limit might be raised or lowered as a result of the study.

Hennepin County will wait to do a speed study on County Road 116 until after this year’s construction work at the intersection of Highway 55 and County Road 116, he said.

STORMWATER POLLUTION PREVENTION
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requires Medina to report on its storm water pollution prevention efforts every year in order to have a municipal separate storm sewer system permit. Medina Public Works Director Steve Scherer described the city’s accomplishments in 2016, including the inspection of construction sites to make sure contractors were following best management practices to prevent erosion.

He commented on recent news reports about road salt getting into water bodies and harming their ecosystems. “This is a real issue,” he said.

Medina has attempted to strike a balance between the safety of motorists and protection of the environment, Scherer said. The city has stepped up its use of salt brine to pretreat roads as storms approach. This practice has resulted in less salt use.

“We try to use as little as possible,” he said. “You have to find that happy medium, unless you can come up with another product.” He noted that a lot more salt is being used on parking lots these days.

City Councilor Jeff Pederson said any regulation of salt use on roads and parking lots has to be statewide.

SPEED ENFORCEMENT
Medina Police Sgt. Jason Nelson reported on police efforts to enforce speed limits. The city has three electronic signs that show motorists’ speeds and a speed trailer that shows speeds and collects data. All these devices are portable. When a speed sign or trailer is set up on the west end of Hamel Road, motorists notice and slow down.

Nelson said Medina police are doing the best they can with their small staff. “If you have concerns, call us,” he said.