BATH — The city council gave preliminary approval to a rule change allowing solar panels that will be visible from the street on buildings in the historic district.

Some city councilors last argued the proposed rule change was too vague and solar panels could impact the historic charm of the houses.

The call for this change came from The Neighborhood United Church of Christ on Washington Street next to the Chocolate Church Arts Center. The church wants to install solar panels on the building’s roof, but the panels would need to go on the front of the building in order to be exposed to enough sunlight.

Whenever city officials are dealing with historic buildings, they must balance design and functionality, according to City Planner Ben Averill.

“This is a prime example of trying to figure out how to make technology that wasn’t around in the 19th century mesh with 21st century technology,” said Averill. “Is there a way to improve the building’s efficiency while retaining the historic character of the building and the historic district as a whole?”

The Bath historic district stretches between Leeman Highway and Beacon Street and encompasses Front and Washington streets. It contains centuries-old buildings and is a tourist draw.

Former Council Chairperson Mari Eosco lives in the historic district and said she supports the change. She said she would like all in Bath to have the option to install solar panels because they lower maintenance costs and are environmentally-friendly.

“As someone who owns a house in the historic district, there are a number of hoops you have to jump through when making any change and I completely understand why,” said Eosco. “These beautiful homes are an asset to this city. At the same time, it costs a lot of money to maintain these houses. I don’t think we should ever discourage anyone, no matter where they live, against getting solar panels.”

Councilors Jennifer DeChant and Raye Leonard voted against changing the rule.

Leonard said she isn’t against allowing residents to install solar panels on their homes, but added buildings in the historic district need more guidance as to how the panels could be installed rather than allow anyone to install the panels anywhere.

“The ordinance could be written better or improved upon,” she said. “We need to think more about this and develop something with more meat on it as guidance.”

Leonard added she’s concerned solar panels “might cut into the appeal” of the old homes, and the reason for allowing solar panels should extend beyond lowering power bills.

“If people can afford to buy a historic home in the city of Bath, they ought to be able to pay the power bill,” she said.

Eosco disagreed, saying she believes solar panels would add something to the historic buildings.

“When I see solar panels, I see hope and progress,” she said. “I would love to see more of that in Bath.”

“If the builders of these houses saw solar panels on them, knowing what’s going on with this planet, I think they’d be happy,” she said.

Ultimately the change to the rule passed by a 7-2 vote and will go before a public hearing next month, Averill said, before coming to the council again for a final vote.

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