Sam Saltonstall, a member of the Neighborhood United Church of Christ in Bath, said the church wants to install solar panels on the back of the building’s roof and the side of the roof facing Centre Street. The Bath planning board will review whether to allow solar panels in the city’s historic downtown on Tuesday. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BATH — The Bath planning board will revisit whether solar panels are allowed in the city’s historic district Tuesday.

The board first recommended a rule change that would allow solar panels to be installed in the historic district as long as they were not visible from the road late last year. Although councilors agreed solar panels are a good thing for the environment, they kicked the proposed rule change back to the planning board for further review.

Councilors Raye Leonard and Jennifer DeChant voted against the proposed rule change, arguing the wording is too vague and solar panels could detract from the historic charm of Bath’s downtown.

“My concern is that solar panels would start popping up the historical areas of Bath,” Leonard said during the November city council meeting. “My issue isn’t with solar power or that option, but how it might look in our historic area.”

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.

The change was spurred by the Neighborhood United Church of Christ, on the corner of Washington and Centre streets, asking to install solar panels on the building’s roof. However, the panels would need to go on the back of the roof and the portion of the roof facing Centre Street in order to be exposed to enough sunlight, according to Sam Saltonstall, a member of the church.

Bath City Planner Ben Averill said the planning board will “refine the ordinance as best as they can,” but he hopes city councilors join in on the discussion.

“This may be the best way to allow solar within the historic district while ensuring there’s still historic integrity,” said Averill.

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.

“I’m so much less concerned with how they look,” Eosco said of solar panels. “I think it shows progress. I think it shows we’re a city who’s moving forward and understanding we’re in a climate crisis and we’re making ways to be innovative with these homes that have been here for 200 years. To tie the hands of other houses, I think, is very short-sighted when we look at the bigger picture.”

Should this proposed rule change be approved, Averill said homeowners within the historic district will still need individual approval from the planning board before they can install solar panels.

Averill said the proposed rule change will be reviewed and sent back to the city council for approval by late spring.

The planning board meeting is Tuesday at 6 p.m. and will be available to watch on the city’s website.

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