Upscale Community Is no Friend to Solar | Courthouse News Service
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Upscale Community Is no Friend to Solar

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. (CN) - Suburban homeowners sued a neighbor who installed six pole-mounted solar panels that they claim violate the upscale development's deed restrictions.

Seventeen plaintiff families in Burnt Hills, between Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, want the solar panels removed and ask to be compensated for "loss in their property values and a loss of an unimposing and aesthetically pleasing neighborhood."

They claim those damages come to more than $1 million, in their complaint in Saratoga County Court.

The 30 plaintiffs - couples and individuals residing at 17 addresses on Long Creek Drive in the Seelye Estates West subdivision in Saratoga County - say defendants Brian and Christa Haines erected the panels "quickly, before the plaintiffs had an opportunity to obtain a preliminary injunction" in October 2011.

Their complaint lists nearly a dozen deed restrictions that govern the subdivision and how the Haineses' solar panels allegedly violate them.

For instance, the covenants forbid the storage of various materials in front and side yards, including furniture, garden equipment, animal cages, garbage cans, signs and automobile equipment. The complaint states: "The construction of the large solar panels on high poles which extend into the side yard violates the deed restrictions ... in that it is the permanent storage of materials, building materials and/or building equipment in a side yard."

Deed restrictions say that storage sheds "shall conform to the architectural style of the main structure and shall not detract from adjacent properties," but the pole-mounted solar panels are "an exterior structure which does not conform to the architectural style of the main structure," according to the complaint.

Seelye Estates West, in the hamlet of Burnt Hills near the border of Saratoga and Schenectady counties, was built as a luxury-home development in the early 1990s, according to the website of a local Realtor.

Prices range from $300,000 to $600,000, and the homes, on ¾-acre lots, typically have four bedrooms, 2½ baths, eat-in kitchens, formal living and dining rooms, and large family rooms. Total square footage for many of the homes exceeds 2,500.

On Google Earth, the subdivision is pictured with expansive, manicured lawns (the deed restrictions include landscaping requirements), several in-ground swimming pools (above-ground pools are prohibited), and wooden split-rail fences on property lines (as specified in the deed restrictions).

Residential solar systems have pitted neighbor against neighbor before in Saratoga County - even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks to offer incentives and rebates so as to quadruple annual solar installations by 2013. And scientists at the nearby General Electric Co. Global Research Center are studying how to reduce the costs of home solar systems.

Last year, a couple in nearby Clifton Park angered other residents in their suburban subdivision when they built an 80-foot-long, 20-foot-tall backyard solar array to generate power for their large home.

Neighbors called it an eyesore, but town officials said there was little they could do since no municipal law required a permit for such a project, according to the (Albany) Times Union. The town subsequently passed legislation to require a special-use permit for pole- or ground-mounted solar arrays; rooftop collectors were not affected by the ordinance.

The plaintiffs in the Seelye Estates West complaint say they have notified the Haineses "that the size, placement and construction of the solar panels on high poles violates the deed restrictions," but the defendants "have failed and refused" to remedy the violations or remove the panels from poles in the side yard.

They seek an injunction directing the Haineses to "promptly remove" the side-yard panels and poles, and ask for damages to recover the estimated 10 percent of property value they have lost, which could exceed $40,000 for each plaintiff and push total damages to more than $1 million.

The plaintiffs are represented by Charles Harding, of Niskayuna, N.Y.

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