Historic District Commission
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Meeting Minutes

The Harrisville Historic District Commission held a regularly scheduled meeting and public hearing on Tuesday, August 24, 2021 at Town Offices and via zoom.

Members present: Noel Greiner Vice Chair, Rex Baker, Kathy Scott, Anne Howe, Scott Oliver
Members absent: Doug Walker, Chair
Members of the public: Dave Wirth of Solar Dave LLC, Doug McCarthy, Andrea Hodson, Chick Colony, Pat Colony, Erin Hammerstedt

Noel Greiner opened the meeting at 7:00 pm. He noted that the voting members for the evening were himself, Rex Baker, Kathy Scott, Anne Howe and Scott Oliver.

Members moved and voted unanimously in favor to approve the agenda as prepared.

Minutes of previous meeting 7/27/2021
Anne Howe moved to amend the minutes as follows: Under HDC Regulations-Definitions on page 1, item #4 “personal wireless service facility”, she noted members had moved and voted in favor to accept the definition as written; however, to delete it if it were to be deleted from Article VIII.D.  On page 2 of the minutes, Ms. Howe moved to amend the sentence about Article X – Renewable Energy Systems to clarify that “Members voted in favor to delete B.4”, not all of Section B.  Kathy Scott recused herself from voting on the amendments as she was absent from the meeting; otherwise all voted in favor to approve the July 27 minutes as amended.

Prior to opening the public hearing, Mr. Greiner first called attention to the behavioral expectations for meeting attendees, requesting all attending to adhere to these. Mr. Greiner then opened the public hearing on the following matter:

HDC 2021-2 – Jason and Stephanie Raynor, 3 Main Street (Map 61 – Lot 4), application to install an 11.5 kw, grid tied, roof mounted PV solar array. The board confirmed that the application was complete. David Wirth of Solar Dave LLC, representing the Raynors, described the proposed installation as 15 modules on the garage roof and 16 on the main house, both sets of panels facing south toward Main Street. The array would be all black, with black panels, rails and black clamps and no white dividing lines as depicted in a sample photograph submitted with the application packet. This color was chosen to reduce visual impact.

Accompanying equipment would include an inverter, located inside the garage, and a conduit around the garage that will connect to the interior electrical panel. The only visible equipment other than the panels, will be the conduit on the property’s backside, and the required disconnect, which is likely to be located under the deck, also in the rear of the property.   

Members discussed how this installation may differ from the system recently installed on the roof of the Weller’s garage at 34 Main Street, a home that lies just outside the historic district. Mr. Wirth noted the modules would be the same design, but split between a section of the house room and the garage roof, whereas the Weller barn roof is large enough to hold all panels.

Board members asked what the design would look like, raising concerns about visual impact along Main Street in the historic district.  Mr. Wirth shared photos of similar installations approved in Fitzwilliam and elsewhere, though he did not have available a photo of the Raynor house with the proposed design overlaid.

Kathy Scott expressed particular concern about the contrast between the gray colored roof and the black panels. Members discussed several options with the installer and the applicant, concluding that either the board couldn’t impose the required cost burden on the property owner to make changes to the roof, or to move the modules to the back side of the house, where adequate sunlight is not available.  Mr. Wirth noted that the availability of solar shingles, slates or tiles is either non-existent in New England or exceedingly costly with half the output of the proposed modules.

The Colonys asked the HDC to consider the effect approving this application would have on the historic district, opening up the opportunity for multiple solar systems to line the historic streets in the village. Chick Colony requested the HDC to please stick to the guidelines, emphasizing the prominence of front-facing roofs. Though it was acknowledged that each case is considered on its individual merits, the potential for precedent was dangerous. Returning to the topic of aesthetics, the question was asked if more modules could be placed on the garage, less visible to the street. Mr. Wirth explained that any additional modules there would produce poorly given the amount of shade during the day.

Abutter Doug McCarthy encouraged the board to rely on the expertise of Mr. Wirth, expressing support for the proposal. He believes the array would not have a negative visual impact.  Given the changes the property has undergone, some members and attendees believe adding solar panels would not have a significant effect, but Mr. Colony and Erin Hammerstedt expressed concern about the effect on the whole district if lots of other applications are presented. Ms. Hammerstedt, speaking as an abutter, also noted her support for solar polar but urged the board to focus on procedure and the guidelines, believing the proposal meets three of the four criteria, missing on the visual impact, and wondering if less visible alternatives have been adequately explored.

Jay Raynor responded that he understands that a precedent would be set, but that as a proponent of renewable sources of energy, weighed the effects of the detriment to the district compared to the detrimental effects of global warming. He’s looking at the bigger, longer term picture. He also believes the location of the septic would impede the possibility of a ground-mounted system on the property.

HDC member Scott Oliver noted the existence of solar systems at both MacDowell Art Colony and Hancock Shaker Village and that they are appearing in other historic districts.

Anne Howe stated her desire to follow the standards for homes located in the historic district. She believes the proposed system is visible in a very public way, and that it’s contemporary and not historic. The request again was raised for a visual replica of what exactly the rooftop modules would look like. If the panels were to be installed on the north side of the house, Mr. Wirth noted, they would lose 60% of their effectiveness in the summer and 100% in the winter.

With no further comments from abutters, Noel Greiner then closed the public hearing portion of the meeting. The board began review of the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation as follows:

1) A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment. Rex Baker explained his position that, though solar panels are a significant new visual and incongruous with the historic district, they are part of our current history and are an attempt to be environmentally conscious without subtracting from the historic district. Members believe the proposal does not change the defining characteristics of the building.

2) The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided. Members didn’t believe this standard was applicable. (hereafter N/A)

3) Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken. Considered N/A.

4) Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved. Considered N/A.
5) Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a historic property shall be preserved. The board believed this was N/A to the proposal.

6) Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence. Considered N/A by the board.

7) Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.  Considered N/A.

8) Significant archeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken. Considered N/A.

9) New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment. Members believed the array would not destroy historic material.  Anne Howe asked how it was compatible with architectural features. Kathy Scott believed that the proposal is differentiated.

10) New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired. Members agreed the essential form and integrity would be unimpaired. Members reviewed photos of the house today versus old photos, noting that the house looks very different today, though it’s still in the district.  The applicant assured once again that the panels will be totally black. Mr. Greiner confirmed this would be noted on the application.

Kathy Scott moved to accept the project put forward in the application on condition that the panels, the rails and the clamps would be consistently black in color. Scott Oliver seconded. During discussion, Kathy Scott requested that the whole main house roof facing the road be resurfaced to match the same color of the solar panels, to remove the contrast. Members didn’t agree with this proposal, believing such a financial burden could not be asked of the owner. They further noted that the solar panels are removable.  The vote was 4-1 in favor, with Anne Howe opposed based on the reasons stated above. The board will issue a Notice of Decision to the applicant.

Update on Town Counsel Feedback on draft HDC Regulations
Anne Howe shared the feedback from Town Counsel on the HDC’s draft regulations. They discussed that the confusion stems from the fact that the RSAs related to enactment and adoption of regulations are more recent than the 1969 Historic District Regulations referred to in the Harrisville Zoning Ordinances.  Members agreed that, in the future, the HDC would like its regulations to refer to the Zoning Ordinances and the Ordinances to refer to the Regulations.

Members will review the packet and then discuss it next month.  A public hearing at the October meeting is being considered. Next month the HDC will make final decisions about logistics and outreach to district property owners and the town.  Kathy Scott will draft a note for Common Threads.

Members moved to adjourn at 8:45 pm.