Honolulu’s skyline may soon be changing as a result of a new bill that will permit buildings to go taller if they install solar panels on the top.
Building owners will also be allowed to use that extra space, up to 12 feet high, for what city officials call “new rooftop gathering places,” such as urban gardens, lighted recreation rooms or outdoor high-rise lanais.
This unusual measure, Bill 46, would give commercial and multi-family buildings an exemption from prevailing height limits to encourage the installation of more solar panels.
It is sailing through to passage, with a final vote by the council expected within a few weeks. The Honolulu City Council’s zoning and planning committee heard the bill a final time Thursday and it passed quickly, unanimously and without comment.
The measure, requested by City Council Chair Tommy Waters, is part of an ongoing effort to adjust land-use ordinances to encourage the growth of green energy.
Last year, the council unanimously adopted Resolution 21-136, which declared the city’s intention to revise its zoning rules to find ways to add renewable energy elements to older buildings, many of which were restricted by height limitations that didn’t allow them enough space to install energy-saving equipment and solar panels.
“I am a strong supporter of renewable energy and when my office received multiple inquiries from stakeholders who faced challenges trying to install solar panels, I knew we needed to do something,” Waters said in a statement. “Residents were being prevented from having solar on their rooftops due to the limited height restriction combined with the mechanical elements generally placed on building rooftops.”
He said he proposed Bill 46 to spur further talk on the topic and that he is pleased to see it is moving forward.
The bill’s support is coming from the solar industry and real estate firms. But many people may not be aware of it as nobody outside the affected industries has testified about it to the council.
A city report that analyzed the plan acknowledged that the height extensions had the “potential for negative visual impacts,” but came down in support of the plan given the “pressing need” for more solar panels in urban areas.
Supporters say the measure would have a two-fold effect, first by encouraging more installation of rooftop solar panels and, second, by permitting innovative new uses of space that is often little more than a flat expanse of concrete and asphalt.</…….