Now comes the President of the United States (hereafter known as POTUS) before the Key West Historic Architecture Review Commission (hereafter known as HARC).
“May it please the commission,” says POTUS, “Michele and I are eager to implement sustainable energy practices and we propose installing solar panels on the White House roof.”
“Will they be visible from the street,” asks an oh-so-earnest HARC member. Visibility of said offensive structure being HARC’s primary concern and to devil with sustainable energy.
“Well, probably, a little bit,” responds a flustered POTUS, who’d prepared his permit-request playbook thinking he’d explain the advantages of sustainable solar power.
“Page 28 Rule. Request denied. Next agenda item,” says same oh-so earnest HARC member after a 7-zip commission vote.
In mid-August President Barack Obama announced that he was re-installing the White House solar panels. Originally installed by President Jimmy Carter and removed by President Ronald Reagan, the solar panels are once again going back on the White House roof. President George W. Bush used solar energy to heat the White House pool and power maintenance facilities.
So, there you go. Roof top solar panels on the (very) historic White House. I’m pretty sure, though, that Key West HARC folks would make an easy time of denying a White House permission. Might be able to see them from the street, ya know?
The Page 28 Rule in HARC’s 96-page, architectural preservation “guidelines” is pretty clear:
“New solar collectors, scuttles and skylights should be flat mounted directly on the roof so that they do not destroy the roof line by protruding unduly on the surface of the roof and can only be placed in roof surfaces not visible from a public right of way.”
One would think sunny Key West and solar energy would be best buddies. In Key West, where roof lines and sight lines are usually one and the same, Page 28 Rule limits who gets to install solar panels on historic district houses. A roof top flyover of the Old Town and Meadows neighborhoods shows a only handful of solar-paneled houses.
Two reasons: the wickedly prohibitive Rule 28 and a generally lackadaisical attitude toward “green” things (well, except money). Key West, liberal, eco-friendly stereotypes to the contrary, simply isn’t all that committed to “green.” Case in point: Its recycling rate at less than 10 percent is one of the worst in the country.
Solar energy, which should be a major player in Key West, needs some love. It’ll take changing a community mindset and a lotta love from HARC. If POTUS and Company can put panels on the White House, surely Key West can handle the sight of a few rooftop collectors.
(Full disclosure: I have solar panels on my Meadows house. You can see them from the street if you stand up really tall on tiptoes on a ladder. Probably grandfathered in from heaven knows how many years ago. Hope they don’t die, because HARC would likely frown on replacements.)
Linda Grist Cunningham is a veteran journalist and owner of KeyWestWatch Media, a project management and small business consulting company in Key West, FL.