From: Serdar Tumgoren, The Dispatch, Gilroy, Calif.
Published November 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Solar Homes Win City Council Approval in Gilroy, Calif.

Nov. 17—Gilroy, Calif. — A project to construct Gilroy's first solar-powered homes received final approval from city council Monday night.





"Gilroy has the most impaired air quality in the area," said developer Chris Cote in an interview. "We need to start to do something to remediate and use alternative energy. I'm looking at 1/8the project3/8 as a roadmap for the future."





The homes, to be located near Las Animas Park in a cul-de-sac at the end of Wayland Lane, will operate largely off solar power during the day and will draw electricity off the power grid at night, when prices are low. In addition, they will include solar-powered attic fans (to remove hot air and draw in cooler air), timers on all major appliances to allow them to run at night, and indoor clothesline to reduce dryer use.





"Larger families will draw more power and it will depend on personal habits, whether or not people turn off lights and that sort of thing," Cote said.





He said he would not be able to sell two of the homes at below-market value because the Planning Commission scaled back the project. The commission reduced the number of units from five to four due to concerns about setback requirements and the location of a trash pickup area. A fewer number of houses forced Cote to rescind on a letter of intent to sell one for less than $450,000, and a second for under $500,000.





"It's still my goal to have at least one or two under $550,000," he said.





Cote, a member of the advisory council for nonprofit CALSTAR, plans to first offer several of the homes to employees of the medical air transport service.





Tom Goff, CALSTAR program manager, lauded the project Monday night.





"I've never been in any kind of a community where anything like this has been done," Goff said. "I'm asking on behalf of my pilots and crew, who will make 700 flights this year, that you approve this project."





A handful of neighbors spoke out against the project one last time. They claimed the two-story homes are too big for the area, would threaten old oak trees, and would have mixed results, at best, in terms of solar efficiency.





Cote said his plans incorporate recommendations from an arborist that would help preserve the oak trees longer than if the project did not go through. He has acknowledged that not all energy needs can be met by the solar panels.





While councilmen expressed sympathy for neighbors' concerns, they felt the benefits of the project could not be ignored.





Mayor Al Pinheiro said that "even at 20 or 30 percent ... any solar panels are better than not having them at all."





The council voted unanimously to approve the project.





Assuming a smooth permitting process and favorable weather, Cote predicted he could complete construction by next summer.





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© 2004, The Dispatch, Gilroy, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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