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Solar panels OK'd for home on West Oak

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
Denton resident Dave Koen shot this photo of the “leaning house” at 1822 W. Oak St. in 2010, before it was torn down and replaced.Dave Koen - Courtesy photo
Denton resident Dave Koen shot this photo of the “leaning house” at 1822 W. Oak St. in 2010, before it was torn down and replaced.
Dave Koen - Courtesy photo

New house located in historic district

In the spot where one Denton landmark once stood could well come another.

Two years ago, Richard Gladden’s new two-story home was built at 1822 W. Oak St., where Denton’s famous “leaning house” once stood. Last week, he got approval to put solar panels on the roof.

It will be a first for the neighborhood, which is one of the city’s three historic districts — whether it becomes the last remains to be seen. Gladden went before the city’s Historic Landmark Commission twice in attempts to get the project approved, but the commission declined, citing a lack of guidelines.

The City Council heard his appeal during its regular meeting Tuesday night and, after about an hour of testimony and deliberations, gave Gladden and the solar contractor the go-ahead.

City staff told the council they are planning separate meetings with homeowners in each of the city’s three historic districts — the Bell Avenue Conservation District, the Oak-Hickory Historic District and the West Oak Historic District — over the next few weeks to establish community standards for solar panels to address the commission’s concerns.

Gladden said he got a call from a company that had installed solar panels on some offices in town, asking whether he was interested in having panels installed at his office, too. He doesn’t own the building that houses his law firm, but he wondered aloud whether a solar power system would work on his new home.

After a company representative visited and took some measurements, they realized it could, he said.

But it would require installing an array of 20 panels, each 2-feet-by-3-feet, on the west-facing slope of his roof, which likely could be seen from the street at some angles, particularly in the winter.

That bothered a few homeowners in the neighborhood, who told the City Council they were concerned that the project would harm the historic integrity of the district as a whole. They encouraged the council to take more time to review the matter before setting a precedent.

Nearby cities with historic districts and clearer rules generally don’t allow solar panels to be installed in a way that they can be seen from the street, the city’s planning director, Brian Lockley, told the council.

Even though Gladden’s home is new, it is subject to conditions that protect all the historic homes in the area.

However, several other homeowners came Tuesday to speak in support of Gladden’s request, including Marsha Stevenson, who, together with her husband, owns the Miller house, one of the most historic homes in the neighborhood.

She was quick to differentiate the West Oak district from “Silk Stocking Row” — the grand homes in the Oak-Hickory Historic District.

“Our end of Oak isn’t all that historic, and anyone that wants to conserve energy, I applaud them,” Stevenson said.

Gladden said that between a rebate from Denton Municipal Electric and federal tax credits, he doesn’t expect the $25,000 installation to cost him much more than $2,000. Spring and fall will be the best months for making more electricity than he uses. In those months, DME will buy back, at wholesale rates, what he makes.

In August, though, he thinks the solar panels will come up short and he will generate less than 70 percent of what he needs to run the air conditioning.

“It’s not a complete wash,” Gladden said, adding that he does expect the panels to pay for themselves in a few years.

The demolition of the little wood frame house that used to sit at 1822 W. Oak had to go before the Historic Landmark Commission, too. The builder who requested the demolition permit told the commission the century-old house, which leaned to the east, couldn’t be fixed because it lacked a foundation.

At that point, in 2010, the house had reached cult status. The neighborhood fought against a previous owner, who wanted to demolish the house and build an apartment on the lot, even though it was primarily a neighborhood of single-family homes.

Former occupants — many of them students who rented the home in the 1980s and 1990s as they attended college — and others who had visited friends there started a Facebook page, Friends of the Leaning House, to commemorate it.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.