Zoning Practice — June 2010

Ask the Author

Here are reader questions answered by Erica Heller, AICP, author of the May 2010 Zoning Practice article "Planning and Zoning for Geothermal Energy."

Question from Diane Zahm, AICP:

Have you dealt with micro-scale geothermal systems? Here's the situation: a townhouse development with a homeowners' association and typical land ownership — small lot incorporating each townhouse, plus "public" property owned by the homeowners' association. A new owner wants to install a geothermal system for his unit. It isn't clear whether this can/will be entirely on his property (apparently, not even to this owner), so he is asking permission of the association to do the installation. This is required under the bylaws: owners need permission to modify anything outside the walls of the unit. The association is concerned about its own liability and the potential long-term impact of such a system. For example, if this owner sells and the new owner has a problem (and it's outside the walls) the new owner could claim it is the responsibility of the association to fix the problem. Or there could be a problem with the system that ultimately impacts property beyond the property line of this owner. Do you know of any similar examples this association can reference for as it considers and addresses these issues?

Response from Erica Heller, AICP:

I haven't seen any regulations that address the issue of geothermal installations and property lines within HOAs. My experience is that most communities shy away from mediating HOA/homeowner issues, in favor of requiring that all affected property owners co-sign any development application that would cross internal HOA property lines. However, I think a community could reasonably regulate geoexchange systems to require them to stay within a single owner's property lines, or to require a minimum setback from property lines as a buffer against property line disputes and the unlikely possibility of leaks in the system, especially those that utilize antifreeze.