Evanston’s Plan Commission tonight will review a proposal that would limit where homeowners could install backup generators.

Until now the city’s zoning ordinance hasn’t specifically addressed the location of generators, and in practice staff has used the regulations that apply to air conditioning units to determine where they could be placed.

Scott Mangum, the interim director of community development, says that during a preliminary discussion of the issue in March, Plan Commissioners suggested that the generators might need extra regulation — because they can be noisier that air conditioning units.

In addition, generators typically need to be started up for testing once a week all year round, while air conditioning units are only in use during the summer.

The proposal developed by staff, after a review of regulations in several other communities, would limit generator testing to between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays.

It would also prohibit placing generators in front yards and specify minimum setbacks from side yard and rear yard lot lines.

The proposal calls for a fairly complex setback formula, but the greatest side yard setback required would be eight feet.

The Plan Commission is also scheduled to review tonight proposals that would expand the use of third-party mailing services to deliver notices to neighbors of proposed zoning cases and that would let city staff, rather than property owners, determine which street-facing side of a corner lot should be treated as the front yard.

Mangum says the front yard issue most frequently comes up when homeowners on corner lots request fences, which are more tightly regulated in front yards.

The Plan Commission meets at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at the Civic Center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Testing time

    Terrible thinking on generator test time. All the neighbors who work the night shift will be awakened by the roar of the generator once per week. I would think mid / late afternoon would be a better time.

    1. They should go solar

      In addition to providing rules on back up generators, the City Council should be moving forward to encourage all property owners, to install SOLAR, which provides noise free, pollution free power for emergencies and ongoing power. The sooner, the better. 

      1. Except when there’s no sun…
        Solar is getting cheaper every year, except you can’t expect it to provide power on demand when there’s no sunlight – e.g. during nighttime or a storm. So you can’t use it as a true emergency power supply. Is that too right-wing for you?

        1. Do you not know?

          Do you not know how solar works? The panels charge batteries during the day which you then use at night since they are charged and it repeats the next day. If using as a back up option if power goes out it is a great option since they’ll be fully charged already.

          1. Takes more space than a barrel of diesel

            Have one of those batteries under my desk. It costs a lot and will power my PC for about 20min. Now imagine the size and cost of one of those deep cycle batteries that’s enough to power your entire house for 2-3 days. A measly 2kAh battery costs $13k retail. What I mean is that all of that costs and takes more space than a barrel (42gal) of diesel fuel.

      2. Solar
        Why solar? It hasn’t worked well for Walgreens. Recent reports say that it does not work well in the Chicago area. When solar panels become cost effective in the northern part of the United States, everybody will want them. A lot more research is needed to make them cost effective.

    2. Why not apply the same to Lawn Mowers?

      Lawn Mowers create far more noise pollution than these generators. I wake up almost every morning to the “roar” of landscapers working in the neighborhood. For reference I have a much older 4000w NG powered generator and it has a decent muffler and enclosure.  You can barely tell it is running.  These are not those cheap gas-powered portable units you would find on a construction site.  

  2. Why stop with back-up generators?

    Why stop with back-up generators? On construction sites (mostly new construction) all around us, generators are used to provide the power to run construction equipment (saws, drills, compressors etc.).  These loud, polluting devices could be obviated by making it easier for contractors to hook up temporary power to the grid… The City should consider making it as easy as possible to make these connections by streamlining the permit process and offer incentives to do so.

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