Armond Piscopo is something of a pioneer, an engineer who likes fiddle with new technology. He's also family man, and last the summer the two passions merged when Piscopo and his science-minded sons decided to install solar collectors to heat the family's hot water.
Unfortunately, however, Piscopo and the architectural control committee in Montgomery Village didn't see eye-to-eye on the visual impact of solar collectors on Piscopo's front roof.
The committee - and later the Montgomery Village Foundation executive committee - ruled that the metal and glass collectors were not "esthetically pleasing' for Psicopo's traditional house and prohibited their installation.
"The committee felt the collectors were not designed for the architectural well-being of the house," said Raymond Carlin, the president of the Montgomery Village Foundation. "They were sort of like an add-on and would stick out."
But Piscopo, who has become even more fervent in his solar intentions since the brouhaha began, said the architectural committee and the foundation are simply "opposed to change."
Although Piscopo chose to live in Montgomery Village, partly because the architectural controls there offered a "protection" against an unsightly neighborhood, he said he also believes that "anyone who gives up his right to solar energy is making a big mistake."
In the very near future, you could power your whole house this way, and you'll never get a utility bill from the sun," Piscopo said, reciting his well-honed defense.
In Montgomery Village, a planned development of 20,000 residents south of Gaithersburg in Montgomery County, architectural covenants exists, as they do in many new and historic communities to monitor exterior changes to homes or property. The regulations, for example, prohibit visible TV antennas, and require residents to change the paint color of their homes or install a storm door to gain the architectural commitee's approval. Some committee members are residents, and other are representatives of the developer, KettlerBrothers.
"On balance," said Carlin, "most of the people like the idea of a controlled community. They find that what they see is what are going to get - and they know it will be perpetuated."
In fact, the committee has approved five solar collectors, but they are to be located at the rear or on top of a flat roof - and thus not be visible from the street.
Since Piscopo's house faces south, the collectors would have to be place at the front. "I'm not trying to mar my house," he said. "I planned to paint the white enamel trim on the collectors the same green as the rest of the trim of my house."
The architectural controls, he said, "are not keeping up with the times."
Martha Talbott, program corrdinator for Maryland's Energy Policy Office, said this has happened before. Because of binding convenants, "a fellow in Columbia went through quite a to-do" before he was allowed to build a solar collector outside his home, she said. "The roadblock usually exists for the first person on the block to try it."
"Many people aren't used to what these collectors look like, whereas in 10 years, probably most houses will have them," Talbott said.
Piscopo applied to the Maryland energyoffice for a $400 grant for solar hot water systems financed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Thirty such grants have been awarded Maryland homeowners and more than 250 applicants are pending, Talbott said.
Priscopo has vowed to "write and write and pester everyone I can," hoping he can change one negative opinion in the 3-to-4 vote against him. Carlin, who opposed Piscopo's request, conceded it is possible, since the original covenants have been changed before. Not long ago, the architectural committee adopted regulations banning the parking of campers in some neighborhoods for more than 48 hours.