Village Agrees to Tone It Down

"I've seen and heard nothing to substantiate the use of light sources at 3,500 Kelvin," Susan Harder, the New York State representative of the International Dark Sky Association, told the board. Christopher Walsh

In a small victory for dark-sky advocates, the East Hampton Village Board bowed to opposition from residents of the village and town as well as experts in the field on Friday, agreeing to modify proposed amendments to its lighting code with the aim of reducing sky glow.

"Your board of trustees has seen the light," Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. told those attending the village board's regular meeting, after 10 speakers implored the board to reduce the proposed limit of Kelvin units allowed for nonresidential lighting fixtures from 3,500 to 3,000.

The measurement is used to describe the hue of a light source. Both New York City and Connecticut are advancing legislation to limit Kelvin to 3,000 and 2,700 respectively, Susan Harder, the New York State representative of the International Dark Sky Association, told the board. Suffolk County and the Towns of Southampton, Riverhead, and Brookhaven have all adopted a 3,000-Kelvin limit. "I've seen and heard nothing to substantiate the use of light sources at 3,500 Kelvin," she said, explaining that nonresidential lighting has traditionally been in the range of 2,000 Kelvin.

The proposed update to the village's lighting code, which was enacted in 2004, is intended to address light trespass (or light cast onto neighboring properties), regulate unnecessary lighting, and save energy through new technology and reduced use, while also maintaining the village's rural character.

Presently, the village uses a combination of traditional lighting including high-pressure sodium, compact fluorescent, and incandescent, Ms. Harder said after the meeting. While new lighting technology such as light emitting diodes, or LED, is more energy efficient and longer-lasting than traditional lighting, unfiltered LEDs are high in the blue spectrum and require colored filters to produce "white light."

The village board, Ms. Harder said, should proceed carefully when specifying new lighting in order to avoid unintended consequences. LEDs "have a higher percentage of blue light waves, which cause eye strain" and perhaps even macular degeneration, she said, as well as glare, circadian rhythm disruptions, and greater sky glow.

Debra Foster, a former member of the town board, said that "the magic number for these lights" is between 2,500 and 3,000 Kelvin. "It's proven to be adequate," she said. "There is a negative health effect" to higher Kelvin lighting, she said. "It does disrupt sleep."

Cate Rogers, a member of the Montauk Observatory, read a letter from Terry Bienstock, the observatory's president. As part of its educational events, the observatory holds star parties throughout the year, Ms. Rogers said, which are only possible because of the East End's dark skies. "Any increase in Kelvin will significantly impact the quality of the night sky for miles," she said. "Any increase in the percentage of blue light will increase sky glow. . . . This will impede astronomical research as well as amateur enjoyment."

Kathleen Cunningham, executive director of the Village Preservation Society, said that her group supported the lighting code amendments but requested the 3,000-Kelvin limit. "In fact," she told the board, "we support even lower levels." She spoke of concern for health impacts that blue light have on humans and wildlife, and said that lower Kelvin levels were akin to candlelight and thus appropriate for historic communities like East Hampton.

Mayor Rickenbach turned to Linda Riley, the village's attorney. Referring to language in the proposed legislation stating that nonresidential lighting fixtures could not exceed 3,500 Kelvin, "My suggestion is that we revisit that number and make it 3,000," he said. The room erupted in applause.

The law can be amended, Ms. Riley said, and a final version would have to "sit on the desks of board members for at least eight days before it's adopted. We could circulate that and move for a vote."

The hearing was closed, with the amendments set to be codified at the board's Dec. 3 work session. "That's our holiday present to everyone," the mayor said.