Lighting Debate Redux

Dark-sky advocate fears brighter nights ahead

    After extending through 2011 a deadline for businesses to comply with East Hampton Town’s regulations on outdoor lighting, the town board is expected to vote tonight on suspending enforcement of the lighting code for another three months, while revisions to the code are discussed.
    Commercial property owners had been given four years to change lighting that was too bright or otherwise violated 2006 “dark-sky” legislation, until October 2010, but the compliance date was pushed back after the board expressed a desire to change the lighting law.
    A new draft of lighting code revisions, spearheaded by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, will be a topic of discussion at a meeting of environmental groups in East Hampton tomorrow. It drew some comments at a board work session Tuesday.
    “You need to stop calling it dark-sky legislation because it is decidedly not, since it increases light pollution,” Susan Harder of Springs, a lighting designer and the New York State representative of the International Dark Sky Association, told the board. A member of board-appointed dark-sky committees in towns including Riverhead, Brookhaven, and Southampton, she said later that day that the draft legislation would allow twice as much light as that permitted by a model code that town officials have said is identical.
    “The concern is that it is very poorly conceived and drafted,” Ms. Harder said of the town’s proposal.
    Changes to the town’s outdoor lighting legislation have been contemplated since early 2010, just after Supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s administration took office.
    The law, Councilwoman Quigley said at the time, “seems burdensome.” Ms. Quigley had also expressed concerns about the adequacy of the lighting that can be installed under the law.
    At two hearings on extending the original compliance date, business owners complained about difficulty in understanding the requirements, the cost and effort involved in complying with them, and the potential that town scrutiny of their lighting plans could lead to the discovery of other items not in compliance with the town code.
    But the majority of speakers, by far, told the board that the 2006 law, the result of extensive research and public discussion, should remain in effect, and business owners be made to comply. Residential-property owners had been held to the law’s strictures immediately upon its adoption.
    After a hearing on one draft offered by Ms. Quigley, which would have relaxed restrictions and eliminated a need to bring older fixtures into compliance with new rules, drew criticism, it was back to the drawing board.
    The new proposal, still in process, comes “verbatim” from a model lighting ordinance developed jointly by the International Dark Sky Association and the Illuminating Engineering Society, Ms. Quigley said Tuesday.
    However, in a Dec. 11 letter to Supervisor Wilkinson, Leo Smith, the Northeast regional director of the International Dark Sky Association, said that “the proosed amendment substantially does not reflect the model lighting ordinance. . . .”
    Although the town code draft, like the model ordinance, contains separate rules for different lighting zones, the number of lumens (a measurement of light output) allowed in each is considerably larger in the town proposal.
    In addition to other differences, the proposed town ordinance does not address or require analysis of glare or light trespass over property lines, and, unlike the model, would allow unshielded light fixtures, and “uplight,” or light that extends above fixtures into the sky.
    In contrast to the model law, which calls for phasing out fixtures that don’t comply with the rules, the town proposal would allow anything put up prior to a new law’s adoption to remain unless other major renovations or property use changes take place.
    Ms. Quigley said recent comments on the draft town legislation by the planning director, Marguerite Wolffsohn, are yet to be discussed.
    In an e-mail, Councilwoman Quigley also pointed out that the model legislation must be tailored to address specific issues in East Hampton, such as dealing with lighting along the waterfront.
    “These properties in particular must be particularly careful about lighting, inasmuch as light reflecting off of the water can be seen from great distances,” she said, “. . . and has impacts on the life forms habitating the waters.”
    “On the one side are the concerns noted above,” she said, “and on the other side is the very real and completely opposite concern of our active and used marinas. They are typically used at all hours of the night and are in need of good lighting, and they are filled with inherent dangers such as ropes, slippery surfaces, heavy traffic, etc. That issue is thorny and cries out for a creative solution, one which I continue to pursue.”
    “What we have on the books; it’s been working,” Ms. Harder said. Legitimate concerns or problems for businesses trying to comply with the code can be addressed, she said, by allowing the Planning Department to issue variances from some of the standards in certain cases, for instance.
    The levels of overall outdoor lighting allowed by the adopted town lighting code, she said, mirror those endorsed by the Illuminating Engineering Society.
    “Our current law provides for plenty of light,” Ms. Harder told the board on Tuesday.
    But Ms. Quigley said that complaints about the current law have come from both the Planning Department and “constituents who have to deal with it.”
    “Our law . . . didn’t work,” she said. Lighting that complied with it, she asserted, “actually consumed more energy, and produced more light.”
    Even the model code is problematic, Ms. Harder said. That draft is the subject of controversy among those in the field, she said, and has not been adopted by any municipality. She said it is needlessly complex, and “has holes in it you could drive a truck through.”
    Ms. Quigley noted that work on the overhaul of the lighting code began with discussions among members of an advisory group that included Planning Department staff, business owners, and business organization representatives.
    She said she has continued to work on “how best to effectuate the goal of reduced energy consumption, increased dark sky, and a more workable and user-friendly code.”
    “It is unfortunate that that goal keeps getting lost in the rhetoric,” she added.
    Ms. Harder and Ms. Quigley also differed on Tuesday over the involvement of a well-known architect, Jacquelin Robertson, who helped design Celebration, Fla., a planned community built by the Disney company, which is Mr. Wilkinson’s former employer. Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson have said that he has served as a consultant in developing the proposed lighting code.
    Speaking to Ms. Quigley on Tuesday, Ms. Harder said that she had spoken to Mr. Robertson, and “he’s never met you nor spoken to you.”
    He met once with Mr. Wilkinson, Ms. Harder said, “and at that meeting, he said, and I quote him exactly, ‘I know nothing about lighting,’ which makes sense since architects do not study outdoor lighting — they pass it on to lighting designers.”
    Ms. Quigley said in her e-mail that, “at the suggestion of a constituent,” she and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson had met with Mr. Robertson in the supervisor’s office “well over a year ago.”
    “He was touted as an expert in planning all aspects of a community and in particular on lighting. He was an accomplished man,” she said. She did not elaborate on the discussion.
    “I’m very upset that Mr. Robertson forgot,” Ms. Quigley replied Tuesday, joking that she must not be memorable. “We sat there, the three of us, in a room for an hour and a half.”
 


Comments

Like Mr Robertson I know nothing about lighting. One thing I do know, however, is that the night lighting of Herrick Park in East Hampton village is obnoxious and puzzling at this time of year. Can't they be turned off after 6 pm or some other agreed upon time? Best, Chris Corwin
Does any part of this proposed law address street lighting? While I am all for energy conservation and other envitonmental protections, there are areas of Town in dire need of lighting, i.e. Three Mile harbor-Hog Creek Road in Springs. It is so dark, especially at this time of year, that I have driven past my own house because it could not be seen. There are pedestrians on the road, even at night and the lack of light poses a danger to them. The road has several blind curves and "dark skies" are no solace to those involved in potentially fatal accidents. How about considering humans as part of the environment being protected?