Dark Skies come into the daylight
Proposed light pollution ordinance returns to the table

Nighttime scenes such as this on North Main would be toned down under a Dark Skies ordinance making its way through the city planning process. Under the code, streetlights would have to be shielded and business signs would be turned off at the close of business or 11 p.m., whichever is later./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

After almost a year out of the public eye, the City of Durango’s dark skies ordinance is expected to soon see the light of day.

On Wednesday evening, city planners released a second draft of the outdoor lighting ordinance during a public meeting at the Durango Community Recreation Center. The ordinance would decrease nighttime light pollution, glare and trespass, or light that overflows from one property to another, such as that of floodlights.

Unlike earlier draft versions, the latest ordinance only applies to commercial, industrial, multi-family and public developments. Single-family homes and duplexes would be exempt.

“It will not apply to residences,” said city planner Millissa Berry, who was involved with drafting the ordinance. “If you have a bare bulb on your porch, we’re not going to make you take it down.”

However, all others will be asked to come into compliance with the code within seven years, giving them almost three times as long as originally discussed.

“We thought 2BD years was a little tough to meet,” she said of the original timeframe.

Specifically, the code calls for all unshielded lights or lights that shine upward to be capped so the light shines only downward. It also bans roof lights; search or spot lights; mercury vapor lighting; or any lights that flicker, blink, flash or pulse, otherwise known as nuisance lighting. The code would not apply to holiday lighting between Nov. 15 and Feb. 15.

“Basically, we’re just asking people to put a cap on it so it just lights up the ground and doesn’t light up everything else,” Berry said. “It’s not going to be the burden people think.”

In addition to limiting the types of lighting, the ordinance also would monitor light levels using standards and practices of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.

“They’re considered to be the experts in the area,” said Berry.

During an inventory last spring, security lighting, fast food restaurants and convenience stores were worst violators, she said.

“A lot of fast food restaurants use their building and lights as an attention-getter,” she said.

The code also would place restrictions on how long businesses can keep their outdoor signs illuminated. Under the ordinance, outdoor lighting, with the exception of security lighting, must be turned off at the close of business or by 11 p.m., whichever is later. They cannot be turned back on until the business opens again in the morning or 5 a.m., whichever comes first.

Berry said in drafting the ordinance, planners looked at other cities that already had successful dark skies ordinances, such as Tucson, Ariz.; Bend, Ore.; and Aspen and Boulder. And while the ordinance would be new to Durango, she said several developments already have complied with dark skies regulations in anticipation.

“Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Parkside Terrace are all in compliance,” she said. “It’s already in quite a few developments.”

Curiously enough, one entity that will face a rigorous effort to comply is the City of Durango. The city has more than 700 unshielded streetlights which would have to be switched out with less obtrusive models. At the current rate of repair and replacement, which is done by La Plata Electric Association, the conversion would be complete in 35 years. As a result, Berry said the city and LPEA have come up with a plan to speed up the process.

“The city and LPEA are looking for a way to cost share,” she said. “LPEA would do the labor and the city would pay for materials.”

Under the plan, the city would put up about $17,000 a year for new lights and LPEA would cover the cost of installation, at about $7,000 a year. The entire conversion would be done in seven years.

“LPEA was one of the first proponents of dark skies,” she said. “So, they’re sympathetic to the whole thing.”

The city began looking into the possibility of a dark skies ordinance in the summer of 2002 at the urging of concerned citizens. The first draft of the ordinance was released in December 2002, however, because of other pressing matters such as River Trails Ranch, the Planning Department was not able to devote as much time to the dark skies initiative, Berry said. However, she expects a final draft to go before the Planning Commission in March with the City Council voting on the ordinance in April.






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