Both Page dark sky advocates and skeptics were able to notch victories last week following a middle of the road decision by the Page City Council. In a move that appears to harmonize concerns from both teams, council voted 5–1 (Councilman Levi Tappan voted nay) to make only a few changes to Page’s lighting ordinance, and nixed a proposed option that would have imposed an outdoor lighting curfew on businesses.
While no new laws were officially put to paper, council agreed to move forward with four tweaks to Page’s current lighting ordinance. They will need to come before council again for further readings before becoming official.
Changes include the following:
• Restricting all future commercial light structures to 20 feet in height. All previous structures more than 20 feet would be grandfathered in. Right of way lighting like streetlights would be exempt from the rule.
• Change all instances of the word “watts” within the ordinance to “lumens” after accounting for the proper conversion. This is due to the fact modern LED lights are much more efficient than older technology lights and can push out similar brightness with lower wattage.
• Allow a seven-year grace period for non-compliant lighting.
• Restrict all commercial lighting to a 3000 Kelvin color temperature or lower. The city would also adopt this restriction on its lighting.
Council also voted to eliminate all language in the ordinance that specifies lighting technology.
Perhaps most noteworthy is councilmembers also declared they would possibly like the city to begin enforcing the ordinances in the near future. What that timeframe would be has yet to be determined. The current lighting ordinance has been on the books for more than 15 years, and already incorporates many dark sky friendly provisions such as requiring outdoor lighting to be shielded and directed downward. Upward or unshielded lighting is shown to be to be the biggest culprit in contributing to light pollution.
Council and other city officials agreed that the city has historically done little by way of enforcing the current code. They said enforcing the current codes would be sufficient to make Page more dark sky friendly and address community concerns with safety.
A jam-packed city hall set the stage for what turned into an impassioned back-and-forth between dozens of Page citizens and city officials during a public hearing. Members from both sides presented their arguments to an equally talkative council. A common thread among the majority of the speakers, however, became clearer as the night went on.
Many dark sky advocates said they were not necessarily in favor of some of the restrictions set by the imposed ordinance, but rather wished for the current codes to be enforced.
Most said simply restricting color temperature and enforcing shielded and downward facing lighting would be satisfactory to mostly satisfy dark sky requirements.
Advocates, including National Park Service and Aramark, also called dark skies a resource that Page ought to protect. One speaker who recently moved to Page from Philadelphia said his 4-year-old son saw the stars for the first time when they first arrived to town. He said under current conditions, he was unable to see the stars from his own backyard and that it can be easy to take such an opportunity for granted.
Others brought up their own safety and health concerns. Several speakers cited scientific studies that found darker cities translated to better sleep for residents.
Page resident Amanda Boston relayed a story where she had to respond to a stranger in her backyard when her neighbor’s unshielded proximity light turned on and disoriented her because it was so bright.
“I could not see who was at that back gate trying to get into my yard,” she said. “I believe it is important to have a safe and well-lit community. But I also believe it is important to not have light trespass and glare… Downward facing light that came on would have allowed just enough light at the back gate to respond.”
Vice Mayor John Kocjan also noted how easy it is to be temporarily blinded by bright outdoor lighting that does not have any shielding. Others commented that shielded lighting allows for the human eye to maintain night vision, while still providing sufficient light for safety.
Many of those in opposition to the proposed ordinance were most concerned with a provision that would place a curfew on business lighting. As conversations continued throughout the evening, some skeptics told council they liked many of the provisions laid out by the advocates and agreed they would be good for Page if enforced.
Tina Holman, a former Page councilwoman and one of the Page residents who originally asked city council to hold a public hearing about the ordinance changes, however, was most critical of how the ordinance was drafted and pushed to council by community development staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Holman said the original impetus to update the lighting code came roughly two years ago and was a measure to simply remove requirements for sodium bulbs and allow LED lighting.
“What made its way back to you for consideration is far from simplified... Light is a good, not a form of pollution... Well-lit areas are more inviting and make people feel more secure. Safety and security should be your number one concern,” she told council.
Holman said, “The information [given to council] from staff and the commission was misleading at best.”
She claimed both the Page Police Department and Page Utility Enterprises were not made aware of the ordinance changes in a punctual manner, hence why the concerns they brought up with the ordinance did not surface until August — despite the ordinance having been in the works for many months.
Members from council stated often that they were both pleased and impressed by the turnout at the public hearing and claimed they heard the voices of the community loud and clear.
But budgetary questions remain — both for the city and the businesses that will likely be required to replace lighting on their buildings if and when the codes are enforced. Council said it would have to consider in its next budget year how the city and utility would prepare to speed up its LED street light replacement project.
Business owners also voiced concern that the cost of large-scale light replacements for some businesses could potentially be astronomical and asked council if they’d explore ways to assist those businesses in some way.