Business Members Against “Dark Skies” Bill

Posted on 13 August 2009

After five public hearings, dating back several months, it appeared Southampton Town’s “Dark Skies” legislation was gaining traction in the community and moving closer to appeasing both residents and owners of commercial properties. At a town board meeting held on Tuesday, however, members of local business organizations strongly vocalized their discontent with the provisions and purpose of the law. These residents are concerned with the cost of replacing outdoor bulbs and light fixtures and believe the town is trying to solve a nuisance problem with a zoning code change. The business community seems to prefer educating the public on light pollution and energy efficient lighting instead of enacting mandatory regulations.

“The Southampton Business Alliance Board of Directors remains opposed to the idea of any type of mandatory program which would require every property owner with non-conforming outdoor lighting fixtures to change their fixtures even when they are not undertaking improvements to their business or home,” stated alliance president, and environmental and planning consultant, Richard Warren during the meeting.

Warren contended that outdoor lighting is used to deter intruders and give peace of mind to elderly residents. The alliance, he added, supports bringing new constructions or renovations into compliance with these new outdoor lighting provisions, but feels pre-exisitng homes and businesses should be exempt from the regulations. Instead, the alliance would like the town to offer tax incentives to encourage people to comply.

“There are young families working hard to make ends meet. There are fixed middle-income families as well. Almost all will be affected . . . for instituting a public policy, but at no public cost – but one that is based solely upon the use of hard-earned private dollars,” remarked Warren.

Tim Rumph, on behalf of the alliance, presented a cursory cost analysis for replacing six outdoor light fixtures of a residential home. Rumph said the total expense, including parts and hiring two electricians for one day, is between $2,000 to $5,000 and is prohibitively expensive for many residents given the current economy.

Assistant town attorney, Joe Burke, however, pointed out residents need to decrease the wattage of their outdoor light bulbs within six months of the adoption of the law, which only requires them to buy new light bulbs. Another provision stipulates a resident must re-aim their outdoor lights within a year of the law’s approval, but added that he didn’t believe this would incur additional costs for the homeowner. Residents have five years to come into compliance with all the other provisions of the law, but commercial property owners have ten years to bring their businesses into compliance.

Some members of the community felt the sunset provisions of the law lessened the financial burden on business owners and residents, because the economy will most likely be stable and grow within the next five years to ten years.

Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who has championed this piece of legislation, presented some preliminary research showing the cost savings from using energy efficient bulbs. According to Graboski, a home equipped with light emitting diodes, or LED, bulbs costs only $32.85 a year to operate, where as a home using incandescent light bulbs costs around $328.59 to operate.

Susan Harder, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association’s New York Chapter, made the case that regulating outdoor lighting is as much about promoting green technologies as it is about public safety. Harder argues glare contributes a great deal to a lack of visibility on roadways.

However, others contended the town could create a nuisance ordinance to deal with specific light issues. This would give town code enforcement and police recourse in dealing with lighting issues between neighbors.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Graboski announced the public hearings would be adjourned until September 22, giving her and Burke time to find a solution to please all sides.

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