An effort to keep the skies over Southampton Town darker and the stars more visible has been approved. After closing the public hearing on November 24, the Southampton Town Board passed the outdoor lighting, or “Dark Skies,” legislation this Tuesday. Town supervisor Linda Kabot, along with councilwomen Anna Throne-Holst, Nancy Graboski and Sally Pope, supported the resolution, but councilman Chris Nuzzi voted against it. The law, explained its sponsor, Graboski, is aimed at handling instances of nuisance lighting and enacting the use of shielded lights, and energy efficient bulbs, for new constructions.
“Good outdoor lighting at night in the Town of Southampton benefits everyone as it increases safety due to reduced glare, promotes good health of our environment and citizenry, and preserves the ability to view the stars against a dark night sky,” said the introduction of the law.
When the first public hearing on the lighting law was held in June, the measure received criticism from local business organizations. At a meeting in early June, Richard Warren with the Southampton Business Alliance said the law would incur significant costs for homeowners and commercial businesses. One of the earliest versions of the “Dark Skies” legislation stipulated that all pre-existing lighting had to be brought into compliance within 10 years of the legislation’s effective date. Some supporters of the law, including a representative from the Group for the East End, suggested town residents be given only five years to become compliant. The law was vetted in public hearings for several months.
“We took all of those concerns raised and evaluated them. I was grateful that everyone was taking the time to take a hard look at this. It is a comprehensive law and the fact that it took a period of time really isn’t unusual,” explained Graboski. “We did an overhaul of the sign ordinance in 2005. It took several hearings to refine it and to get it to an acceptable place.”
In the current version of the law, all pre-existing lighting is exempt from the provisions of the “Dark Skies” legislation unless the property owner is replacing, changing, repairing or relocating a light fixture. Holiday lighting and lights that illuminate a flag pole are also exempt. Graboski explained that if a resident simply changes a bulb of an outdoor light, they wouldn’t need to bring the lighting fixture into compliance. However, if the same resident wished to move the light fixture to a different place on the property, then the light would have to be brought up to code. New constructions or additions, for both commercial businesses and homeowners, will need to comply with the “Outdoor Lighting” law.
The new law includes a nuisance clause, which Graboski hopes will satisfy individual cases of light violation. A town resident can file a complaint with the town building department regarding a nuisance light at a neighboring property. The complaint has to be lodged by a neighbor of the offending property. Once the town investigates the case and finds that the property owner is violating the standards of “dark skies” friendly lighting then they will have 30 days to come into compliance. Residents who fail to change their lighting face fines ranging from $250 up to $500. Repeat offenders within a three-year period face misdemeanor charges and a fine of $1,000. Commercial businesses that are found to be violating the “Dark Skies” provisions, after a complaint has been filed, and fail to come into compliance within 30 days, must pay fines ranging from $500 to $1,000. If the business owner repeats the offense two or more times over three years, they also face a misdemeanor charge and pay a $3,000 fine.
Of the “Dark Skies legislation, Graboski said, “the law is giving us a better standard.”