Carbondale looks at how to protect its dark skies | PostIndependent.com

Carbondale looks at how to protect its dark skies

Ryan Summerlin
rsummerlin@postindependent.com

Carbondale trustees are weighing an ordinance that would preserve the view of the night sky but may also cost businesses and homeowners.

The town's Planning and Zoning board recommended changing the code to ban a variety of lighting types, such as floodlights, LEDs, LCDs, animated signs and signs with no diffusion of their light source.

Proposed changes to Carbondale's lighting code, written by Aaron Humphrey of Alpenglow Lighting Design, fall in line with the International Dark-Sky Association's "Model Lighting Ordinance."

The previous lighting code, approved in 2003, had dark sky ideals in mind but didn't anticipate changes in lighting technology such as LED lighting. LEDs use a lighting technology that is more energy efficient but creates a brighter light.

The lighting code needs cleaning up on several levels where lighting technology has changed, Humphrey told trustees. Whereas LED lighting was something exotic four years ago, today it's become very common, he said.

But the board also must allow for safety lighting in town, said Mayor Stacey Bernot. Crosswalks, for example, need ample lighting for drivers to see pedestrians.

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One of the board's big questions is when to enforce the changes. Humphrey's changes suggest a five-year grace period. A business with lighting that doesn't conform to the new code would have time to make the switch, but some trustees didn't want to give them that long.

The 2003 lighting code already required homeowners and businesses to bring their lighting into compliance within five years, but that provision was never enforced, said Humphrey.

Trustee Frosty Merriott said he wasn't willing to give another five years to the people who refused to change their lighting in 2003.

Likewise, when a building permit is issued, the lighting would have to be in compliance with the new code.

Trustee Allyn Harvey suggested that homeowners or businesses that recently invested in new lighting not up to code could bring the town a receipt and be allowed a grace period.

Otherwise, they should have to come into compliance immediately, he said.

One sign that's drawn complaints over recent months is that of Faith Carbondale Lutheran Church.

If trustees pass a strict lighting code, the church could be out tens of thousands of dollars.

The church bought its new sign in June for more than $30,000. Complaints started coming in quickly that its lights were too bright, and the church toned it down by about half its lighting power, said Paul Menter, the church's president.

Menter noted that the town granted a permit for the sign in the first place. The town should come up with a regulation for how to use the sign rather than banning it outright, he said.

But several trustees honed in on the church's sign, saying it was unacceptable.

Instead of waiting for the details to get hashed out, Harvey said he wanted the next meeting agenda to include an ordinance banning lit signs like the one the Lutheran church.

In the past, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's property had harsh lighting that didn't meet code, Bernot said, and it took numerous complaints by a trustee to get it changed.

It's often well-funded organizations that are the problem in this community, Harvey said.

Jurisdiction will become an issue if trustees try to enact stricter rules. The town doesn't have jurisdiction over U.S. Forest Service property or the post office. And some of the lighting is owned by Colorado Department of Transportation and utilities companies.

But where it does have control over lighting, the town shouldn't make itself exempt from following the same rules, said the mayor.

She added that enforcement could be another issue, questioning whether the town wanted to dedicate resources to checking everyone's lights.

"I'm not sure why we don't have the police enforce the lighting code just like they do the sound ordinance," said Trustee Katrina Byars.

Trustees will take the lighting issue up again in January, but Bernot said the board may take longer to come up with an approval.