City adopts new light regulation
Aspen residents who have despaired at the prospect of losing sight of the stars at night now have an ally in the form of a new law passed this week by the City Council.
The city’s new lighting code is intended expressly to cut down on the level of “ambient light” cast off by many homes in the city.
But council members, after passing the ordinance on Monday night, worried about the pending consideration of companion legislation in Pitkin County, since many of the homes considered to have excess lighting are outside the city limits.
In particular, council members mentioned homes on Red Mountain that are either lit up with flood lamps or have Christmas tree lights shining all year long.
The city ordinance regulates the kind and intensity of lighting that can be placed outside a home, with the intention of reducing the amount of light that shines either over neighbors’ homes or into the night sky.
Pitkin County is considering a proposed set of outdoor lighting regulations. The proposed county code amendments have already been before the county commissioners once, but were sent back for revisions. The revised proposal is expected to go before commissioners again in December.
“City residents value small-town character and the qualities associated with this character, including the ability to view the stars against a dark sky,” states a staff memo from City Planning Director Julie Ann Woods. “They recognize that inappropriate and poorly designed or installed outdoor lighting causes unsafe and unpleasant conditions, limits their ability to enjoy the nighttime sky, and results in unnecessary use of electric power.”
The new city law has been in the works since April, and requires that all new construction follow the new regulations. Existing homes have one year to comply with the regulations. If an individual homeowner has not complied within that year and is the subject of a complaint by another citizen, that homeowner will then have 60 days to comply with the law.
There was some discussion about the propriety of exempting municipal lighting from the new regulations, which is one provision of the new ordinance.
“Why should municipal lighting be exempted?” demanded Councilman Jim Markalunas. “Wherever possible, the city should comply with its own regulations.”
But Mayor Rachel Richards argued that Markalunas was “comparing apples to oranges.”
She said the city is charged with guaranteeing citizens’ health, safety and welfare, whereas most exterior residential lighting is decorative.
“I just find the two purposes to be quite different,” Richards noted, adding that there is a big difference between lighting for safety purposes on city streets and “someone who chooses to light their house 365 days a year when they don’t even live there.”
Woods noted that, while the lights on city streets and in city parks are exempted from the regulations, citizens can petition to have certain lights partially painted over or darkened through some other means if they are causing annoyance.
Among the provisions of the new regulations are exemptions for the strings of tiny lights that adorn street lamps, trees and some structures in the downtown area all winter. Although the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that these holiday lights be turned off by Jan. 15 each year, the City Council decided they add to the festive atmosphere of the downtown area and can stay up until March 15.
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