City of Aspen to residents: Lights out
Outdoor holiday lights are not allowed after March 1; hefty fines are last resort if property owners fail to comply
The holidays are over, so it’s lights out in Aspen. Or at least they are supposed to be, according to city law.
City officials are making a concerted effort to inform property owners that they are violating the municipal land use code if they have any outdoor lighting on the exterior of their homes or landscaping.
The city has specific regulations about exterior lighting during the holiday season, and it’s only permitted between Nov. 15 and March 1.
Amy Simon, the city’s planning director, said the municipal government has received complaints that holiday lights were turned on before Nov. 1 and have remained on past March 1.
The complaints ranged from energy consumption concerns to the glare that lights give off on adjacent streets and properties.
When zoning staffers went to verify the complaints, they noticed several other properties in the vicinity also in violation of the land use code.
“It was decided that a more comprehensive public education effort would be a better first step than sending dozens of progressive enforcement letters,” she said. “The best thing to do was first not assume everybody understood there were rules and do some communication about it.”
The city has reached out to about 50 property management companies or individuals who take care of homes in the city informing them of the law so their clients are aware.
Nearly 4,000 city utility customers also have been informed about the holiday lighting policy as well, through an insert in their bills.
“This is not a new regulation, it’s just one that we haven’t been very aggressive about in the past,” Simon said, adding the new focus on enforcement isn’t just based on complaints. “Internally, we have a lot of sustainability goals and we are realizing this is not a good fit … yes, holiday lights bring some charm in the community but there should be a period of time when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.”
Holiday lights contribute to light pollution, attract wildlife, increase unnecessary energy usage, and when wrapped around trees, constrict their ability to grow, according to city officials.
While city officials hope education will lead to compliance, those who refuse to comply can face up to a daily fine of $2,650, or imprisonment for as long as a year, according to section 1.04.080 of the land use code.
“We’re just hoping that telling everybody what the policy is and the reasons why is enough to take care of this,” Simon said.
The rule also applies to the city as well as commercial properties.
The land use code establishes outdoor lighting standards for the whole city, differentiating somewhat between property uses, according to Simon.
The special allowances for holiday lighting were created in recognition of the fact that they often don’t meet the standard limits. That’s because their location in trees and on structures means they are likely higher off the ground than what is typically allowed, or the bulb filament is exposed, or the lights are of a higher intensity than may be permitted for permanent lighting.
The city determined those conditions were acceptable only within the holiday season period defined as Nov. 15 to March 1.
Questions concerning the policy can be directed to the zoning division within the city’s community development at ComDevZoning@CityOfAspen.com.
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