County ready to dim the lighting |

County ready to dim the lighting

Pitkin County is getting closer to a revamped lighting ordinance.

The county commissioners liked what they saw Wednesday when they were presented with some major changes to the existing lighting code. The new code, drafted by zoning officer Joanna Schaffner and senior long-range planner Ellen Sassano, is generally more restrictive than the existing 1994 code.

The new code was accepted by the board on first reading, but some changes suggested in Wednesday’s discussion will likely be included in the ordinance. The legislation addresses some problems that were not previously handled by the county’s lighting code.

The new code prohibits what’s called “light trespass,” and sets a standard for light emanating from a neighbor’s property: “Light level shall be no greater than .5 foot-candle at the property line.” A foot-candle is a standard measure of light.

Mercury-vapor and low-pressure sodium lamps, the type used for urban highway lighting, are to be prohibited entirely.

Highlighting, or illumination of building facades, driveways, and landscaping, will be prohibited, as will illumination of local bodies of water. Floodlighting would be prohibited except when the light is directed downward and controlled with a motion sensor.

The commissioners and staff concluded Wednesday that light bulbs should not be visible from adjacent or neighboring property. That can be accomplished either by opaque shielding or translucent diffusion materials such as frosted glass or plastics.

Exterior lighting that has the potential to interfere with the vision of drivers on nearby roads would be prohibited by the new code.

Light placement for commercial uses such as parking lots is to be restricted to between 12 and 15 feet in height. For walkways, low-level lights, less than four feet in height, are recommended, but pole-mounted lights up to 10 feet high would be allowed. The proposed code calls for all such lights to be directed downward only.

The commissioners discussed at length different calendar limitations on holiday lights. Though Sassano recommended allowing holiday lighting to remain in place from Thanksgiving Day to Jan. 30 annually, some on the board would prefer to end the period on Jan. 15.

Owners of existing residential and commercial outdoor lighting in the county that does not conform with the new code will have one year from the time the new code is enacted to bring their lights into compliance. The ordinance as written by Sassano and Schaffner called for a three-year period, but commissioners preferred a shorter time.

“I think three years is about two years too long,” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris, who has been concerned for some time about the proliferation of light pollution in the county. She noted that people in the town of Redstone, in her home district, have complained about not being able to see the night sky.

Schaffner said lighting-code violators could be penalized under enforcement provisions of the county land-use code.

The city of Aspen is coincidentally also at work on a new lighting code.

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