County sees the light complaints, is investigating CDOT intercept lot |

County sees the light complaints, is investigating CDOT intercept lot

Jeremy Heiman

Lights at the intercept lot at Brush Creek and Highway 82, and at other points along Highway 82, may not comply with Pitkin County’s lighting ordinance, the county’s zoning officer says.

The intercept lot is used by Roaring Fork Transit Agency buses to allow passengers to transfer between valley routes and the Snowmass Village route. It includes parking for more than 200 vehicles.

Citizen complaints have triggered an investigation of the lighting at the lot.

Because the lot is owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the county may not be able to enforce its light ordinance there. But county staff members hope CDOT will work with the county in bringing the lights into compliance, said zoning officer Joanna Schaffner.

The county will also take a look at lights at Colorado Mountain College’s new Aspen campus and the new Snowmass Post Office on Highway 82. Zoning technician Ezra Louthis said he has heard informal complaints on the brightness of the lighting at those two locations.

Schaffner added that the CMC lights don’t seem particularly bright, but with the proliferation of parking lots along Highway 82, each additional set of lights is changing the feel of the area.

“It has a real urban kind of feel to it,” she said.

Joe Elsen, CDOT’s resident engineer for the up-valley section of Highway 82, said he’s a little surprised to hear that Pitkin County is receiving complaints on the lights at the intercept lot. He said CDOT met with the county’s public works department for a formal design review session before the lights were installed. Further, Elsen said, the agency has modified the lights in response to a recent meeting with homeowners at W/J Ranch, across the Roaring Fork River from the lot.

“One thing we did is put shields on them, to eliminate the side lighting,” Elsen said. “That seemed to help a lot.”

CDOT also added a timer to shut off the back row of lights after 8 p.m. The rest of the lights can’t be shut off, he said, because they are necessary for safety. They remain on all night, although the last buses leave Aspen and Snowmass Village at 2:45 a.m.

“There are certain law enforcement personnel out there who think it would be nuts to turn the lights off, especially at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Elsen said.

Lowering the lights at the intercept lot is another possibility, but cost might be a problem, Elsen said.

Good lighting is definitely important to safety at the intercept lot, said RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship.

“We’re trying to encourage people to use transit,” Blankenship said. “One of the problems with a lot like that is security.” Bus riders’ personal safety and the safety of their cars and property are the most important considerations, he said.

“If we want people to walk to facilities of this kind,” Blankenship said, “we’ve got to provide adequate lighting and good walkways.”

Two years ago, a number of cars were broken into at RFTA’s El Jebel park-and-ride, Blankenship noted, and RFTA found it advisable to increase lighting there. No incidents of vandalism or theft have occurred at the intercept lot.

“I understand and appreciate people who live in rural areas want to be able to see the stars,” Blankenship said, “but I value human life more than that.”

The Snowmass Post Office moved into its new building on Highway 82 on Nov. 17. Postmaster Mike Gonzalez said both the contractor and the county checked the lighting just before the building was occupied.

“They came and checked it, and it’s fine, as far as I know,” he said. He said black tape was used to dull the reflectors and reduce the glare.

“The streetlights [on Highway 82] are stronger than our lights,” Gonzalez said.

But Louthis said he only checked and corrected a few lights mounted on the Post Office building, not the parking lot lights.

Louthis will measure light intensity and the fixtures at all three locations to determine whether they are in compliance with the lighting ordinance. But, like the intercept lot, the Post Office, a federal government facility, and CMC, as a school, may not be subject to county enforcement.

“We’ve just started getting the ball rolling, because we’ve gotten complaints,” Schaffner said. The county attorney will also be looking into the issue.

“We’re working on these questions as to whether these federal and state standards supersede ours,” Louthis said.

Pitkin County’s lighting ordinance went into effect Dec. 1, 1999. Owners of existing lights which were not in compliance with the new code at that time had three years to correct their lights.

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