Will S’mass lighten up? | AspenTimes.com

Will S’mass lighten up?

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen has one. Basalt has one. Now some Snowmass Village residents are asking for one, too.

A group calling itself the Dark Sky Committee is getting ready to petition the Snowmass Village Town Council for a light ordinance, modeled after Aspen’s ordinance that went into effect in November 1999.

Snowmass Village resident Tom Yocum got involved with the committee recently. He said lights from the Snowmass Villas condominiums are unshielded, 250-watt fixtures that shine brightly into his house, 200 yards away.

“I can read the newspaper by my bedroom window at night from the light at Snowmass Villas,” he said. “They light up the sky and block out the stars. If it had been me, I would have offered to shield my lights, and face them down. But they’ve refused to do anything.”

The Dark Sky Committee is trying to get 10 percent of registered voters in Snowmass Village (that’s 180 people) to sign a petition. The petition asks the Town Council to consider an ordinance to prevent light pollution and stop people from overusing outdoor lighting, among other things. Yocum said he’s made several presentations to the council and hasn’t gotten much response, so the petition could prompt council members to act.

Councilman Arnie Mordkin said he doesn’t have a problem with a proposed light ordinance, but he doesn’t think it should include making changes to developments and lighting schemes that are already in place.

“We’re cautious about that now – we make sure lights point down, and for a pending application for a couple of houses on Seven Star way up on the mountain, we asked that there be no exposed lights,” he said. “But an ordinance would ensure that everybody would have to be conscientious about that, including [the council] that follows us.”

Yocum said that the village’s current building code doesn’t have enough enforcement power to keep lighting in check. The building department can place a lien on a piece of property that doesn’t comply with the code, but that lien doesn’t affect a property owner until the property goes up for sale.

And as for making the ordinance retroactive, Yocum said that has been done successfully in other communities in the Roaring Fork Valley, such as Aspen and in all of Pitkin County.

Pitkin County’s lighting ordinance went into effect in December 1999. Owners of existing lights which were not in compliance with the new code at that time had three years to correct their lights. Aspen gave owners one year to be in compliance with the city’s lighting ordinance.

Mordkin said he’s well aware of some light pollution in Snowmass Village – he said lights around the Snowmass Club tend to shine into neighboring windows. But he said he thinks there’s a limit to how much the government should regulate.

The Dark Sky Committee hopes a lighting ordinance will help preserve Snowmass Village’s small-town character, provide clear guidance to builders and developers and encourage the use of improved technology for lighting, Yocum said. The group will meet before and after Tuesday’s town council meeting, outside the conference center to gather signatures and answer questions.

Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com

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