‘Dark Skies’ Legislation Closer to Adoption – Bedford-Katonah, NY Patch

Gaze upward from the heart of Route 117 in Bedford Hills at night, and you may have trouble finding the stars.

But Bedford planners are ready to propose a new, stricter lighting legislation that may darken local skies and conserve energy, according to members of a committee who have worked on the issue since last year.

“We’re actually not changing that much in the code, but are clarifying the language and making it easier to enforce,” said Deirdre Courtney-Batson, Bedford planning board member and “dark skies” committee member, during a recent town board work session finalizing the changes.

For example, the new rules define permissible outdoor lighting to include “building or pole-mounted floodlights mounted at 90 degrees and angled downward.” Such lights must either be invisible beyond the property boundary, turned off by 11 p.m. or controlled by a motion sensor.

Landscape lighting is not regulated, but streetlights, parking lot lights and outdoor building lights would be affected by the legislation. Commerical project planners would be presented with specific lighting guidelines upfront, making site approval plans easier in the end, said Courtney-Batson.

Proponents say the changes will not only enhance star-gazing but will reduce energy use and help the environment. And part of rolling out the new rules will be educating residents, added Courtney-Batson.

“We want people to be aware of the impact of excessive light,” she said. “It’s actually unhealthy to light up your trees at night—they rely on darkness to absorb the passage of time. Studies have shown trees holding onto their leaves too long because of landscape lighting.”

The rules will apply to new residential light fixtures and commercial developments going forward, said town board member Christopher Burdick. “These amendments are prospective—it’s not for people to go back and retrofit any fixtures.”

Holiday lighting will be exempt from the rules, he added. 

“We had much discussion on this, and ultimately decided that temporary exterior holiday lighting shall be excluded. Part of our objective is to make this a more workable law, and after studying other towns, we decided not to address holiday lighting,” said Burdick, amid comments from board members about neighbors who celebrate Christmas or other holidays “year-round” with exterior lights.

After a discussion during the work session about the potential hazards of community members trying to comply with rules measuring light in technical terms, the committee plans to produce a “user-friendly” guide including a conversation chart of watts to lumens—how bright a bulb is—and a definition of footcandles, which measure how much light extends on a surface from a lamp.

The language is necessary for the town to have legal footing to enforce the code, said Courtney-Batson.

Members of the committee also include Stan Starr, Donald Coe, Simon Skolnik, Liz Bailey. Their work included aerial observations, studying lighting codes in other municipalities, consulting with lighting industry experts and the International Dark Sky Association, founded in Tuscon, AZ in 1988.

About 300 counties, cities and towns in the U.S. have adopted dark-sky legislation, according to the IDA, which promotes “lighting what you need, when you need it.”

The town board is expected to formally refer the revised lighting ordinance to the planning board tonight. A public hearing would be scheduled prior to any changes being implemented.

 

 

 

 

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