For the week of February 24, 1999  thru March 2, 1999  

P&Z seeks more comment on dark-sky regs

Express Staff Writer

It wasn’t the typical beginning to a Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Monday night.

City Hall’s overhead fluorescent lighting was turned off, six outdoor lighting fixtures that were mounted to a board as a presentation were turned on and the commissioners, city staff and public, complete with a troop of Boy Scouts, squinted at the glare.

It was the commencement of a presentation by Elkhorn resident Dr. Steve Pauley (dubbed by some as "Captain Kilowatt" or "Dr. Dark") that helped to revealed the damage city and residential lighting can do to an otherwise dark sky; it was a prelude to the presentation of Ketchum’s draft of a dark-sky ordinance.

Pauley called the draft ordinance "not only a landmark for Idaho but a landmark for the entire United States."

"It both preserves the dark sky and upholds public safety," he said.

After presenting various forms of street and yard lighting, including mercury-vapor and low- and high-pressure sodium street lights and classic versus directional and motion-detecting floodlights, Pauley concluded that Ketchum’s proposed dark-sky ordinance is well suited to preserving the night-time skies because it would shield horizontal and upward light pollution.

"What this ordinance is doing," he said, "is shielding the light from the human eye. We don’t have sky-glow like Los Angeles has, but glare we do have. This ordinance will cut down on glare."

Ketchum senior planner Tory Canfield, who played a pivotal role in drafting the proposed ordinance, said there are currently no city standards for lighting outside of the design-review process.

She went on to say that this ordinance would cut excessive lighting by requiring shields on existing street and house lights, reducing watt allowances and banning mercury-vapor street lighting—the brightest option available—from future installations.

The commissioners were, in general, pleased with the proposed ordinance.

"I’m about this business enthusiastically," commissioner Susan Scovell said.

The only dissent came from commissioner Rod Sievers. Sievers said he supports the ordinance overall but said it should not include measures that would enforce light trespass on neighboring properties, one of the provisions specified by the ordinance.

According to the proposed ordinance, light reaching a neighbor’s property that is brighter than a full moon on a summer night would constitute "light trespass." That amount of light is 0.03 kilowatts.

Canfield said the city is looking into the purchase of a light meter that could be used to measure that, but Sievers argued that it would be difficult to measure a given light source’s breech of this rule due to the potential for multiple light sources and the relatively small amount of light in question.

"I’m not in favor of creating an enforcement nightmare right out of the box," he said.

Sievers also expressed concern regarding a proposed prohibition of landscape lighting, saying that limiting or prohibiting landscape lighting would be "shortsighted."

"You are unfairly taking away people’s liberties when you prohibit it," he said.

Scovell disagreed, saying that she finds landscape lighting "offensive," and contending that a building’s architecture should stand on its own without the aid of lighting.

The commission agreed, however, that there was an unnerving lack of public comment on the issue, which could affect many Ketchum residents.

The hearing was continued to the March 8 P&Z commission meeting.

In another planning and zoning affair, Living Architecture architect Dale Bates returned with a few moderate changes to Ketchum’s street department facility plans. The changes were approved unanimously by the commissioners.

The building, which will face Warm Springs Road at the corner of Tenth Street, will have three bays for snowplows and two for a loader and a backhoe, Bates said.

It will be modeled after the old Ketchum train depot and will employ a sound-buffering material on a dividing wall, which will face the neighboring Parkside Condominiums.

Landscaping will consist of the 20 existing aspen trees, six spruce trees, four new spruce trees and nine new flowering crabapple trees.

The plans were approved with a condition that the existing power pole on the corner of Tenth Street and Warm Springs Road be removed.

Despite several neighboring landowners’ requests that more vegetation be planted along the Parkside-facing sound-buffering wall, the commission did not require such a condition. A lack of room between the street department facilities and the immediately adjacent railroad right of way were the reasons, staff said, that vegetation should not be required there.


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