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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Sun Valley inaugurates ‘Dark Sky Ordinance’

Express Staff Writer

Under provisions of a new ordinance approved last week, Sun Valley residents should be able to behold the heavens for years to come.

Sun Valley City Council members on Thursday, March 18, unanimously passed a so-called "Dark Sky Ordinance" that will limit the types of exterior lighting permitted on commercial and residential properties.

The approval of the new exterior lighting regulations makes Sun Valley the third city in the Wood River Valley to adopt an ordinance designed to control light pollution. Ketchum adopted its own set of regulations in 1999, followed by Hailey in 2002.

"I think it’s important for everyone in the city to realize how important this is," said Councilman Blair Boand. "I think it’s a great document."

The ordinance—which was approved to go into effect upon its signing by Mayor Jon Thorson—establishes lighting regulations for all new construction and previously developed properties. Existing residential, commercial and institutional developments in the city will have 18 months to come into compliance with the ordinance.

Generally, the ordinance mandates that all exterior light sources in the city should be "downcast and fully shielded," except in some specific configurations, including:

  • Fixtures emitting the equivalent light of a 60-watt bulb, which may be left partially shielded if the lamp has an opaque top or is under a solid overhang.

  • Floodlights with external shielding and angled at 30 degrees so the light does not encroach on adjacent properties or public rights of way. Floodlights must be turned off by 11 p.m.

  • Residential holiday lighting, which may be used from Nov. 1 to March 15, if it does not flash and is turned off by 11 p.m. each night.

Councilwoman Ann Agnew—before voting in favor of the ordinance—expressed concern that the legislation’s regulations could cost her and other property owners substantial sums of money.

"I have twelve fixtures that I am going to have to replace and it’s going to cost me about $3,000," she said.

Agnew added: "I’m only going to be one example of many many."

However, Sun Valley resident Steve Pauley, who helped city staff craft the new regulations, said the costs of retrofitting non-compliant fixtures should not be excessive to most homeowners or businesses.

"In terms of cost of compliance, homeowners will have to pay a little more to comply," he said. "But I don’t think the expense is intolerable or too onerous."

Diane Shay, Hailey city planner, said that city’s exterior lighting regulations have not required large-scale lighting modifications by most homeowners.

"We have had very little in the way of problems," Shay said.

The new ordinance provides that the city can deliver a written notice to violators demanding that they come into compliance.

If the violation is not corrected, the city "may institute actions and proceedings, either legal or equitable, to enjoin, restrain or abate any violations," the ordinance states.

City Attorney Rand Peebles said long-standing violations could result in a misdemeanor but downplayed concerns that the city would have police monitor residents’ lighting.

"I don’t see police being involved much at all," he said.

Several residents of the city and Blaine County voiced support for the ordinance.

The Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission and city staff began drafting the ordinance approximately two years ago, but eventually postponed the project after a series of large development proposals were submitted to the city in 2002.

Former Mayor David Wilson requested last summer that the ordinance be completed.


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