Hardy Plumbing
May 24, 2006

Speaking To Smart Lighting

Wasn't it Bela Lugosi as Dracula who said, "Children of the night; what music they make?" It wasn't exactly music made in East Hampton Town Hall last Thursday night, but several speakers did sing praises for the town board's effort to establish a lighting ordinance that protects the night sky.

A public hearing on a proposal regulating outdoor residential and commercial lighting drew about 20 speakers who weighed in for close to two hours. The proposal is, according town planning director Marguerite Wolffsohn, "pretty basic." Residential lights need to be pointed downward and shielded so they don't shine onto a neighbor's property. The proposed code revision establishes an administrative procedure for review of commercial lighting and sets a four-year window for business owners who can comply with the code if their lights are not currently up to snuff.

More than half of those who addressed the board spoke in support of the draft code change. Arlene Coulter rebutted one oft-used argument in favor of lots of lights: senior citizens feel secure when outdoor lights are bright. Coulter noted, as did the planning director, that downward pointing light is actually safer than glaring spots. "I know it will help me walk on people's property to have lights directed at my feet and not at my eyes," she said, identifying herself as a senior and declaring, "I don't want to be used anymore."

Bob DeLuca of the Group for the South Fork shared the personal experience of stargazing at night with his daughter. The wonder of the night sky has sparked a slew of interests in astronomy and related sciences in his children. Preservation of the star view is very important because, he said, "It's very easy to lose very quickly."

Beside the wonder of the night sky, other proponents of the measure spoke of health risks associated with constant light, how difficult it is to sleep when a neighbor's spot is shining in one's window, how proper lighting is more energy efficient, and how over-lighting leads to suburbanization. "If you consider yourself a rural community — rural communities should have quiet and dark at night," attorney Richard Whalen said, adding he thought the law was "long overdue."

Speaking on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, Richard Kahn deemed the proposal "a reasonable and balanced approach . . . right down the center line compared to similar statutes."

Offering the other side of the coin, some speakers took a dim view of the proposal. Most expressed concerns about how new rules would affect their individual properties or businesses.

While he agreed the regulations on residential properties make "a ton of sense," Peter Mendelman worried that if the same rules were applied at his three Springs marinas, he'd have to go to great expense to replace "outlawed" fixtures. As written, the law outlaws some lighting that Mendelman didn't think town officials planned to prohibit.

Ken Silverman just spent $10,000 on landscape lighting for his Amagansett home. He said he was "very careful" to select low wattage illumination that doesn't trespass onto neighbors' property. But, under the proposal, his lights would be illegal. He feels the town needs to make an exception for low wattage landscape lighting.

So does Sean Heaney. His business is landscape lighting, which he described as "an art form." He said he finds the proposal "very hard to work with." Board members agreed that the portion of the regulations relating to landscape lighting need additional tweaking and invited Heaney to contribute additional suggestions. Councilwoman Deb Foster, who has spearheaded the smart lighting ordinance, explained that the town is seeking moderation. "We don't want to turn the lights completely off in East Hampton," she said. Councilman Pete Hammerle assured the board isn't racing to adopt the bill and will ponder the matter further, making use of input from the hearing.

Once a law is adopted, DeLuca recommended the board promise to review it after a year. "That's definitely the intention," Foster enjoined.

Phil McSweeney was the sole outright naysayer. "Where is this going?" he asked, opining that a lighting ordinance is "another unnecessary law."

When he asked a second time, "Where is this coming from?" Supervisor Bill McGintee informed that many of Long Island's municipalities have adopted lighting regulations. In fact, contrary to its usual role as trailblazer, East Hampton is "the last one" to adopt lighting rules, he said. The town has been deliberative about creating the zoning code change, he said, because officials are looking to create a balanced approach and "do everything we can to help people come into compliance."

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