Need We Fear the Dark Sky Police?

Fair weather is fast approaching wherein many residents will want to experience pleasant evenings on their Patio – barbequing, entertaining or just enjoying the outdoors. Many with the added use of string lighting (fiesta lights, bistro lights or whatever) for added ambiance and visibility. However, this is not without controversy as witnessed by the dialog that has transgressed on both the “Somersett Nextdoor” and the SOA’s “Somersett.net” websites.

Apparently, the SOA’s Community Standards Committee has issued citations to some Somersett owners citing that their use violates the SOA’s “Dark Sky” policy as required by both the SOA PUD and CC&R’s. But is this really the case? Unless we have missed something, neither of these documents address specific requirements for this type of lighting. In fact, the CC&R’s contain no specific reference to any lighting requirements at all, dark skies or otherwise. As for the PUD, lighting requirements for residential structures are limited to the following provisions:

General Light Standards (page 2-89):

    • Lighting levels should be limited to effect “dark skies”.
    • Unless otherwise specified, lighting will comply with City Code.
    • Fixture scale and illumination levels will be consistent with the specific use.
    • Lighting will not extend beyond its tasks. Fixtures will employ cut-off reflectors or housing shields to eliminate spillover into adjoining areas where the light would be a nuisance.
    • Use of energy efficient lighting design.

Landscape Lighting (page 2-89)

    • Landscape lighting will be used where appropriate to create mood and to accent focal points.
    • When used, landscape lighting will be soft and unobtrusive. Light will be directed and/or shielded to prevent glare.
    • Existing and manmade boulder grouping, outcropping, etc. may be accented by low voltage lighting across the surfaces, in a manner not posing a nuisance to adjacent properties. The light source will be concealed mechanically or with plant materials or smaller rock groupings.

Residential lighting Standards (Page 2-93)

    • Exterior fixtures mounted on buildings will be no higher than the line of the first story eave or, where no eave exists, no higher than 12 feet above finished grade.
    • Building lights will be shielded to prevent light spillage onto adjacent property or streets.

Given the PUD provisions quoted above, it would appear that the use of string lighting would fall under the “General Light Standards” provision. In addition, being that the CC&R’s are silent here, it would subsequently fall upon the SOA’s Aesthetic Guidelines document to define any additional requirements and/or limitations regarding the use of string lighting, which they do not. Thereby leaving it up to the sole discretion of the Aesthetic Guidelines Committee to assess compliance and grant approvals, which, given the lack of specific requirements, should not be unreasonably withheld.

To help assess the use of string lighting in a “Dark Skies” Community, a Somersett Committee Member inquiry to the International Dark-Sky Association (www.darksky.org) resulted in the following response:

“Thank you for your question – it is a common one.

Our general opinion is that this type of lighting is usually not an issue for us, depending on how it is used. String lighting is generally:

• low intensity (under 25W for LED bulbs)
• on the warmer color spectrum (less than 3000 Kelvins)
• primarily used seasonally (outdoor months)
• used for short periods of time (turned off by 11pm or so).

From the link you included, that particular product meets all those requirements. Within these parameters, the fact that the bulbs are unshielded is pretty much a non-issue. Additionally in the case you mention, it seems that this lighting would primarily be for personal use (i.e. backyard, around a home, etc.) which is fairly low-impact. If this lighting was used in a commercial space (restaurant patio) however, we’d like for there to be a curfew for when the lights are turned off. Our rule of thumb around outdoor lighting is to only use light when and where you need it.

Is the community you’re working in an official International Dark Sky Community, designated by IDA? If so, I’d be interested to know what community for our records. We do have a specific set of guidelines for communities to follow to become certified (and maintain certification), which I’ll attach here for you. If not an official IDSC, these guidelines may still be helpful for understanding what IDA considers to be dark-sky compliant.

If you have further questions, please let me know.

Best, Diana del Solar “

Note: The parameters for the string light product referenced in the inquiry were typical and may be accessed via the following link: www.costco.com/Feit-48′-LED-Filament-String-Light-Set.product.100405061.html

Bottom line here is that Somersett owners should not be cited or disapproved for the use of string lighting on a dark skies impact basis. Rather they should be assessed on a case by case basis for other considerations.

It should also be noted that Somersett’s “Dark Skies” are probably impacted more by residents who are increasingly leaving their porch and garage lights on from dusk to dawn for what they believe to be safety reasons, also by surrounding communities who do not adhere to a dark sky policy. Unfortunately, Somersett is an isolated dark sky community surrounded by non-dark sky communities, so the benefit of being such is diminishing.

4 thoughts on “Need We Fear the Dark Sky Police?

  1. You’re piece on Somersett’s lighting/esthetics policy comes across as a poorly researched, and biased editorial designed to simply “stir the pot”.
    A bit disappointing, considering that you have recently been much more objective, and less opinionated than in your earlier reporting.
    Can’t the vast majority of us simply enjoy the wonderful things that you so correctly describe happen at this time on year?

  2. Interesting reading but just plain wrong! Dark Sky is clearly defined in Somersett Aesthetic Guidelines and does not currently allow for bistro lighting. Some homeowners are looking for a work-around with no real knowledge of how many neighbors are against further complicating the policy.

  3. Use the little solar lights, that should be OK with the dark skies people as well as providing adequate light to see.

    As far as safety goes, statistics show, any kind of lights aren’t going to deter criminals. It’s a false sense of security.

    If you really feel you need protection, get a camera security system and put the sign up that says you have one, in your front & back yard. THAT’S what REALLY works and it won’t bug the dark skies enthusiasts. I hope this helps.

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