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Law behind Sanibel’s starry, starry nights

By Staff | Nov 23, 2012

Barbara Joy Cooley

In June 2004, the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce’s newsletter cited dark night skies as one of Sanibel’s attractions. “Celestial splendor,” the heading boasted.

Speaking of dark skies, another group of people who regularly are attracted to Sanibel and Captiva are astronomers and amateur stargazers. Two conditions make the islands great places to watch the heavens.

First is the distance between Sanibel and Captiva and the busy mainland. Most of the light pollution that comes from the glow of any city is miles away. Second is Sanibel’s Dark Skies rule. All lights must be pointed downward so they do not leak upward to interfere with views of the night sky.

The Dark Skies rule that the Chamber was espousing in this newsletter was strongly supported by the Committee of the Islands. It was ordinance 00-10, which was passed by City Council on June 6, 2000.

“There was a huge amount of discussion about this ordinance,” says Nola Theiss, who was mayor of Sanibel at the time. “There must have been 18 drafts of it before it was passed.”

That was truly in Sanibel’s participatory spirit of government which keeps our island special.

One of the reasons that the Committee of the Islands supported the ordinance, besides the obvious benefits to the environment and wildlife, was that the ordinance specified a very reasonable 15-year phased-in implementation.

Now the end of those 15 years is approaching. By January 1, 2015, all outdoor lighting on Sanibel must comply with the Dark Skies rule. What does this mean?

Most importantly, it means that uplighting is prohibited. All outdoor lighting, including display, sign, building, parking lot, and aesthetic lighting, must use fixtures which shine light downward.

The code also prohibits mercury vapor lighting, but encourages high-pressure sodium lighting for parking lots.

Furthermore, the code states, “Street lighting is, in general, inconsistent with Sanibel’s rural character. No street lights shall be installed or maintained on private streets, roads, and rights-of-way.”

For residential areas, the code encourages motion-detecting security lighting to “maximize safety, minimize overall illumination, and conserve energy.”

The Dark Skies law applies to all of Sanibel Island. The few exemptions are for items such as emergency lighting needed by the police and fire department, and for the Sanibel Lighthouse, of course.

During the past 13 years, as development permits were issued, lighting on the affected properties had to be changed. Also, as existing lights were replaced, they should have been replaced with compliant fixtures. Many environmentally aware property owners voluntarily complied with the new rule since 2000.

But there are still non-complying lights on Sanibel that will need to be changed over the next two years. Do you notice them when you are out and about in the evening?

More information about the details of the Dark Skies rule can be found in Article XIV, Section 126-996 and 126-997, of Sanibel’s Land Development Code, which can be found at www.municode.com .

To read our past commentaries on island issues, please visit our web site at www.coti.org. We invite your input on this and other issues affecting our islands. You can send us an email at coti@coti.org, or visit Committee of the Islands on Facebook.