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Planning takes its turn on ‘Dark Skies’

By Staff | Jan 21, 2015

The Dark Skies ordinance took its next stop at the Sanibel Planning Commission, as more discussion was had, along with recommendations and suggestions to improve the current version of it Tuesday, Jan. 13.

The Commission voted 5-1, with the only dissenting vote by Tom Krekel, to approve the draft ordinance, which will now take its journey back to the City Council for public hearing in its Feb. 3 meeting.

New language of describing the outdoor lighting was inserted, instead of lighting fixtures, “luminaries” will be used instead. Commission chairman Dr. Philip Marks praised the illustrations which are provided, depicting what luminaries are compliant and non-compliant.

Planning Director Jim Jordan said the word “skyward” was also removed, which described upward pointing lights. The term “low wattage” light bulbs also means 15-20 watts, as well.

Jordan added educating the public about the ordinance will be a vital part of its success, which is already happening.

“With any building permits, there’s education (of being compliant) attached,” Jordan said. “And we can have up to a couple of hundred permits in a year.”

The point of contention throughout the Dark Skies ordinance discussion has been the grandfathering of luminaries which are already up and running. The two factors which will need to be addressed by business owners and residents, though, will be eliminate any upward pointing lights and unshielded lights.

That will have to happen by 2018 in the current draft, while other non-compliant luminaries will be grandfathered in until they need replacing.

“The last 15 years this ordinance has been in place, everything basically has been voluntarily done to comply,” Jordan said. “As time moves on, we’ll see if the ordinance is effective or if there will need to be changes.”

The City Council indicated before they sent the Dark Skies ordinance to the Planning Commission, that grandfathering will be included in the ordinance before the next two hearings.

Commission Holly Smith added her recommendation to give small incentives to residents to be compliant with the ordinance. One of those incentives could be a lowered cost on building permits, which eventually was added as a suggestion to the City Council in the passed motion.

“Offering incentives would be an excellent opportunity to provide education,” Smith said.

Vice-Chair Chris Heidrick was in full agreement with suggesting incentives to people to be compliant with the ordinance.

“We already have a dark community and we really don’t have an evasive problem now,” Heidrick said. “We need to help educate people (about how to comply with the ordinance) and offering incentives and a certification of compliance would help. I like the ordinance the way it is now, besides maybe the grandfathering issue.”

Another discussion was brought up by Sanibel resident Paul Vernaglia, who believes safety should come before putting the lights out.

“How many hips need to be broken?” Vernaglia said about the potential of residents falling due to tripping in the dark. “We need to be a safe community. Dark Skies is a health hazard to the elderly and vision impaired. We have an obligation to protect our citizens, ourselves and our guests.”

Jordan did agree safety has always been the top concern throughout the entire drafting of the ordinance process.

“There is nothing in this ordinance that trumps safety,” Jordan said.

“Trying to reduce the light pollution is important, but the safety issue is important, as well,” Dr. Marks said.

In other Planning

Commission news:

Dr. Marks was re-elected as Planning Commission chair by a vote of 6-0 and Heidrick was re-appointed as Vice-Chair by a 6-0 vote.

Two development permits were granted by unanimous votes.

The first was for the construction of an elevated accessory swimming pool with a deck higher than seven feet above predevelopment grade, which was submitted by Benchmark General Contractors on behalf of the property owners, Robert and Joann Glick.

The Commission approved the permit with 21 conditions to be met by the property owners, in which were agreed upon by the property owners and the Planning Department’s Roy Gibson.

The second was an application to demolish and remove an existing nonconforming boat dock and lift use located within the Bay Beach Ecological Zone and to dredge an area within the adjacent man-made canal where a new replacement dock with two boat lifts will be constructed outside of the Bay Beach Zone.

The application was submitted by SteMic Marine Construction, Inc. on behalf of the property owners Louis and Lorraine Van Haastrecht.

The permit was granted by a 6-0 vote upon 21 conditions to be met. The conditions were agreed upon by the property owners, as well.