Green Valley News & Sun

August 20, 2004



Council should back P & Z lighting decision





Joe Olles of Green Valley wrote a letter to the editor (published Aug. 18) congratulating the town of Sahuarita's Planning and Zoning Commission for turning down the developers of a planned Wal-Mart Supercenter's request to use twice as much lighting as allowed by town code.

In case you missed Mr. Olles' letter, here's a sampling: "One P&Z member suggested that some compromise is inevitable.

"Suppose you didn't want to pay all of your income taxes due per the tax code. Would the IRS say some compromise is inevitable?"

"Compromise suggests the town has an obligation to the developers. Instead, Sahuarita's obligation is to the taxpayers to help protect their multi-million dollar investment in the Whipple Observatory."

When the Sahuarita Town Council takes up the developers appeal to overturn the P&Z Commission's decision Monday night, we hope members will keep Mr. Olles' admonitions in mind.

And though the town may be vulnerable because it mistakenly approved a lighting level beyond that allowed by town code for the new Safeway, it can certainly ask Safeway and the other enterprises grandfathered in because they were built before the town code was adopted to reduce their lighting levels and comply with the town lighting codes, which is based on the Pima County code.

Diamond Ventures and Wal-Mart will plead their case Monday for getting the town to use 110,000 lumens per acre to light their shopping center, more than twice the amount of 48,000 lumens per acre specified in the town code. A lumen is a measure of light emitted from a fixture.

Noted for astronomy

The developers are making their appeal on the basis of safety, but neighbors and officials of the Whipple Observatory contend they want to retain the area's dark skies, a big part of what makes
Southern Arizona the astronomy capital of the world.

Responding more directly to the developers' request, Hy Kaplan, the head of a task force on lighting that includes other towns and commercial interests, said his opinion is that the developers can safely light the parking lot at 48,000 lumens per acre.

Furthermore, the city of
Flagstaff has had an outdoor lighting limit similar to Sahuarita's light limit since 1989, and it has not slowed commercial development or caused safety concerns.

Flagstaff has seen more than 15 years of development under a limit of 50,000 lumens per acre. That has included a Home Depot, Target, Kohl's, hotel, cinema complex and two shopping centers.

"Plenty of light"

"To my knowledge we have had no safety issues,"
Flagstaff principal planner Mark Young told reporter Philip Franchine. "It's not a dim lighting situation. It is plenty of light. Any shopping center would do fine under that cap."

In another response to the developers' safety argument, Dan Brocious of Whipple Observatory notes that a comprehensive review of existing studies by the U.S. Department of Justice found no support for the theory that more light necessarily means safety. He noted that many crimes occur in the daylight.

The question for the council is how bright do we need it to be? Bright enough to see someone lurking in the dark, for sure, but not necessarily bright enough to read the paper in the parking lot at night.

We believe the higher lighting level; is being requested for advertising purposes, to attract traffic from Interstate 19.

We can understand why the developers want this, but don't think it will be needed. Area residents will flock to a new
Wal-Mart SuperCenter regardless of how bright the parking lot is.

We urge the Sahuarita Town Council to uphold the decision of its own Planning and Zoning Commission and to reject the developers' request to exceed the lighting code.


2004 Green Valley News & Sun