Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Town Council letting lighting issue play out





The saying "you've got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" usually refers to a poker hand.

In the case of the outdoor lighting plan for Madera Marketplace, the Sahuarita Town Council should be commended for holding its cards and showing patience in letting negotiations continue. And a big assist should be awarded to town residents and some others who showed up to town meetings to argue on behalf of dark skies.

The council's self-restraint in not imposing a solution has allowed talks to go on among several interested parties. That means there is a good chance that the private sector will draw up a model lighting plan that can be used in other commercial developments in Sahuarita and Green Valley, a plan that provides enough light for parking lot safety while holding to a minimum the amount of light spilled into the dark skies.

Homebuilders may even find Sahuarita's dark skies a selling point, not that the town needs any more selling points--reasonable prices, beautiful surroundings, and quick commuting times to both
Tucson and the border are already drawing homebuyers in droves.

It appears the new lighting plan will meet the code, or come close enough to win council approval, because in early September, at long last, the developers hired a lighting designer who has experience in meeting outdoor lighting codes---Sarah Jewett of Electrical Design Associates in

Months ago, the developers, Diamond Ventures and Evergreen Devco of Phoenix, insisted that they could not safely meet the new town limit of 48,000 lumens per acre. A lumen is a measure of light emitted from a fixture.

At first the developers were relying on cookie-cutter lighting plans from Wal-Mart and other national organizations that rarely have to face outdoor lighting codes. They asked for 108,000 lumens, or more than double the code limit. They hired a lighting consultant from
Phoenix, which does not have the dark skies that are prized in Pima County, or any outdoor lighting limits.

On the other side was the Whipple Observatory on nearby
Mount Hopkins, which has argued against allowing increased lighting because it would hurt the observatory's research, some of which has had dramatic scientific significance.

Also on the other side was
Tucson lighting consultant Hy Kaplan, who is chairman of a countywide outdoor lighting task force that helped draw up the county lighting code that the town used as the model for its code. The task force did not meet over the summer, so Kaplan was speaking for himself when he testified. Kaplan argued that lighting above the code was not really intended for safety, but for advertising.

The two sides disagreed over how much light is needed for safety as recommended by a national lighting engineering association.

After the town Planning and Zoning Commission split on the matter, the developers filed for a modification and the case went to the Town Council.

At the last council meeting, the developers requested a continuance and were asked why they should be given one. One reason was that they had just hired Jewett to do their lighting design and she was making swift progress toward a design that uses less light.

Fortunately, the council did not deny the request and at last report the design plan was under way.

Dan Brocious of the Whipple Observatory said that he was pleased, despite the stress of the process, that the council let the process continue because he and Kaplan want to know if there really are safety problems with the code limits.

If there are, they will take the matter back to the task force for review. For example, if there is a need for more light around an ATM machine, that might merit a specific change in the code for those areas, rather than an overall increase in the amount of light throughout a 30- or 40-acre parking lot.

And if the developers can meet the code limit of 48,000 lumens per acre, then it will have been achieved through negotiations among private sector participants and not by government fiat.

That's the advantage of "holding 'em."


2004 Green Valley News & Sun