City to enforce Dark Skies ordinance
Last updated 1/19/2022 at Noon
One of the appealing features of Sisters for residents and visitors alike is the ability to see the stars – a whole lot of stars – on any clear night. But that special feature is under attack as more outside lights appear in burgeoning developments and more LED lights are used in outdoor lighting. Voices of concerned citizens are getting louder, and the City is hearing them.
At last week’s City Council workshop, Community Development Director Scott Woodford brought before Council a proposal for Sisters Development Code amendments related to the dark-sky lighting code.
Woodford told the Council that from time to time, it is necessary to amend the Sisters Development Code to respond to emerging issues or to update code language for sections that don’t adequately address issues. Staff is proposing anticipated amendments for the above area of the code in early 2022 and asked for Council input. With the input received last week, staff will prepare specific development code amendments for Planning Commission and City Council review, including a public hearing, with approval in the spring.
Council made addressing the dark skies issue one of their 2021-22 Council goals because they have been aware of community discontent. The current ordinance was adopted in May 2010, with a stipulation that all nonconforming lighting in the city would be brought into compliance within five years of adoption. That never occurred, apparently having been buried by other more pressing issues.
The Council believes the time has come to do something, and Council members indicated to Woodford they want it done sooner rather than later. They have no interest in establishing another five-year period of compliance. They also realize that for some residents, coming into compliance will prove to be a financial hardship and some type of assistance will be necessary.
The first order of business will be for staff to conduct an audit of lighting for compliance with the City’s dark sky code. Staff would then conduct education and awareness programs to explain the need for compliance. For those who continue to violate the code, possible code enforcement would occur.
In addition to retroactive action by those whose outdoor lighting is in violation of the code, stricter standards for new construction could require submitting lighting plans with building permit and land use applications, followed by requirements for better compliance and inspection prior to granting a certificate of occupancy.
Staff also proposed adding a Purpose section to the ordinance that would establish guiding principles for outdoor lighting as well as providing illustrations of acceptable and prohibited types of lighting fixtures.
Council wants to see public outreach and encouraged the involvement of citizens who are adamant and knowledgeable about dark skies. There is a group of students at the high school who could be tapped for inclusion in the process.
Sisters still has the opportunity to keep the skies dark — if something is done now. For some people, it could be as simple as changing out light bulbs to a lower wattage or aiming a light down toward the ground. Does your outside lighting shine past your property line, into your neighbor’s yard and/or house? Confine that illumination to your own yard. Turn off outside lights when you go to bed or maybe after a certain time at night. There is a brochure available at City Hall, as well as abundant information online illustrating outside lighting fixtures that protect dark skies.