Sisters works to preserve dark skies
Last updated 7/13/2022 at Noon
Outdoor string lights prompted much discussion at last week’s Planning Commission workshop regarding the proposed Development Code amendment to the Dark Skies ordinance.
As growth and attendant light pollution threaten one of Sisters special features — dark, star-spangled night skies — more attention is being drawn to measures necessary to protect that night sky. The Sisters City Council made it one of their goals to update and fully implement the City’s Dark Skies ordinance in the Sisters’ Development Code (Section 2.15.400), which was adopted in 2010 but never fully implemented or enforced.
In crafting the development code amendment, City staff has held numerous workshops to get feedback. The Planning Commission reviewed it on September 16, 2021, January 20, 2022, and February 17, 2022. City Council discussed it on January 12 and February 9. Based on all the feedback, staff brought the development code amendment forward for a public hearing with the Planning Commission on May 19. After hearing a staff presentation and taking public comment, the Commission voted to remand the proposal back to staff and another work session for more discussion.
Community-led efforts to strengthen and update the lighting ordinance have also inspired this effort, including those of the Sisters High School Astronomy Club, which for a number of years has been providing community education about the impacts of poorly designed and unshielded lighting on the ability to see the stars at night as well as negative impacts on wildlife and the environment. Community input to the updated Comprehensive Plan and multiple letters to The Nugget have supported the need to update the ordinance.
Sisters High School teacher and advisor for the Astronomy Club, Rima Givot, told the Planning Commission, “As leaders of our community, you are at a critical point. You can decide to help our community continue to be able to claim we have amazing starry skies here. I encourage you to have the courage to make smart long-term decisions that will benefit our great-grandchildren and keep giving them the ability to see the Milky Way. This is not something to take for granted, and we are currently part of the small fraction of people who have this amazing opportunity.”
The Planning Commission would like to receive input from businesses regarding regulations for public outdoor lighting and signage. The subject of outdoor decorative lighting, including string lights on both businesses and residences, was thoroughly discussed with many points of view considered. The consensus seemed to be to require shielding on the string lights. Commissioners also stated their belief that public City lighting should not be exempt from the regulations. More information is needed from the Oregon Department of Transportation before addressing the lighting on Cascade Avenue, as that is a State highway under the auspices of ODOT.
There were mixed opinions among the Commissioners as to the amount of time that should be granted for lighting, both publicly and privately owned, to be brought into conformance. Three years, five years, and 10 years were considered, with a compromise reached on five years. City Council may have different thoughts on the implementation time.
All these considerations are open for public input either through written comments to the City or at the next public hearing, date to be announced. The Dark Skies Standards, the proposed ordinance updates, and a lighting resource guide are all available on the City website www.ci.sisters.or.us/communitydevelopment-dark-skies-ordinance.
All applicants for site plan review and/or building permits must include lighting plans showing location, type, height, color temperature, lumen output, and amount of all proposed and existing light fixtures, along with light fixture cut sheets from the manufacturer. The applicant must provide enough information to verify that proposed lighting conforms to the City’s Dark Sky Standards. The community development director may request any additional information necessary or appropriate to evaluate compliance with the standards.