News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters tightens dark skies code

Sisters residents and visitors alike value the ability to enjoy the night sky — and the City of Sisters has passed new dark skies code language to promote that ability.

Sisters City Council chambers burst into spontaneous applause as Council voted unanimously to approve amendments to the Sisters Development Code that have long been in the works.

City planning staff noted that City code around dark skies was adopted in 2010.

“Since the adoption, there have been many changes in lighting, including many technological advances and how lighting is measured and evaluated, as well as an increasing desire in the community to do more to protect our dark skies from the negative impacts of poorly designed outdoor lighting,” staff reported. “Further, it is necessary to reconsider the timeframe for non-conforming lighting, as the five-year timeframe established in the current code was not met, which would have been in 2015.

“Community-led efforts to educate the community on the importance of sensitive lighting on the ability to see the nighttime stars have also inspired this effort — most notably by the Astronomy Club with Sisters High School — who have provided community education about the impacts of lighting on the ability to see the stars at night and on wildlife and the environment. Additionally, multiple letters have been encouraging steps to preserve the dark sky and goals and community input during the update of the Sisters Comprehensive Plan emphasized and supported the need to update the Dark Skies ordinance.”

In developing the new code language, staff had many discussions with the business community, and found strong support for dark skies restrictions — though some businesses need exemptions for safety reasons. Some businesses would be negatively impacted by curfews. Business owners also hope for time and perhaps financial support to bring non-conforming lighting into compliance.

Code provides for dark-skies friendly lighting to be mandated for new development, and gives five years to bring existing non- conforming lighting into compliance. String lighting has become popular in recent years, and code allows for it, with a curfew of 11 p.m.

Council backed off of a stringent requirement for where string lights may be placed on a residence, which had the support of Sisters High School science teacher and Astronomy Club advisor Rima Givot. She said that location is unimportant.

“What’s important is turning them off,” she said.

Some residents and business owners feel that lighting is important to security. They are encouraged to use motion-sensor lights and code requires that their lighting not “trespass” on their neighbors.

Sisters resident and dark skies activist Paul Bennett noted that neighbors keep an eye on neighbors’ properties. That, he believes, is more important than light when it comes to security.

“You need to get along well with your neighbor,” he said. “That’s your best safety feature. If that means changing your light bulb, well, how big of a deal can that be?”

Mayor Michael Preedin emphasized that the City’s approach will not be heavy-handed.

“We try to do this with education before enforcement,” he said. “We’re not going to blast people. We’re not going to go neighbor against neighbor on our lights.”

Under the revised code, lighting should be:

• Useful. Light should only be used if needed. All light should have a clear purpose, with consideration about how light will impact neighbors, wildlife, and their habitats.

• Targeted. Light fixtures should be directed so light falls only where it is needed. Shielding and careful aiming of the light beam to target its direction downward should be employed to prevent spill beyond where lighting is needed.

• Low level. Lights should be no brighter than necessary, using the lowest light level possible. Attention should be given to reflective surfaces that will amplify lights and direct light into the sky or neighboring properties.

• Controlled. Lighting should only occur when it is needed. Controls such as timers or motion detectors should be employed to ensure that light is available when it is needed, dimmed when possible and turned off when not needed.

• Warmer color lights should be used where possible.

The Sisters Development Code can be accessed at

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Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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