ANN ARBOR, MI – A new Ann Arbor law aims to protect the night sky from artificial light and promote energy efficiency.
The City Council this week unanimously voted OK to add stronger outdoor lighting regulations to the city code, a move supported by groups such as the Michigan Dark Skies, the Sierra Club Huron Valley Group and the Michigan Audubon.
The new decision was initiated by a community group that began in 2017 and is a big deal, said Sally Oey, a professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan.
“The resolution addresses the issue of increasing light pollution,” she said. “This is a threat to the night’s environment, but it is also a serious problem for human health and safety. It is a waste of energy.”
Council member Erica Briggs, D-5th Ward, thanked Oey for being “very strong” in helping with the resolution.
The next phase will educate the community, Briggs said.
“There are a lot of dangerous problems that we as a community are facing and some of them are very difficult to solve, but really the enlightenment is not that hard,” she said. “It’s just directing the light where we need it and where it helps, and not as much as we do going up and out.”
Briggs said that while many residents have balcony lights that they turn on at night, the most productive initial training efforts will focus on working with businesses to renovate outdoor lighting and reduce or eliminate after-work lighting in parking lots. Some training for residents will be helpful, focusing on the use of “dark sky” lighting fixtures and how too much light can actually damage safety, she said.
According to the International Dark-Sky Association, there is no clear scientific evidence that increased outdoor lighting protects against crime, and poor outdoor lighting can reduce safety by viewing victims and property. The group focuses on the Chicago Alley Lighting Project which shows the relationship between street lighting and increased crime.
“In fact, most property crimes happen in daylight,” the group says. “Some crimes like vandalism and graffiti are really flourishing in the night light.”
A dark sky does not mean that the earth is dark, and the conscious light that directs the light towards the place where it is needed creates a balance between safety and the light of the stars, preserves the group.
Members of the Ann Arbor Planning Commission, the Energy Commission, the Environment Commission, city workers and others worked together with the help of local lighting activists and experts to prepare the new regulation.
Brett Lenart, city planning manager, explained in a memoir how the city’s light lines change.
The city development code has basic standards for outdoor lighting, which are mostly applied in parking lots in new development projects, which require minimum levels of light at night, while making some exceptions in residential areas, he said. .
Non-parking lighting has public demands for protection and visibility, Lenart said.
The new law expands regulations to apply to any outdoor lighting in the city, Lenart said. New lighting fixtures need to be fully or partially maintained, depending on the type of installation, and landscaping and field lighting are now generally prohibited between midnight and 6 a.m., except for businesses that are open during those hours.
“Mild unhappiness” is limited to certain levels along the property line. Features that run in residential areas have the strictest boundaries, while downtown has higher light levels.
Lenart said existing lights that are not in line with the new code can be maintained, but any changes to external lights must be compatible.
Regulatory options allow for 90 days of temporary lighting installations on private property, which may include holiday lighting, art installations and special event lighting, but must be turned off between midnight and 6am.
Lenart said temporary light displays on non-residential properties should also comply with other provisions prohibiting movement and lighting.
There are also donations for flag lighting and lighting installations commissioned by the Historic District Commission to contribute to the historic character of a home, such as trademarks for downtown Michigan and State theaters.
Council member Kathy Griswold, D-2nd Ward, confirmed that the law only applies to private property and said she is awaiting a joint ordinance for public road-to-road areas.
“Because, as we know, sometimes too much light is as dangerous as the lack of light,” she said. “So that’s not just about wasting energy.”
According to the International Dark-Sky Association, glare from bright and inconspicuous lights on the streets reduces safety. The group cites a 2012 report by the American Medical Association that states that exposure to night light can create dangers ranging from discomfort to visual impairment.
Council member Ali Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, asked if the new law would ban overhead lights, such as radiation devices that are used after midnight.
“Yes, that’s the point,” Lenart said.
The city’s goal is consistent and the city generally issues warnings before initiating criminal investigations, Lenart said, noting that residents can report light violations using the city’s A2 Fix It app or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We will be happy to work with those property owners to train and work with any solution,” he said.
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