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City staff oppose Hollingsworth proposal to keep us in the dark

Over the past three years, the City of Sault Ste. Marie has received just three light-trespass complaints
Dark sky
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A light-pollution bylaw proposed by Ward 1 Couns. Sandra Hollingsworth and Paul Christian might work in Huntsville but not in Sault Ste. Marie, city council will be told Tuesday.

"It is important to note that Huntsville is an outlier as it is more of an outdoor recreational/tourism destination where darker, more preserved skies serve as an amenity," says Jonathan Kircal from the city's planning staff.

"Such an approach would not be feasible for Sault Ste. Marie," Kircal says in a report prepared for Tuesday's city council meeting.

"Locally, the issue of residential impact is not prevalent as evidenced by the low number of light-related complaints received by staff," Kircal added.

Hollingsworth and Christian persuaded their fellow councillors in April to have staff look into a dark-sky bylaw to control inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light that affects humans, wildlife or the climate.

Kircal's report describes four kinds of light pollution:

  • glare: excessive brightness that causes visual discomfort
  • sky glow: brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas
  • light trespass: light falling where it is not intended or needed
  • clutter: bright, confusing and excessive light sources

"Light pollution can result in nuisance issues between property owners due to light trespass," he said.

"It can also pose impacts on the health and safety of humans and wildlife and energy conservation. Excessive light pollution also washes out the night sky and obstructs astronomical research."

"The rapid pace of urbanization and the trend of illuminating more spaces with brighter lights has prompted advocacy for a managed approach to exterior artificial lighting."

Huntsville was the only Ontario municipality Kircal could find that sought to regulate environmental light pollution in addition to simple light trespass.

"This municipality requires that light fixtures be 'full cut off design' to ensure that light is emitted directly downward, with no light overspill," he said.

Over the past three years, the City of Sault Ste. Marie has received just three light trespass complaints.

"One of the complaints dealt with a commercial property’s exterior lighting glaring onto an adjacent residential property. The commercial property was under a site plan control agreement that had a light-trespass clause. This permitted the city to enforce and rectify the issue," Kircal said.

"The second complaint was submitted against an apartment building that was under an older SPC [site plan control] agreement without a clause; therefore, the city could not intervene."

"The third and most recent complaint was regarding an exterior light between two single-detached dwellings. The city was unable to intervene."

"In the absence of a light-related clause in the property standards bylaw or SPC," Kircal said, the city's building enforcement officers attempt to resolve nuisance issues by seeking a solution between affected parties."

"Beyond this, the matter is strictly civil in nature."

While he didn't support a light-pollution bylaw, Kircal said city staff will add light-trespass clauses to new and amended site plan control agreements.

"Planning staff will add additional draft policies that will support a wider application of light-reduction methods with consideration of the many impacts that excessive lighting poses on the natural environment, energy conservation, and one’s personal enjoyment of their property."

"Such policies will better ensure that new development, growth and rezoning proposals reflect these values."

"It is recognized that development trends of infill and intensification mixed with the increasing accessibility of new light technology that has become brighter and more visually intrusive could potentially result in a greater prevalence of light-related complaints in the future. Staff will monitor such complaints and will be prepared to respond accordingly."

City council will be live-streamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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