Lighting: Outdoor Lighting
Proper outdoor lighting is vital to facilitate timely and accurate visibility, whether it's for driving at night or for looking over the vehicles at the local car dealer. But when lighting is excessive, or when it is not needed, creates a nuisance, projects disabling glare or is disruptive to the environment, it needs to be controlled. Informed citizens and businesses is one way to effect positive change in the community about outdoor lighting, but a municipality's most effective tool to that end is through the enactment and enforcement of a comprehensive outdoor lighting ordinance.
Enactment and enforcement of a comprehensive outdoor lighting can provide the following advantages:
- Limiting lighting intensities to only the levels needed for effective viewing of the seeing task at hand saves energy and reduces the air pollution that results from the generation of energy to feed the wasted lighting.
- Controlling the amount of lighting that trespasses beyond the boundaries of the area intended to be lighted reduces annoyance to neighboring property owners.
- Disallowing lighting that shines or reflects into the night sky preserves citizens' view of a star-filled night sky.
- Requiring the shutoff of lighting at the time when it is no longer performing a meaningful function saves energy and money, reduces pollution and helps protect the natural environment.
- Exacting a shutoff time for sporting event floodlighting protects adjacent residential uses from sleep disruption.
- Mandating that lighting equipment be properly shielded and aimed facilitates putting the light where it belongs and not in drivers' and pedestrians' eyes, onto adjacent properties and not into neighbors' bedroom windows.
- By exacting standards for the protection of poles supporting lighting equipment, pole disorientation and destruction from backing vehicles can be avoided.
- When ordinance language contains a grandfather clause with a realistic end date, the ill-effects nonconforming outdoor lighting can be brought to an end in a timely fashion.
- Limiting allowable lighting intensities at competing commercial uses, e.g., gas stations, can prevent endless retching up to unrealistic and abusive lighting levels.
- Clear understandable ordinance language can provide code officials with the tools needed to control lighting abuses.
- Conducting a post-installation inspection insures that the it has been done in accordance with approved-plan commitments.
- Requiring that submitted lighting plans contain certain specific information allows the municipality to evaluate whether the proposed lighting is consistent with ordinance requirements.
Residents of metropolitan areas tend to have an innate (and sometimes justifiable) fear of darkness and requiring that they extinguish their outdoor lighting at a reasonable hour each night may be an unadvisable move. However, when those people move out into the Chester County countryside and bring their fear of darkness with them, requiring responsible lighting practices may suggest the need for some education.
- Overzealous ordinance language that excessively limits citizens' health, safety and welfare rights must be avoided.
- Ordinance language that is too vague or too technically oriented will lead to misinterpretation or confusion.
Issues to Consider
- When creating an outdoor lighting ordinance, criteria for safety and security lighting and lighting for other critical seeing tasks need to meet the recommended practices of a national consensus body, i.e., the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES).
- Lighting requirements need to be attainable with commercially available methods and materials and not be irresponsible and excessive.
- Ordinance language needs to be clear and understandable by planners, municipal officials and code officers alike. Technical jargon needs to be avoided or clearly defined.
- Ordinance requirements must be tailored to the needs of the particular municipality, be it rural or metropolitan, while containing basic criteria common to all lighting, regardless of the location.
- Illumination Level
- Lighting Fixture Design
- Control of Glare
- Residential Development Fixture Placement
- Recreational Uses
- Plan Submission Requirements
- Compliance Monitoring
The Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council has available model lighting ordinance versions for zoning ordinances, subdivision and land development ordinances and stand-alone ordinances. These model ordinances, which can be tailored to the needs of the individual municipalities, have been enacted in 40+ Pennsylvania municipalities and are available at www.polcouncil.org.
Examples of Chester County Municipalities with Effective Lighting Ordinances: West Whiteland Township, Uwchlan Township, Upper Uwchlan Township, London Grove Township, West Vincent Township, South Coventry Township, East Nantmeal Township, West Brandywine Township, East Bradford Township, North Coventry Township, Warwick Township, East Vincent Township, Wallace Township
- Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council, PA Chapter of IDA
- West Whiteland Township Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance
- North Coventry Township Zoning Ordinance