From Friends of Harford:
“Light trespass” is when unwanted, manmade light from one property trespasses onto someone else’s property. It is a serious problem throughout Harford, adversely affecting residents, farmers and small businesses.
Light trespass can:
– harm health and quality of life
– cause dangerous night blindness
– adversely impact farmers and other businesses
Homeowners desperately seek relief from auto dealers’ high-intensity, all-night lighting of their bedrooms, living rooms and yards. Sports field lighting at Cedar Lane Park and elsewhere impacts nearby homes. In both rural and non-rural areas, there’s light trespass from recreational fields, parking lots, advertising and poorly designed security lights.
Drivers’ night vision can be ruined because eyes take time to adjust from dark night to intense, unnatural “daylight” and then back to dark.
Artificial light that disrupts the internal clocks of dairy cattle and certain flowering plants hurts farmers’ bottom line. Light trespass affects the desirability of a home that’s for sale.
What’s In Place To Help Citizens.
Basically, nothing exists at the state or local Harford County level to help define or enforce against light trespass.
– The current zoning code has a subjective, unenforceable “not too bright” requirement based on pure opinion, not on objective, measurable numbers.
– Without measurable standards, you will likely lose even if you hire a lawyer to take the owner of the offending lights to court.
– Sometimes the offender is Harford County itself (e.g., outdoor sports fields).
Harford’s 2012 MASTER PLAN and LAND USE ELEMENT PLAN directs the County to:
“Implement enforceable limits on lighting, dust/fumes and noise pollution on all properties to protect all property owners’ rights to peaceful use and enjoyment of their properties and to ensure the effectiveness of buffer zones.” [Reference: Land Use Element Plan page 51, Implementation Strategy]
Noise pollution is limited by a Maryland law that establishes measurable standards. These standards are enforced by the Harford County Sheriff’s Department.
Friends of Harford proposes a Lighting Ordinance to do the same for light trespass.
To be effective, a law must have objective, measurable standards to enforce, and penalties must be levied when the law is proven to have been violated. Friends of Harford has drafted an ordinance (law) to do that for light trespass.
Our ordinance is based on the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council’s “Model Outdoor Lighting Ordinance for Inclusion in Zoning Ordinances.” We deleted a few sections that either covered requirements already in the Electrical Code or told property owners what equipment to use; we believe owners should be free to meet the performance requirements however they wish. The other revisions were housekeeping, e.g., substituting “Harford County” for “municipal government”.
With this ordinance:
A simple check with a light meter will determine whether lighting is in compliance with the law. When neighbors complain about existing lighting, this ordinance resolves disputes and protects all property owners by establishing objective, measurable requirements. The ordinance will limit light trespass to 0.1 footcandles at residential property boundaries and 1.0 footcandle at all other property boundaries. The 0.1 footcandles is about the level of light from a full moon that reaches the ground on a clear night.
– Havre de Grace just added a 0.1 footcandle limit to their zoning code to protect the residents of Bulle Rock from excessive lighting from a planned hospital.
Owners of outdoor lights can choose how to meet the requirements. Inexpensive shielding and placement of lights is emphasized. Timers used to control when lights go on and off will now require battery back-up to deal with power outages.
Enforcement provisions with time limits are provided to protect neighbors. There’s little point in having a law unless it’s enforced.
What You Can Do.
Contact County Council members to let them know you support this action. If you can, cite personal examples of how light pollution has affected you to emphasize why the ordinance is needed. Insist that enforcement provisions be kept intact – a toothless law is useless window dressing.
We will let you know when a lighting ordinance is introduced by the Council, and whether it meets the objectives of our proposal. If legislation is introduced which we feel is ineffective, we will certainly let you know and again ask for your support to make things right.