By Carter Pape
The Grand County Planning Commission voted Tuesday evening to recommend passage of new outdoor lighting and sign illumination standards that, if passed by the Grand County Council next week, could significantly reduce local light pollution.
The proposed rules could put Moab on a path toward certification as a top community in the world for limiting light pollution, as designated by the International Dark-Sky Association, a non profit working to “promote environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.”
According to Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine, officials from Arches National Park, which lies completely within Grand County, have expressed interest in gaining the designation of a “Dark Sky Park” from the IDA, and the new lighting rules would bolster the park’s application.
Should the park receive the designation, it would join Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park and other nearby parks and monuments in receiving official recognition as a prime destination for night sky viewing.
County Planning Commissioner Cricket Green cast the lone vote against recommendation of the proposed ordinance. She also voted against amendments proposed by the commission to change a key section of the ordinance limiting the overall amount of outdoor lighting a property owner can use, citing her trust that the original proposal, which was created by the county planning staff, was optimal.
The original regulation would have limited overall outdoor lighting on a piece of land as a ratio of the total area of the parcel. Under these rules, for example, a two-acre property would be allowed twice the outdoor lighting permitted of a one-acre property.
Members of the planning commission expressed concerns that property owners around the county could abuse this cap on outdoor lighting if they owned a multi-acre parcel of land but only developed on part of it.
To address this concern, the council approved by a mixed vote to change the language of the proposed ordinance to calculate the cap on total light output per commercial property based on the size of the land on the parcel that is “developed” rather than merely owned.
The council also approved an amendment to the proposed ordinance regarding residential properties to allow a maximum total outdoor lighting output for parcels over one-half acre in size and a smaller cap for parcels smaller than one-half acre.
On another note, it’s clear that a former proposed high-density housing overlay zone will be back for discussion and perhaps approval. Levine told commission members that the proposed zone that went before the county council in December would not be scrapped, but rather, discussed in an upcoming county council workshop and eventually voted on by the council. “It seems like it will come back for a vote,” Levine told commissioners.
As previously reported by The Times-Independent, the HDH overlay has been over two years in the making and is an effort to incentivize more affordable housing developments in Moab. A county council workshop on Jan. 15 will give members an opportunity to discuss their thoughts on the proposed HDH overlay ordinance.