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City to review Dark Sky Ordinance after residents claim it's unreasonable

February 11, 2014
By MCKENZIE CASSIDY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The Sanibel City Manager's office was recently directed to compile information about the Dark Sky Ordinance so council could address concerns raised by residents that it wasn't reasonable.

By Jan. 1, 2015 properties are expected to comply with the ordinance, which passed in 2000 to protect the island's natural beauty and habitat for nocturnal and crepuscular species - such as sea turtles in nesting season - by minimizing the amount of light pollution.

Jeff Molnar, owner and operator of Molnar Electric on the island, said the Dark Sky Ordinance had undergone 17 revisions over the course of a year-and-a-half before it was passed, and that included regular consultation with the International Dark Skies Association.

He said there aren't a lot of reasonably priced, compliant light fixtures on the market today. When the ordinance passed in 2000 the presiding council believed 15 years was enough time for the upgrades to be made and for new technology to be developed, but it didn't work out that way.

"At the time they thought the industry was going to catch up, but it really hasn't," said Molnar.

Local resident Gloria Hannan said property owners have had enough time to make the changes, but she agreed that more work needed to be done to find reasonably-priced fixtures.

Other residents addressed city council on Feb. 4 to discuss the costs associated with updating light fixtures and local safety concerns at night.

Dick Weiss from the Mariner Pointe Condominium Association said his 101-unit development has 117 stairway lights and 365 total lights and to comply with the ordinance it would have to double the stairway lighting and replace the other fixtures.

"Let me emphasize our primary concern is the health, security, and safety of our mostly elderly residents," he said. "It will cost $50,000 to put Mariner Pointe in compliance and in excess of $1 million for the island."

He asked council to consider the current level of compliance on the island and determine if those levels are actually detrimental to the habitat.

Lee Schaff from the Tennis Place Condominium Association said his community is over 80 percent in compliance with the ordinance, but asked council to consider amending the language to give the planning department more latitude.

Another speaker addressing the board was Tom Ragatz from the Yacht Haven Condominium Association, a smaller development on the island, who said that his association can't afford onsite security so they depend on the lighting to keep residents safe.

Ragatz said that, according to his research, Sanibel Island was only one of four cities in the United States with a dark skies ordinance and the other cities on the list aren't in Florida.

Mayor Kevin Ruane said city staff would study all of the information on the Dark Sky Ordinance so council could decide on how to deal with the issue.



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