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Sanibel City Council puts a dimmer on Dark Sky Ordinance

April 1, 2014
By MCKENZIE CASSIDY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The Sanibel City Council unanimously decided to hash out the details of an extension to the Dark Sky Ordinance before its full implementation on Jan. 1, 2015.

Vice Mayor Doug Congress had been charged with investigating the 15-year old ordinance after property owners on the island complained that it was "unreasonable."

He reported back to council on April 1 and said that besides safety -- which is at the top of their list of concerns -- residents were also worried about the availability of compliant fixtures, confusion regarding what technology is considered compliant, affordability, and enforcement.

Article Photos

Lighting fixture. PHOTO PROVIDED.

Not only did some residents question whether the ordinance made the city too dark and dangerous for the elderly population, but when passed in 2000 there was a general belief that technology would catch up with the demand, which residents said hasn't happened.

Congress and city staff took two samplings of neighborhoods on the island last month.

They observed that 33 percent of all homes were illuminated, but of that amount only 17 percent were in compliance. In the second sampling, they found that 36 percent of homes were illuminated and only nine percent of those were in compliance.

Commercial buildings, on the other hand, were 100 percent illuminated and only 32 percent of them were in compliance. Local resorts only had an 11 percent compliance rate.

"We have a very large non-compliance issue and ultimately what does that mean?" said Congress. "There is going to be a large enforcement issue. We don't have enough officers to enforce this come January 2015."

It's not enough for code enforcers to simply check whether approved fixtures have been purchased, but they also have to ensure that they were installed with the correct orientation.

And many island residents aren't familiar enough with the ordinance to know if they are in compliance or not.

Council Member Marty Harrity said that 25 percent of the island's voting population changes every four years, and as a result, newer residents aren't as familiar with it.

"Most people don't even know about this Dark Sky Ordinance," said Harrity. "This is bad legislation the way it sits right now."

Jeff Molnar, owner of Molnar Electric, had assisted the city in drafting the ordinance in 2000. He said it had underwent 18 different revisions within a year-and-a-half, and asked that the city take into account those residents who made the effort.

"There are some considerations I would ask that you look at; there have been a lot of people who have complied," said Molnar.

Sonja Smith, from the Condominium Associations of Sanibel, Inc., said that some CASI members thought a potential extension was unfair to those who had already invested in new fixtures. She added that others still aren't sure if they have reached compliance or not.

"People may think they are in compliance, but perhaps not," said Smith.

Besides the technology component, council members said that the city needed to better educate the community on what would be considered compliant.

"I think there needs to be better examples of what is in compliance and what is not. We need to go and find a little better education system," said Council Member Jim Jennings.

Representatives of island condominiums, including Yacht Haven, Tennis Place, and Mariner Pointe, also addressed council during the meeting. Each of them asked that council reconsider the ordinance and clarify the compliance standards.

The discussion on April 1 revolved around only non-beach properties. Homes or businesses on the beach had met compliance within 60 days of the ordinance being passed in order to protect the nesting sea turtle population. The city reported that violations on those properties have dropped substantially due to the ordinance.



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